“Seven cups, seven stories.”
This was the theme of the Coffee Collection, an event that brought together seven of Japan’s most prominent coffee roasters—Glitch Coffee Roasters, Fuglen Coffee Roasters, Paul Bassett, Trunk Coffee, Single Origin Roasters, Slow Jet Coffee, and Mojo Coffee—to share a variety of coffee with a wide audience.
The one stipulation for the event was that each roaster use the same brew method—the Hario V60 pour-over—to ensure that each individual coffee told its own unique story.
When I first heard this, it brought to mind a collection of novelists, each given the same pen and paper, and asked to write. What stories would each person tell? How would they tell them?
Curious, I reached out to the roasters to find out—what story does your coffee tell? The results were refreshing, creative, and passionate. And though the event has come to a close for 2015, you’ll find here stories that will continue into new chapters, sequels, and perhaps even author collaborations.
Kiyokazu Suzuki, Glitch Coffee and Roasters
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Gedeb Natural
“The birthplace of all coffee is in Ethiopia. Back when I started, I decided to take my first steps from coffee’s place of origin. And 14 years ago when I began roasting, the first roast was a coffee called Ethiopia Blue Horse. Those beans left an impression on me—it was an excellent coffee; one that brought to mind red wine, lemongrass, and strawberry.
The tattoo on my shoulder, it’s of that blue horse.
So I want people to experience it, that first impression I had all those years ago. I want them to experience it through the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Gedeb Natural—beans that express that memory in their taste.
There are countless numbers of excellent coffee, but for me, Ethiopian coffee has a depth that has carved itself into my very being.”
Yasuo Suzuki, Trunk Coffee
From Denmark, to Tokyo, to Nagoya, to the Coffee Collection
“I started coffee in Copenhagen, Denmark. Originally I lived in Malta, but I moved to Denmark when I started coffee, because it produced many World Barista Championship champions.
In Denmark, being a barista is a popular profession. At the time, I didn’t have any knowledge of coffee, nor any skills. I couldn’t speak Danish, either. In other words, there was no reason for any cafe in Denmark to hire me.
I traveled through Copenhagen, hopping from cafe to cafe looking for a place to work. I think I visited almost every cafe in the city. But even then, I couldn’t catch a break—no cafe would give me a chance.
After about three months of being turned down day after day, I finally found a cafe that agreed to teach me about coffee—for five days only. Those five days, I worked as hard as I could. But I couldn’t let it end there. I’d finally found a way in, and I couldn’t let this chance slip from my grasp. I decided to keep going back until they kicked me out, and so on the seventh and the eighth day I went back to the cafe. With persistence I naturally found my place at that cafe, and I started working there.
I bought an espresso machine for myself, and every day I practiced like crazy, both at work and at home. Copenhagen is full of talented baristas, so I also went to many of their cafes to watch them at work, gather information, and share opinions. The days went by like this, and the more I knew, the more my goal became unclear—I was just completely absorbed in the world of coffee.
Upon returning to Japan, I was invited to start at Fuglen Tokyo, where I stayed for two years.
But at that time, my hometown of Nagoya didn’t have any great coffee shops. I really wanted to build a coffee culture in Nagoya where people could enjoy good coffee, so in August of 2014, we opened Trunk Coffee.
We’re working every day to spread delicious coffee throughout Nagoya, and to have people all over the country learn of Nagoya through our coffee.”
Yu Yamamoto, Single Origin
Kenya Karatu AA
“Kenya. Eight years ago, I traveled to Kenya, and yet I never thought I would one day work handling its coffee beans.
For the Coffee Collection, we’ve selected Kenya Karatu AA. For coffee lovers the world over, Kenyan coffee offers a very special kind of charm. And among Kenyan coffees, the Karatu AA beans are, for me, truly top class; they’re among the best I’ve had the chance to drink. I’ll never forget the shock I felt tasting it at the Sydney cupping table.
So for this event back home in Japan, I made sure to order some.
I want everyone here at home to taste this rich sweetness.
There are auctions in Kenya every month. At the auctions, the Karatu Collective is famous for their high-quality beans. The floral scent, the clear citrus acidity, a sweetness like honey, a flavor of stone fruits, and a powerful mouthfeel—they’re very special coffee beans.
For us, roasting means bringing out the very best of each coffee. To make that a reality, every year we source fresh coffee beans. Coffee is like rice; the new rice season offers the very best quality rice, just like fresh coffee beans are rich with the best flavors. And I really want people to enjoy that—the sweet, smooth mouthfeel that you get even without sugar and milk.”
Takaki Yamaguchi, Mojo Coffee
Supermarkets, fresh mackerel, and coffee
“This was about a year ago, when I was in Asagaya drinking coffee. Probably I had the day off work, and went out to drink coffee because I didn’t have anything else to do.
Across from me was an old lady with beautiful, straight white hair, and another older woman in a purple jacket. They were drinking coffee, and talking about fresh mackerel at the local supermarkets.
‘I gotta tell you, it’s fresh. The mackerel at XX Supermarket is really fresh.’
‘But the ZZ Supermarket, it’s just, well, horrible. The sheen is just completely different.’
The ladies went from mackerel to talking about the night’s dinner—it was all too complicated, so they settled on an easy alternative: boiled fish. They laughed at the laziness, like little partners in crime. I pictured them returning home, and placing a well-used nabe pot on the stove. I pictured them adding a little sugar, mirin, soy sauce, and sake. They’d then slide a mackerel—fresh, of course, with a nice blue sheen—off the kitchen knife and neatly into the pot. Through the glass lid we’d see water bubbling, and the nabe pot simmering.
Listening to the rambling conversations of people drinking coffee at cafes is, well, kind of fun. And I think it’s because rambling stories bring out the real person. I think everyone has experienced a self introduction that just didn’t go right; those times you can’t seem to express yourself well. Compared to that, these casual conversations are a fragment of a person’s story, and people tell them without having to think—it’s an outline of who they are. And there’s space in that to imagine this or that about the stories that hide in the background.
Even right now, somewhere in the world, someone is sharing a casual, rambling story. It might be about a catcher’s mitt abandoned behind the school’s sport shed, or it might be about the incessant ringing of the railway melody as trains leave from Paris North Station.
Oftentimes, I think coffee is a part of those fragments of conversation. The most suitable place for coffee is a place for people, and it’s a place where a new space opens up for someone’s story.
I’d be happy for Mojo Coffee to be a comfortable place like that for our customers.”
Shinobu Fukasako, Paul Bassett
Colombia Aromas Del Sur
“Specialty coffee is a high-quality, delicious product we want people to understand better. When selecting a coffee for the Coffee Collection, we thought there’d be many shops showcasing the bright acidity and gorgeous flavors unique to African coffees.
So the reason we decided on a Colombian coffee, then, was to help show the depth in specialty coffee. By choosing a well-rounded, balanced coffee from Central America, we’re able to showcase the variety of tastes that result from different source locations, and also provide a comfortable coffee for a first-time specialty coffee experience.
Colombian plantations are well-known for being family-owned and family-run, and in many cases much of the work is done by hand—cherry picking, processing, drying; the whole operation goes through many sets of hands before it arrives for our use.
At Paul Bassett, we think it’s really important to express the journey coffee beans take to make their way to each cup, and each customer.”
Nobuyasu Yamauchi, Slow Jet Coffee
Mandheling Lake Tawar
“Our reason for selecting the Indonesian Mandheling Lake Tawar was that we think it’s a single-origin coffee that is a good reflection of our shop, Slow Jet Coffee.
At many Third Wave coffee shops, we feel there’s a lot of light-roasted coffees with a beautiful acidity and fruitiness. I really like that kind of coffee, and often find myself going out to look for and drink it.
However, at Slow Jet Coffee, we’ve found our customers prefer a slightly darker, chilled out, and balanced coffee. We want our customers to be happy, so we have a lot of these kinds of coffees.
So when thinking about the Coffee Collection, and putting out a single-origin coffee, we wanted to provide a slightly darker option that maintained the unique aspects of the beans, whilst also reflecting our style at Slow Jet Coffee. The Mandheling Lake Tawar was just right.
With careful roast control, we could create a well-balanced coffee that brings out a smooth flavor, and displays the strength and sweetness of the beans.
At the Coffee Collection, we had the chance to share this coffee with many visitors, and see them enjoy it. We hope to continue this, and share the wonder of coffee with more and more people.”
Kenji Kojima, Fuglen Coffee
The Taste of Oslo
“If you’re asking about the Fuglen Tokyo style, it’s all about Oslo. We don’t match our coffee to a Japanese standard, and with our beans we aim to recreate the taste of Oslo. That’s our standard. In Oslo, there’s Tim Wendelboe, Kaffa, Supreme Roastworks, Solberg & Hansen—a host of roasters with their own unique styles. But overall, there’s a real focus on the light roast, fruit aspect—good beans and an expert roast expresses the quality of the beans themselves. That’s the biggest influence, I feel.
Personally, I was brought up and raised in Japan. I was taught about coffee here, too. I was taught that coffee is valuable, and precious. People enjoy crafted latte art, and go out for good coffee on dates and such. But in Oslo, it didn’t feel like that at all. People drank coffee because it was there.
For them, it isn’t necessarily something special—it’s a part of life and it’s always there. People haunt local cafes because they’re nearby. I felt like the awareness of coffee was different. So with our coffee we hope to create that same kind of environment here in Japan—where you don’t have to think of good coffee as special; it’s just there, so we drink it.”
Hengtee Lim (@Hent03) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Tokyo. Read more Hengtee Lim on Sprudge.