Kazuhiro Nagasawa (Photo courtesy Kazuhiro Nagasawa)

Welcome to the Sprudge Twenty interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series! Read more about the Sprudge Twenty and see all of our interviews here.

Nominated by Mami Sakamoto

Kazuhiro Nagasawa is an entrepreneur and coffee professional based in Morioka City, some 300 miles from the city of Tokyo on the northern tip of Honshu. He is the owner/operator of his own eponymous small town coffee brand, Nagasawa Coffee, founded in 2012.

Here’s more on why Nagaswa Coffee is special from Mimi Sakamoto’s nominating essay:

“Let me explain a little bit about my hometown, the city of Morioka and its relationship with coffee. Coffee is loved by all generations here, and many families have their favorite coffee roasters and cafes. But what they call ‘coffee’ has traditionally meant a dark roasted, thick, strong tasting drink. When Nagasawa Coffee opened in 2012, their coffee selection had fruity, lighter, or sometimes unique tastes in addition to ‘traditional’ dark ones.

Mr. Nagasawa was not trying to follow ‘in-fashion’ coffee then. His coffee choices are not swayed by trends. Instead, he is cultivating his own world of coffee, traveling from Africa to Taiwan to keep his knowledge current, and expressing everything he’s learned here for the locals. I think this is how a barista in a small town can contribute to change and influence the world of coffee.”

Sprudge Media Network spoke with Nagasawa digitally from Morioka City.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What issue in coffee do you care about most?

I care about the future of coffee cultivation, especially how it will be affected by global warming. Secondly, I am concerned about the worldwide rapidly growing demand for coffee, which may lead to an imbalance in supply.

What cause or element in coffee drives you?

In 2011, I encountered the Great East Japan Earthquake, the biggest earthquake that we had ever experienced.

The seacoast areas of Tohoku region, or the North East side of Japan where we live, had massive damage. From day one of the disasters, I couldn’t help thinking that I have to do something.

My desire became stronger day by day and about a month later, there I was, visiting from shelter to shelter of the seaside towns hit by the massive tsunami. Taking a whole day, I served so many people cups of coffee that I couldn’t count how many they were every day. The more I served, the more people became delighted, thankful for me with many smiles. Some of the victims even told me, “thank you very much for coming over to such a terrible disaster area,” and I was unexpectedly encouraged by those words.

During this activity, I strongly felt the magic and miracle power of coffee that made me think deeply about how good it was to be involved in the world of coffee. Unlike water or foods, we can live without coffee. However, at the moment you have a sip of coffee, a joy arises. Feeling healed, a calm space is born, and smiles overflow. That strange feeling that I had under that ultimate and devastating natural circumstance made me mad about coffee more than ever.

What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?

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The reality of coffee grower’s poverty.

What is the quality you like best about coffee?

Coffee can take us beyond countries, regions, languages, ethnic background, and religions. It provides us opportunities to share our common values. I believe it is a wonderful drink that connects people to people all over the world.

Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?

A long, long time ago, one day, I hiked up to the top of a mountain for snowboarding. It was a tremendously cold day, and I was almost freezing. Then, somebody poured a cup of hot coffee from a thermos for me. I vividly remember the scene and its unforgettably delicious taste of the coffee still now.

It was not that tasty as we could call “specialty,” it was precisely my life-changing moment that made me realize it all depends on the environment or situation; we could find any coffee to be the best coffee. I could say it was a very precious discovery for my career.

What is your idea of coffee happiness?

My idea of coffee happiness is: Coffee is always a side player, not takes a leading role but it still beside us when we need it. Coffee is always there when important decisions are made or brilliant inventions are found in history. I think what coffee happiness truly means is bringing to us our everyday life itself. No drama needed. Spending our daily lives with a cup of coffee is such a wonderful treat. Also, I would like to always be with coffee as a part of people’s ordinary lives.

If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?

I would be a coffee farmer and cultivate coffee from scratch all by myself. My town, Morioka, is very cold in winter, so it’s impossible to grow coffee here. So I have an aspiration to commit to producing coffee.

Who are your coffee heroes?

All the customers who come to my store, including the past and future visitors, are my heroes. Without any supports by all of them, we, Nagasawa Coffee, don’t exist.

If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

No doubt, it would be John Lennon. Although John and I are not the same age, we share the same birthday, and unilaterally I have admired him for many years. If this were to happen, for me to drink coffee with him, it would be amazing. However, to speak honestly, I would like to have a drink of something stronger than coffee if given the chance with John Lennon!

If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I would be a professional snowboarder (if my age does not matter). I have quite a long career in snowboarding, and there are a lot of great places to go snowboarding with ideal snow conditions around my city.

Do you have any coffee mentors?

Nope. Nobody. I started my career in coffee by self-study and have kept it that way to the present.

What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?

When I first started in coffee, I knew nobody who was in the coffee industry then. I had to go very far to find my way. If I could have some advice from somebody, it would be much more comfortable. However, as much tough time as I been through, I now feel I am making good use of my past experiences.

Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.

I would choose just one. AeroPress. I want to challenge pressing in weightless space.

Best song to brew coffee to?

Something by the artist French Kiwi Juice.

Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I can see I am on the southern island of Japan, and enjoying watching coffee cherries.

What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?

I had natto (fermented soybeans), white rice, grilled fish and miso soup. Quite a traditional Japanese breakfast.

When did you last drink coffee? What was it?

I would prefer to tell you when I drank coffee for the very first time, because I feel like my last coffee is always in the future. So, I think I was nine years old or so back then. My father brought coffee beans at a local coffee shop and brewed it in a siphon for me. I do not remember what coffee it was. Despite my father’s solemn and polite conduct, I could not understand the taste of the coffee at all. It has become a good memory of my late father.

Thank you. 

The Sprudge Twenty is presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2019 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty

Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge. 

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