Coffee County is a leading roaster in Fukuoka prefecture. The quality of its coffee and its aesthetic sense attract many people and give it a unique presence. A visit to their coffee bar in Yakuin in Fukuoka immerses you in their worldview. The coffee bar has a violet La Marzocco and the part of the counter is covered with brass. The coffee is served in warm, thick glasses and the coffee in the cup is delicious. You can feel the depth of thoughts that went into getting this liquid to its finishing in the taste.
Mr. Mori the owner has been involved in the coffee business for a long time and has a deep relationship with the producing countries. I have heard his name mentioned many times by producers and although I had met him a few times at cupping sessions, this was the first time I had taken the time to talk with him. I decided to ask him all the questions that I had been wanting to ask him personally.
To the origins of coffee
After graduating from university, Mr. Mori worked at coffee shops in Sapporo and Fukuoka and joined a company in Fukuoka where he has gained experience as a roaster. After that, he quit the job and visited Nicaragua in 2013 that is how the story of Coffee County began.
Mori states, “I thought to myself, “If I can’t go to the origins of coffee, it will be difficult to continue working in the coffee business any longer.” In my day-to-day roasting work, I always wanted to visit the production areas like a chef visits vegetable producers or selects ingredients at the markets, but since I was working in a corporate environment, it was difficult. I felt that I could not continue roasting when I don’t know much about the ingredients I was using, so I decided to visit the production areas first without making any decisions about the future. It was only afterward that I decided to open my own business.”
“I stayed at Finca Casa Blanca in Nicaragua. The company I was working for at the time was roasting coffee from this farm and I had met Mr. Sergio, the owner of the farm in Japan, so I asked him for help and he accepted it. I spent about three months in Nicaragua. I stayed at a hacienda (a farm with accommodations) with about 20 other workers and did the same work as everyone else did. It was hard work, cutting weeds with a machete (large knife) and sowing fertilizer on each of the 250,000 coffee trees. We started work at 6 a.m., ate breakfast at 8 a.m. which we brought with us, and worked some more hours, ate lunch at 2 p.m., and the day was over. After that, I would play baseball with everyone. I was there from May to July; when the harvesting and processing were over and no buyers were coming, but on the other hand, it was nice to be able to see what it was like to work during that time. If I were a roaster, I would only be able to visit there during the harvest or when I was buying.”
“What I gained from my stay at Finca Casa Blanca was a sense of mission to sell their coffee properly. The work in the production area was hard, and I couldn’t keep doing it, so I decided to do what I had to do and fulfilled my role. I’m really glad that I was able to bring that thought home with me.”
There are not many things going on in the off-season in the production area. In the fields where there were no coffee flowers or cherries, he repeated the same monotonous work every day. But these days quietly filled Mr. Mori with his conviction on coffee.
After returning from Nicaragua, Mr. Mori immediately started a roastery in Kurume in Fukuoka prefecture. When he opened the business, he only roasted coffee from Nicaragua.
Somewhere between digital and analog and somewhere between art and product.
Mr. Mori has an established reputation for his roasting skills and I asked him about the technical aspects of roasting.
“I use two vintage roasting machines from Probat. I like old things, so I chose them just like I like to choose to drive my favorite cars. I like this 80’s Probat roasting machine because it has double cylinders and the drum itself doesn’t hold heat and it doesn’t burn easily. That’s why I chose double cylinders for both of the machines I currently use.”
“For roasting, I follow the procedure written on a notebook while checking the numbers on the thermometer. Especially when I roast for the first time, I rely on my senses more to roast the coffee. I rarely just look at the numbers. I think coffee is placed somewhere between digital and analog and somewhere between art and product. I roast together with one other person at the moment and not only do we share detailed profiles but also we do cuppings together every day for adjusting its taste to be right.”
Many roasters use computers for roasting records to keep track of their roasts. Mr. Mori laughs by stating, “I think it’s time to stop writing by hand on paper,” but this is the precise reason why coffee roasted, with such a physical sense with his feeling, leaves a trace of his careful thoughts in the taste of coffee.
What does ‘delicious’ mean?
Coffee County’s coffee has a unique taste. What does ‘delicious’ mean to Mr. Mori?
“I like both classic wines and natural wines, but the difference is that classic wines are filled with elements of tastes while natural wines have gaps in the tastes. The gaps in natural wines give you a good sense of what’s in the middle and it’s possible to taste the flavor of the land very well. Wines that are made naturally such as Grand Vin and natural wines end up in the same place, too. In the case of Grand Vin, the aging process removes the elements and only the elements in the middle of the tastes become visible. The way Grand Vin and natural wines look is different but what you see is the same.”
It has the taste of its land of origin in the middle through the gaps. It is smooth and comfortably absorbed into the body. Coffee County’s coffee is that itself.
Don’t misjudge the tide of change.
How does Mr. Mori, who has been watching the trend in coffee in Japan for a long time, view the recent trend?
Mori states, “I think it is very fast-paced and the situation is very different from the situation five years ago. I think it is important not to misjudge the tide of change. I am a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ) committee and I am in a delicate position to interact with the younger generation, so I strongly feel the wave of the generational change. People who used to be at the top of their field are no longer talked about and I feel that their positions are changing very quickly. I’m also afraid that I will be forgotten. The biggest change in recent years is the way we source green coffee. I think there have been many different styles of sourcing coffee and many different styles of roasters have appeared.” The traditional world view of specialty coffee may be about to shift to a new dimension.
About the Future
What does Mr. Mori think about the future of coffee?
Mori states, “I am not thinking about making Coffee Country bigger as a company by increasing its branches. Instead, I would like to provide opportunities for our staff to start new projects within the company or to establish their own branch of our shop. I think this is a good idea because it allows us to challenge ourselves without taking risks on both sides.”
“I would like to continue roasting even when I am in my 50’s or 60’s. The difference between being a roaster and a founder is whether or not you want to continue roasting. Some people stop roasting and concentrate on running the business while others continue roasting all the time. Coffee County is gradually growing as a company, so I have started to have more work as a manager, but I don’t really like the work in the management. Maybe, I’ll leave the roasting for the company to someone else in the future and I run a small roastery that I can manage with my own hands.”
The scenery of the production areas can always be seen in the cups of Coffee County. As he continues to pursue, people will continue to sympathize with Mr. Mori. No matter how fast the coffee trend changes, the thing that is at the core of coffee won’t change.
The text was originally written in Japanese by Ayane Yamada
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is make a cup of coffee. I like to drink a light roast pour-over coffee in a glass and hold it up to the morning sun.