Held over three days at Tokyo Big Sight convention center, the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan’s (SCAJ) Conference and Exhibition brought coffee lovers together to further learn the art of coffee, show off new tech, deepen connections, and share knowledge. It also played host to a number of great competitions—the Barista, Cup Taster’s, Hand-Drip, and Siphonist championships—and with specialty coffee interest ramping up in Japan, competition was fierce.
In the Barista Championship, long standing favorites Maruyama Coffee were upset by this year's winner, Yoshikazu Iwase. A semi-finalist at the championship in 2010, 11, and 13, this year marks a first-time first place victory for the humble owner and barista of Rec Coffee Collective in Fukuoka. In the semi-finals, Iwase’s choice of bean was Ethiopian Nekisse Red from Ninety Plus Coffee, with a signature drink involving a touch of green tea and Japanese wasanbon sugar.
In the finals, Iwase once again went with the Nekisse Red, explaining that the beans were chosen not simply for the cupping score, but also to help support and grow the producers of the beans. He changed up his signature drink for the finals, going with a a flavorful, unique mix of the Nekisse Red with the aroma of a high-class Chinese tea called houousuisen.
The Cup Tasters Championship was won by Coffee Rankan’s Terukiyo Tahara, who not only scored two perfect scores to take the title, but also did so with an incredible time of two minutes in the final. Having placed third in the 2011 World Cup Tasters Championship and hungry for a second chance at the title, Tahara’s victory shouts echoed out of the stands and melted to tears as he latched on tight to the MC, where a long and touching, if slightly awkward hug ensued. Tahara admitted to considering retirement, saying he would have retired if he hadn’t won. But with a round-trip ticket secured to the World Championship in Sweden, Tahara hopes to prove the efficacy of Japanese cupping methods.
In the Hand Drip Championship, the love and enthusiasm for Japan’s most beloved brewing method was clear from start to finish, with shaky hands and nervous performances ultimately giving way to calm pours and wonderfully aromatic coffees. The title was won by Katsurou Doi of Ueshima Coffee House, with a smooth, calm presentation featuring a Guatemalan coffee from El Injerto brewed on a Kalita Wave.
Doi himself said that his goal was simply to bring out and maintain the sweetness he loves most about this coffee. And though it took some work to find the right balance and brew method, Doi’s wish was to express not just an amazing taste, but also the ease with which one could enjoy such a coffee at home.
With Hidenori Izaki's 2014 World Barista Championship win, more and more coffee competitors each year, Japanese roasters and baristas deepening their understanding of specialty coffee everyday, and many international coffee companies looking to Japan for expansion, the coffee scene in Japan is having quite a moment, all evident at SCAJ Tokyo. We can't wait to see how that moment will translate for the champions on the world stage in Seattle next Spring.
Photos by Hengtee Lim for Sprudge.com unless otherwise noted.