After working at Sapporo’s ONIYANMA COFFEE&BEER for six years, Takehiro Yonezawa branched out to launch his own roastery and coffee shop, Brew it by NODE in December 2022. Throughout his time at ONIYANMA, Yonezawa took the initiative to create various points of contact through sponsoring cuppings and other events where individuals from various industries and backgrounds could come together and exchange information. To complement these domestic endeavors, Yonezawa decided to travel to Tanzania and Kenya to learn more about the realities facing coffee farms and the supply chain. The following are some of the thoughts and realizations he came away with after participating in the origin visit.
Similarities despite the distance
I had always wanted to visit an origin country, so I was bursting with excitement as my trip approached. I found myself wondering just what sort of discoveries I would make through experiencing the local scenery, customs, and coffee processing methods for myself.
One of the memories that has stuck with me the most was participating in a cupping with the producers present. All the roasters who were taking part gave them feedback on the spot, so the producers were immediately able to take it into account and improve their production methods. Through this simple yet effective cycle, roasters were able to obtain higher quality coffee that could be passed onto consumers. It was astonishing to see how effective this method was at creating a better final product.
My eyes have been opened to the fact that coffee production isn’t some far-removed process that takes place in a foreign land. I’ve realized that producers are on the same level as manufacturers, playing a huge role in the creation of their product. Since coffee is an agricultural crop, it goes without saying that the quality will vary from year to year, but the importance of maintaining good ties with producers over the long term and prioritizing the maintenance of those relationships over buying coffee based just on the quality of one particular season has really resonated with me.
Another huge benefit of going on this trip was being able to interact with other roasters that I’d previously followed online or on social media. I’ve always wanted to be a roaster who has his own unique flair, but I’m still in the process of finding my style, or to be more specific, I’d been imitating others that I admired.
Through this experience, I was able to broaden my horizons by discussing philosophies about coffee with roasters who had firmly found their footing in the industry. I believe this helped me to take a few more steps down the path to discovering my own originality as a roaster.
As a concrete example of some of the information I gleaned, I’d previously believed that light roast was the only way to bring the full amount of flavor out of green beans. However, I’ve realized that’s not always the case – it’s the skill and talent of the individual roaster that is pivotal to how much flavor can be extracted.
It’s best not to “speak thoughtlessly”
I’ve always been interested in social issues, so before departing, I was thinking I could use the opportunity to bring some of the typical problems such as poor working environment, low wages, and water pollution caused from the coffee refining process to the attention of the local people.
However, by the time my trip was finished, I was honestly left with more questions than answers. Especially in Kenya, where the government is involved in coffee production, I realized there were far more murky areas than I was originally expecting. Even in the specialty coffee industry, where great emphasis is placed on traceability, there were a lot of structural problems that seemed near impossible to dismantle.
Through the experiences of my trip, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself by relying only on knowledge I had obtained from online research or reading books. I’d previously discussed some of the events going on behind the scenes with my customers, but looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have been so quick to speak. Of course, I’m not saying that raising awareness by talking about various problems should completely fall by the wayside, but I’m now aware that one should take responsibility for their words and not speak thoughtlessly about issues they may not fully understand.
One of the biggest benefits I took away from this trip was a renewed awareness that I only had a limited view when it came to understanding various aspects of what was happening in the industry. Another example I can list is that Tanzania is currently making progress on a project to install the required equipment (such as dry mills) for converting their mainstream product, commodity coffee, into specialty grade coffee. It seems that for countries and the industry as a whole to keep moving in the right direction, it’s necessary to make changes that start from the ground up.
Creating connections through coffee
Currently, my personal goal is to increase the consumption of specialty coffee. By achieving that, the number of people who are invested in learning about what is going on in producing countries should also increase.
In the few short months since launching my own coffee shop, I’ve come to see that many of my customers have never really heard of specialty coffee. Even popular musicians and other celebrities are often seen drinking canned coffee or coffee sold at convenience stores. Thinking back on my time at ONIYANMA, we were never at a loss for customers even without having to advertise that we specialized in offering specialty coffee because we already had an established customer base.
But no matter the point of introduction, I’m confident that people will be captivated by specialty coffee once they start drinking it. The first time I tried it myself, not only was I blown away by the quality of my beverage, but I also thought that the barista seemed so cool. With that being my formative experience, I’ve made it my goal to create an environment that’s akin to a specialized bookstore that is welcoming to all customers, academic and non-academic alike.
When dealing with specialty coffee, it’s important not to fall into the trap of self-satisfaction. No matter how good your product is, the road ahead is a short one if you can’t get your customers to understand its value and importance.
It’s for this reason that I’ve made sure my business has enough space that can be used for holding events that will hopefully raise awareness of specialty coffee. Since there is a music studio in the basement of my roastery’s building, I have ambitions of creating exchange opportunities with people involved in the arts or music that can become a gateway for individuals from different industries to stimulate and gain inspiration from each other.
In fact, I’ve already had several surprising discoveries of my own. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with bartenders and chefs who have cultivated a vast amount of taste experience based on their personal experiences and individual perspectives – not to mention a deep understanding of unique flavor combinations. If I hadn’t strayed outside the coffee industry, I never would’ve made the connections that have given me access to this treasure trove of knowledge.
Even while I was at ONIYANMA I was involved in hosting cuppings and other events, but to be honest, I’ve always had a reserved personality. Still, I made a conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to expand the world around me. Lucky for me, coffee has been an excellent tool for putting myself out there. I’ve been able to keep up with the annually changing trends as well as global issues through learning about circumstances affecting coffee producing countries. Regardless of whether it’s your intention or not, one of the most interesting aspects of coffee is that it forces you to pay attention to what is going on in the world.
But even without a specific reason, coffee is still captivating. I look forward to many years of sharing surprising new perspectives and sensations with my customers as I continue to grow and develop as a roaster myself.