BERTH COFFEE ROASTERY Haru opened in Sumida ward, in the eastern part of Tokyo, in April 2021. It was established as the roasting division of BERTH COFFEE, a coffee stand which was previously located on the first floor of a hostel that used to be frequented by overseas customers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We interview roaster/manager Ms. Yuki Nishimura, who says, “I want to create a more open and interesting coffee culture by offering our roasted coffee and operating a system where people, who are interested in roasting, can share a roasting facility.”
Challenges amid COVID-19
Needless to say, COVID-19 struck a heavy blow in 2020 to the tourism industry affecting hotels, hostels, and the food and beverage service industry. Backpackers’ Japan Co., Ltd. that operates guesthouses and hostels, was no exception to this and was troubled by the sudden sharp decline in the number of overseas visitors, which had previously accounted for 80% of its business.
Nishimura states, “To overcome the situation under the pandemic, all of our fully-fledged full-time employees and part-time employees brainstormed ideas together for our next and new business models. We came up with about fifty to sixty new business ideas that ranged from cafe and restaurant for doing only take-out to running E-commerce website specializing in selling originally made furniture and products. Among all the business ideas that came up, we finalized to go ahead with two business ideas- running campsites and running BERTH COFFEE ROASTERY Haru.”
Nishimura, who was twenty-four years old and on her second year with the company, was assigned to start the roastery and cafe. She had spent her university days attending roasting seminars and cupping sessions, which were also attended by aspiring professionals. Her experience contributed to her new task.
Nishimura states, “The roasting seminars I attended as a student costed 20,000 yen (about 180 USD) per session, which I felt was very challenging for anyone who wanted to learn about coffee regardless of whether they wanted to become a professional or not. That’s why I wanted to eventually run a shared roasting facility where people who are interested in roasting coffee can share the place to practice roasting and create an online platform where people can easily and affordably book the shared roasting facility. My vision is to increase the number of people who can casually get involved in roasting.”
“The name of our roastery and cafe BERTH COFFEE ROASTERY Haru has two meanings- to put down roots and to set sails- which expresses my desire to create an open and airy roasting place while pursuing the taste and diversity of coffee. Since I was a university student, I have been thinking this way and I felt that the name reflected my own vision and mission in life.”
The world of coffee was just perfect for me
Nishimura, who was born and grew up in Ibaraki Prefecture, first stepped into the world of coffee when she was nineteen years old when she studied at university in Tokyo and attended a seminar at ONIBUS COFFEE in Tokyo.
“The seminar was called, ‘Basics of Specialty Coffee’ and we were given the opportunity to compare coffees from Africa and Latin America. As the lecturer explained, I was intrigued by how different the taste impressions were depending on the acidity, texture, and flavor.”
With her experience at the seminar, Nishimura had made it a habit to attend a cupping session at ONIBUS COFFEE every Sunday, taking a two-hour train ride to get there.
“To find something that I could be so passionate about, I first set myself the task of continuing to do the things that I found interesting. I’ve always had a wide range of interests, and my parents always told me, ‘Yui, you get bored so easily. You should try one thing at a time.’ That was one of the reasons I tried to continue to do one thing.”
In fact, Nishimura was also interested in tea and wine and went to those tasting events every week.
Nishimura states, “I chose to focus on coffee instead of wine or tea because the culture of the coffee industry matched with my personality. On the other hand, the professionals and enthusiasts of tea and wine are relatively older, and I had the impression that the industry itself is already mature. The coffee industry is still developing and people of my generation are trying to make it more exciting, and I thought I could find enjoyment and fulfillment in it.”
Nishimura felt that she was going to live in the coffee industry and eventually, as she became convinced of this, she started a coffee club at the university to spread the appeal of coffee. She took members to the cupping sessions at ONIBUS COFFEE that she usually attended and made drip coffee recipes together and compared different canned coffees. While she was involved with various activities, she never missed learning more each time to improve her skills and knowledge of coffee.
“I wanted to acquire the skills and deepen my knowledge of brewing and roasting coffee so that I can work in my favorite coffee shop after graduating from university, so I kept polishing my skills.”
I was happy just I could be involved with coffee
In her third year of university, Nishimura tried to find a job at a company, but she realized during her internship that working in a suit is impossible for her. She realized that she wouldn’t be able to continue the work if it’s not something she enjoyed and liked and she explored the career in the world of coffee. She applied to about ten cafes and coffee shops where she thought she wanted to work, regardless of whether they were hiring staff or not at the moment. She handed a CV to the staff directly at some of the cafes and coffee shops, but she wasn’t hired for any of them, which was probably because of her lack of experience working in the coffee industry.
On her way home from a coffee shop where she submitted her CV, Nishimura, who was feeling frustrated because she hadn’t found a job even right before her graduation from university, happened to visit a hostel called Nui. owned by Backpackers’ Japan Co., Ltd. She saw that there was a cafe on the first floor and later found out on their website that they were hiring. She applied for the position without knowing that it wasn’t just a cafe, but it was a part of hostel Nui., and all the newly hired cafe staff were also required to do various tasks at the hostel.
Nishimura states, “I thought it was just a cafe until I joined the company. When I was given the task of making beds and cleaning the hostel for the first few months, it was hard because I wasn’t allowed to be involved with coffee at all. That was why I was so happy when I was asked to start my shift in the cafe the next month and onwards from then.”
For Nishimura, it was fortunate that Nui. was purchasing roasted coffee from ONIBUS COFFEE. Thanks to attending cupping sessions for the past two years by then, she could guess the type of coffee by the taste of each coffee and could talk enthusiastically about the background of each that made people around her aware that she was a true coffee lover. As she became recognized by the people around her, baristas at the cafe came to rely on her as the go-to person who knew the most about coffee even though she was working as a server at the cafe at the time.
Nishimura states, “Backpackers’ Japan has a philosophy of creating a place where people can gather while transcending all boundaries and we have many customers from overseas, so most of the people who joined the company have a lot of experience overseas and like to interact with different kinds of people. It seems that there have been almost no cases of people who joined the company because she/he wanted to work at the cafe. Well, I was frustrated that I couldn’t speak English well like the other staff did, so I was motivated to do my best with coffee because it was the thing I could do well.”
Nishimura moved to Tokyo when BERTH COFFEE ROASTERY Haru opened. Before Haru’s opening for the past two years, she woke up at 4 am every morning taking the first train to Tokyo from Ibaraki Prefecture and returning home in Ibaraki Prefecture around 9 or 10 p.m.
“I was happy I could be involved in coffee, so it didn’t bother me at all. I had a part-time job at Starbucks before, but I was really happy when people are paying to drink the coffee I made specially for them.”
“Overseas customers are very frank with their comments, talking to me directly, ‘It’s delicious,’ or, ‘I can have a good day thanks to your coffee,’ which made me even happier. So, when we had to temporarily close the cafe last April of 2020 due to the state of emergency declared by COVID-19, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t make coffee for people anymore.”
Thanks to coffee, I gained my confidence
Innately curious Nishimura has been dabbling in a variety of things since she was in junior high school from music to drawing illustrations, cooking, wine, chocolate, tea, and so on. To the casual observer, it may have looked like she was jumping into everything one after another, but each step was a necessary step that Nishimura had to take in her life.
“In order to find something that I could really like and work hard at, I would try out anything that interested me. For example, I was interested in music in junior high school and it’s not that I lost interest in it now. I still compose music from time to time; my love for the music hasn’t changed, but whether or not I want to make it my career is a different story.”
In the case of coffee, not only do I love coffee itself but I’m also motivated to solve the issues of low-wage labors for coffee producers. At the launch of Haru, I think I was inspired and strongly felt that I wanted to do something for a company that was facing a crisis due to COVID-19.”
Nishimura, who started attending ONIBUS COFFEE’s cupping sessions when she was nineteen years old, turned twenty-five years old this year.
Nishimura states, “Just like before, there were times when I was worried that I might eventually get bored with coffee, but the fact that I haven’t gotten tired of coffee in the past six years tells me that coffee is my career with true passion. It’s not that I’ve made any effort not to get bored with it, but I honestly have felt that the world of coffee is so deep that I can’t find any reason to get bored with it.”
“I’ve always felt guilty about not having anything to devote myself to, but the fact that I’ve been able to pour my passion into coffee for the past six years has given me confidence, and I feel like I’ve grown to love myself.”
Steve Jobs’ famous graduation speech, in which he talked about “connecting the dots” was guiding Nishimura during her university days. She took marketing and behavioral economics courses as elective courses because she believed that the dots would eventually be connected.
Nishimura states, “I am grateful to my “getting bored easily” self that I have looked around a little bit of this and a little bit of that and into a wide variety of worlds because I am able to talk with customers who like arts and music. My knowledge of wine and chocolate is also useful when I have conversations with chefs and other people who work in the coffee industry.”
The dots don’t always connect naturally, but connect by having a strong will, clear vision, and action. Nishimura, who was often told by others, ‘I don’t think there is anyone who loves coffee as much as you do,’ has opened new possibilities for the world of coffee.
“For me, there is no coffee that doesn’t taste good. I like canned coffee, coffee from the All-You-Can-Drink bar at Royal Host, and I think that the coffee from Seven-Eleven that I drink before I go for a drive is the best. I like everything that can be called coffee.”
There is a famous song that has been sung for more than thirty years in Japan. “Believe. Love will always win in the end.” Nishimura, who is on her way to realize Haru’s vision of a world in which everyone involved in coffee can be proud of, will prove that the famous lyrics are not just a dream story with a melody, but it can be a true story.
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photo by Kenichi Aikawa
MY FAVORITE COFFEE
“When I start my day with a cup of coffee with good friends or baristas, I am filled with happiness. When I realize that I feel the same way as I did when I was first attracted to coffee, I acknowledge my love for coffee. Every time I drink coffee in the morning, I feel like I’m falling in love at first sight.”