Coffee is adept at crossing borders. From the coffee we drink to the machines we brew it on, this is one of the most international substances known to man. That's part of the fun—the global connectivity, and the endless possibilities and outcomes contained therein. In late March 2018, our partners at Royal Coffee Inc. held their first-ever international outreach event series in Japan. This four-part event series was titled “Green Coffee Movement,” and hosted by Royal GM Richard Sandlin in Tokyo, Osaka, and Gunma.
Sandlin is helping spearhead the company's ongoing growth in Japan, with an eye towards more events and future expansion. In this way Royal joins an ongoing effort at cultural and business exchange between Japan and the United States, which has roots going back many years. On the American side, brewing products by Japanese brands like Hario, Kalita, and Takahiro have long been popular choices for brewing in the cafe and at home; beautiful cold drip towers and siphons made by brands like Oji and Yama continue to draw oohs and ahhs in American cafes; and Japanese entrepreneurs like Hiroshi Sawada and Hidenori Izaki have opened popular cafes and remain in-demand consultants. Meanwhile there are a growing number of American coffee brands branching out to Tokyo and beyond, including a growing number of proprietary cafes from Blue Bottle; a wildly busy Verve location at Shinjuku Station; and a dedicated wholesale partnership for Stumptown at Paddler's Coffee, now with multiple locations in Tokyo.
Into this milieu steps Royal, with Sandlin as a not-so-secret weapon. He's lived previously in Japan; his spouse was born in Sendai; he speaks the language fluently, and has even contributed writing on Japan's coffee scene to this website. This showed at Royal's recent event series, attended by a relaxed mix of roasters, baristas, industry notables and coffee lovers, with whom Sandlin chatted with casually in Japanese.
The Tokyo event was held at FabCafe, and Sandlin treated the crowd to a crash course on Royal's services as a green coffee importer, including the company's detailed record keeping on every facet of inventory. This information, as per Sandlin, helps inform Royal’s customers before, during, and after their purchasing of the beans. Joining Sandlin at the event was the microroasting brand Ikawa, and the application MineDrip. These two were introduced once Royal's presentation was completed, after which the group broke out into a series of stations focused on Ikawa's sample roasting prowess, a comparative tasting area, and a demo station for MineDrip.
The evening in Tokyo closed with a cupping, featuring a half-dozen current offerings from Royal's catalogue, available to potential customers in Tokyo. What followed was an open exchange of flavor perceptions, as much a chance to mingle as it was a formal evaluation. The Tokyo coffee scene, though deeply international, is also quite close knit, and during events like this one you see the familiarity and camaraderie that is happily part of coffee life here. It’s not just people in the same industry at the same event, going because they feel obligated, but people with the same love and passion for coffee. Into this steps Royal Coffee of Oakland; it's a lovely fit.
Craig Atkinson is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. This is Craig Atkinson's first feature for Sprudge Media Network.
Disclosure: Royal Coffee Inc. is an advertising partner on Sprudge Media Network.