Riki Taniuchi is talking about Coffee Street, his latest project aimed at proselytizing for the specialty scene in Tokyo. He scratches his jaw, reaches for his mug of coffee, and thinks for a moment.
“There are still so many people that just don’t know about specialty coffee—even though it’s taking off here, that excitement is confined to a small group of people, people who already like coffee.”
“Like, the way the same people are always at the same coffee events?” I ask.
“Yes, exactly,” Taniuchi says, smiling. “So I thought, if it’s not a coffee event but at Harukaze…”
Taniuchi explains that Harukaze, a popular, free two-day party in Yoyogi Park, started in 1997 as an excuse for a group of friends—artists, musicians, creatives, hippies—to hang out and do hanami: cherry-blossom viewing. The musicians brought their friends and their instruments, the artists came to draw, paint, and create. The guy who said he'd bring music decided to bring a concert sound system instead of a radio/cassette player.
Just like that, they had an event on their hands.
After going on hiatus in 2002, the festival relaunched in 2009 as Spring Love Harukaze, and has gone off each year since. Taniuchi says Harukaze now is all about raising awareness for environmental issues through music, art, and workshops. He's friends with the organizers, so he started helping out.
And this year, he decided to bring his beloved specialty coffee with him, under the banner of Coffee Street. It’s an impressive collection of local roasters and cafes, including Glitch Coffee, Trunk Coffee, Switch Coffee, Light Up Coffee, and Single O Japan.
“At music events there aren’t any preconceptions,” Taniuchi continues. “It’s just people getting together. And I thought of Harukaze as a good opportunity to give people that alternative: ‘How about a cup of coffee?’ I thought if they could try good specialty coffee, they’d understand.”
In case you’re wondering who this character is, it’s like this: If you know specialty coffee in Tokyo, you probably know Riki Taniuchi.
He’ll tell you himself: he’s obsessed.
But the thing is, he’s not a barista. He's not a roaster, either. He just really loves coffee. Since first being introduced to the stuff while playing bike polo in the States—it’s a long story—Taniuchi’s been addicted, drinking his way around Tokyo, making friends, getting to know the scene, and networking.
Harukaze has such friendships and networking at its base.
“I wanted to make use of skills I already have,” Taniuchi says of bringing his love of coffee into the bright light of Harukaze. “I’ve [put on] shows before, and have worked stage management, so I know people who have organized food stalls at events like Fuji Rock. I thought it would be easier to work together”—both with the festival and with the many coffee vendors. For some, his status outside the coffee industry was all the more appealing.
“All the shops attending know what I’m about,” Taniuchi says. “They know I’m not a coffee shop. So knowing me, and talking to me, they agreed to take part, and we could move ahead with planning.”
“So what can we expect?” I ask.
Taniuchi talks about the shops coming along for Coffee Street's debut at Harukaze: Light Up is going to do espresso; Switch Coffee and Megane Coffee are planning a collaboration and doing coffee cocktails; Trunk is showing off its newest coffee/craft beer collaboration; and Hoshikawa Cafe is coming all the way from Saitama.
As Taniuchi talks, you get a real sense of his passion. You can see why he wants to share it, and why he’d go to the effort. He just wants other people to love coffee the way he does.
Come April 2 and 3, it’s going to be trees of pink, live music, art, and people meeting under the trees; talking, laughing, eating, and drinking.
And in all of that, this year, a space for specialty coffee.