COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET Yang Yishan / Jiang Ciwei

COFFEE LOVER's PLANET

Yang Yishan / Jiang Ciwei

Harnessing the Power of Team

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COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET was founded in Taiwan in 2016 by Japan-based UCC UESHIMA COFFEE Co. Of many shops UCC operates in Japan and four other Asian nations, COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET is the flagship and the only one focused on specialty coffee.

COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET runs two locations, both in Taiwan. What does it see as its identity, and where does it aim to go? We’ve interviewed brand manager Yang Yishan and roaster Jiang Ciwei.

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Creating a store deserving of specialty coffee

Major department store chain SOGO has seven locations across Taiwan. COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET occupies a corner of its branches in Dunhua and Hsinchu Big City.

As you enter these two shops, a diverse lineup of coffees will immediately catch your eye. Here, even indoor-dining customers can choose from seven brewing methods, including drip, French press, and cold brew.

“Specialty coffee is by no means a cheap product,” Yishan said. “Our shop is in a department store. So we need to add some value to the products with customer service, too.”

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COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET has a roasting space and a packaging room on its premises, a setup that’s rarely seen elsewhere. These facilities allow it to seal freshly roasted coffees in original positive-pressure aluminum cans that preserve freshness and afford richness to aromas. Details of the package room are a closely guarded secret, except that it employs Japanese technology.

COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET is independent of the 13 UCC outlets in Taiwan. The company has its own recruitment program, and its staff won’t be transferred to other affiliates, all because it focuses solely on specialty coffee and has completely different service styles and serving methods.

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Being passionate coffee enthusiasts, members of COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET actively participate in competitions as a team. Among them is Ciwei, who joined the company in 2016 and notched a third-place in the Taiwan Brewers’ Cup in 2019.

“Some of us joined the company to take part in competitions, and others developed an interest after working with us for a while. We practice both individually and as a team, sharing coffee knowledge at monthly meetings and organizing small competitions. The biggest advantage of working as a team is to be able to learn things you wouldn’t by yourself. 

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Effort alone isn’t enough

The face of COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET is none other than Yishan, brand manager. She has made four appearances in the World Siphonist Championship, representing Taiwan. And after coming in second in 2011 and third in 2013 and 2014, she was finally crowned the world champion in 2017.

Yishan, who joined UCC in 2000, first learned about the competition in around 2005. Back then, she was living a hectic life working at a cafe. One day, a video of the Japan Siphonist Championship grabbed a hold of her heart.

“Watching contestants’ hands trembling, I could sense just how nervous they were. Their stylish, expressive demeanor gave me a strong urge to test my abilities and possibilities.”

She hoped to participate in the competition herself if it would one day take place in Taiwan. Her wish eventually came true, as a WSC qualifier came to Taiwan in 2009.

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With a renewed determination, Yishan devoted her utmost to achieving a goal of winning the WSC.

Practicing at the company headquarters after work and coming home at around 11PM became a daily routine. At home, she studied English words for the competition. On her days off, she visited the vacant office and practiced by herself. In this new lifestyle, she had no time to have fun or blow off steam. Her home became a place to merely take a shower and sleep.

With her sights firmly set on a win, sacrificing quality of life was a no-brainer. Back then, she had to do everything on her own because she didn’t have the team support she now enjoys. But even in this daily cycle of challenges against herself, her resolve to win never wavered.

“I finished top 3 almost every time I took part. The first place was within my reach. Giving up was not an option. But I also felt I’d hit a stalemate. I was at a loss what to do to break that barrier.”

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A turning point came when she helped launch COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET. To focus on the project, she took a temporary break from competitions. And that hiatus was exactly what she needed to find a path forward.

“I learned seven different brewing methods and other expertise during those two years. Having gained a more accurate understanding of brewing, I got a new perspective on coffee. I became able to look at coffee from a different angle. I felt as if the fog in front of me had finally cleared up.”

Yishan finally clinched the long-coveted championship trophy at the 2017 WSC.

“Looking back, I was obsessed with the old fashioned way of thinking until 2014. I was naive to think that I could get good results as long as I made an effort. Of course, hard work is important. But it’s equally important to have a way of thinking and perspective with which to form your foundation. In that sense, those two years were a good break for me to recharge myself.”

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Comfortable workplace

After two years of reshaping herself, Yishan took up the role of brand manager. The role changed not only her view of work and working style, but also her way of life.

“After becoming brand manager, I realized that I had no one but myself to organize my own work schedules. I learned to put aside the job in front of me and unwind, so that I can relieve stress and focus on other tasks. Now, I believe it is very important to take a good rest and have some mental bandwidth.

I do know that I come across as demanding and staff get tense around me. When I managed another store, I was too harsh on staff. They must have been terrified of me. So now I consciously try to make everyone loosen up. After all, it is part of my job to create an atmosphere that fosters collaboration and active discussion among staff.”

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For Ciwei, who joined COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET soon after its first location opened, Yishan was an intimidating figure with an aura of authority, grace and consummate professionalism.

“Part of me still has that impression of her. But having worked with her, I’ve seen how caring she is toward staff. She has an exceptionally discerning eye. She picks up on even the smallest change in our attitudes and shows us empathy. And she is unique in her own way, too, especially so when she tells a joke while chuckling at it herself. And her laughing makes us laugh as well.

The appeal of our company is that supervisors are approachable and have the flexibility to adopt staff’s opinions. For instance, if you suggest that the company buy a new coffee, and if they sign off, you can develop a new product. Because of that, I enjoy working without feeling much stress.”

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Going back to drawing board

Ciwei was attracted to the coffee world when he was 16 during his second year in high school. He found a seed of joy at a cafe where he worked part-time.

“Even simple latte art seemed to make customers happy and want to take photos. That led me to believe that my work, no matter how small, has the power to change the mood of customers for the day.”

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Ciwei started working for UCC after he graduated university and completed mandatory military service. He has learned various brewing methods at COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET. After working as a barista for a while, he took up roasting out of curiosity about origins. He went on to earn a Q-grader license.

“My roasting determines how smoothly baristas can brew coffee. A slight change in roasting time and temperature can result in a completely different coffee. That’s the fun of it. I aim to find the best profile for each green coffee.

I don’t interact with customers as often now that I take charge of roasting. But some customers to whom I used to serve coffee as a barista sometimes ask me to brew coffee for them. I’m grateful that they ask me for my recommendations for coffee beans and tips on how to drip.

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You will never run out of things to learn about coffee. That’s the beauty of it. I will continue to explore the unknown, including origins, various jobs at the bar counter, and communication with customers. That said, if I brew coffee and customers like it, that is all I need to be satisfied, to be honest. My love for coffee hasn’t changed for the past 10 years or so.”

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Demanding, but still warm world

Six years have passed since COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET opened. It has kept a stable business, except for the impact of the pandemic. But Yishan says it still has room for growth.

“My goal is to take everything to the next level, from brewing to roasting skills to customer service. In doing so, I want to make the store a leading brand in Taiwan’s specialty coffee market. I want to bring more people’s attention to how attractive coffee is by telling a story behind each cup.”

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Growing up, Yishan liked to drink coffee with her family. Opening a cafe was her childhood dream. She hoped to create a heartwarming, comfortable space where she would brew and serve coffee directly to customers. And if other people enjoyed her own world, that would be a dream come true. Joining UCC was just a stepping stone toward realizing a future she wanted, or so she thought.

But those days are long gone. Having served as store chief and brand manager at UCC, and learned firsthand how difficult it is to keep a cafe up and running, her dream has naturally faded away. At the same time, overcoming tough challenges presented by her supervisor was a form of initiation for her to cast her old shell and meet her new self.

“Work is something you should perform to live up to your supervisor’s expectations. I thought there is no positive or negative there. It was indeed painful to get scolded many times over. But now I see that period as a good exercise in building patience.

Looking back, I can say with certainty that without that experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t even have thought about taking part in competitions in the first place. And maybe it would’ve been impossible for me to keep pursuing the gold for nearly 10 years.”

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Yishan’s seemingly cold, distant persona was perhaps a facade she put on to survive a cut-throat world of corporate warriors. But looking at her amicable smile today, one will hardly see a trace of the strict boss she once was. After taking a circuitous path toward becoming a professional, Yishan is now building a demanding, but still warm world on a stage called COFFEE LOVER’s PLANET.

“I used to treat staff harshly in the same way I was groomed. But times have changed. I need to cultivate a staff that’s skilled enough to get good results in competitions, in a way that fits the current era. If we want to enhance the value of our brand, I think that’s also an indispensable part of my mission.”

Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photos by 王晨熙 hellohenryboy

MY FAVORITE COFFEE

Yang Yishan: I like a cup of hot coffee I drink right after I wake up in the morning. It doesn’t have to be high-end or special. As long as it doesn’t taste bad and has a smooth texture, any coffee will do.

Jiang Ciwei: I feel happy when I drink a clean, taint-free coffee with my loved ones in a quiet place.

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