FIVE COFFEE STAND & ROASTERY roasts its own coffee in a 17 square meter shop in the Yanesen area of Tokyo, which has an old town atmosphere. The store provides specialty coffee that is not too sweet and it makes you want to drink more as it has a unique flavor. We interviewed Mr. Yukio Umezawa, the owner, who says, “I want people to know about good coffee.”
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Coffee doesn’t have to be bitter.
The Yanesen area of Tokyo is popular for its retro cityscape and stylish cafes. Many people come here to take a stroll. Five Coffee Stand & Roastery, a coffee shop that roasts coffee in-house near Nezu station on Chiyoda Line, sells high-quality roasted specialty coffee that has flavor and sweetness and serves drip coffee and café lattes.
Umezawa states, “What we try to do is to roast coffee in a way that is not too sour nor too bitter but has sweetness. We offer not only coffees with strong acidity, but also offer coffees that meet the needs of customers who want coffee with less acidity. We choose green coffee and roast it so that the customers who prefer a less sour taste can enjoy the sourness and sweetness in a nice way.”
“I am very conscious of it because I want people who are not familiar with specialty coffee to drink it and learn more about it. This is a cliché but I’m happy when people who are not familiar with specialty coffee, who think that coffee is bitter, come to the store many times.”
Umezawa opened the store in April 2020 with the sole intention of running a coffee shop, but he used to be one of those who was not familiar with specialty coffee. He worked as a Systems Engineer in the IT industry, but what was it that moved him to coffee?
What can I do in the world of coffee to create a win-win relationship?
To begin with, Umezawa wasn’t a coffee lover at heart. When coffee at convenience stores started to become popular, he only tried it because of its popularity. To Umezawa, coffee was just bitter, and he had to endure the bitterness that lingered in his mouth.
This impression about coffee was overturned in 2016 when he visited a coffee shop during a mountain climbing trip to Chichibu in Saitama prefecture.
“The coffee had a complex sweetness, acidity, and fruity taste. I was shocked by the sweet and juicy taste of specialty coffee from a national winner in Brazil that I drank for the first time and my stereotype of all the coffees are the same was shattered. The coffee shop used a home roasting machine that costs less than 100,000 yen (about 920 USD) and it may not have been the really good specialty coffee, but I felt it was still definitely good.”
What drew Umezawa further into the world of coffee was a book about the world of specialty coffee and the current situations in the coffee origins.
“If consumers drink quality coffee, even if it’s more expensive than cheap coffee, they can enjoy good coffee and producers are compensated appropriately so they are more motivated to produce good coffee. What can I do to maintain such a win-win relationship? My answer to the question was to create opportunities for people to drink specialty coffee.
I was able to believe in my “delicious.”
The experience of encountering delicious coffee led to an equal relationship between producers, roasters, and consumers. The desire to be a part of the circle gradually changed the life of Umezawa, who was working as a Systems Engineer at a company.
He participated in coffee seminars and cupping sessions by using weekday evenings and paid holidays and roasted coffee using a roasting machine that he rented. Roasting was initially a bit of “Let’s try things out,” but to make the coffee to “sweet, yet not getting tired of drinking it” had been determined by the third year of starting it.
He had gained a certain level of confidence by the end of the fourth year as he regularly held study sessions with other coffee lovers who were interested in opening their businesses to critique each other’s brewed coffee. However, he could not get rid of his anxiety about running his store.
“I had gained confidence and I thought my coffee was delicious. But I didn’t know if my coffee would be able to keep up with the good coffee of other stores or if my customers would even say it was good. I had no idea how people would react to my coffees.”
Nevertheless, his desire to open a coffee shop never faded and after about five years of preparation on April 1, 2020, Umezawa opened Five Coffee Stand & Roastery, which sells only specialty coffee. Even though the news related to the Covid-19 was making headlines every day, Umezawa didn’t hesitate to open the coffee shop since he had good feedback from customers on the pre-opening day in March.
“I was relieved to see that many people were happy, but I also worried that if I didn’t sell non-specialty coffee at the store, which costs about 400 yen per 100 grams, I wouldn’t be able to survive. To be honest, there were times I thought that way, but I realized that many people understand the quality of specialty coffee even if it’s a bit pricey. That’s when I decided I want to continue providing what I believe to be delicious coffee.”
I want to spread specialty coffee.
Five Coffee Stand & Roastery got off to a good start, but the week after the opening day, a state of emergency was declared in seven prefectures including Tokyo. However, many customers came from nearby areas to buy coffee beans due to cocooning consumption. It was a good opportunity for the store to be known.
Having said that, all was not going so well and the shop experienced a wave of declining sales unique to the Yanesen area from June to September. Even so, Umezawa continued to operate his business in the way he should be doing as much as possible.
“The ‘new normal’ for the world is the ‘normal’ for me. (laughs) I hear comments from customers, ‘I want to drink good coffee at home, but I don’t know how to do it’ or ‘I bought some tools, but I can’t brew it well,’ so I plan to hold seminars on hand-dripping and cupping this year to achieve my initial goal of spreading the appeal of specialty coffee.”
In order for customers to enjoy coffee in various ways, he has recently been offering coffee cocktails with alcohol or syrups on the menu.
“It’s fun to talk with customers, but it’s even better when they are happy. That’s why I want to do everything I can to make my customers happy. Well, I do everything I can within the scope of what I can do and what I want to do though but I want to do my best.”
Face-to-face relationships bringing joy.
It has been 25 years since Umezawa started working in society and although he has moved from an IT career to a different career, he has been driven by the joy of customers, which has remained the same from he was working as a Systems Engineer.
He states, “I was not a Systems Engineer who stayed in the office and worked quietly, but a Systems Engineer in the front office who worked closely with the customers. I was involved in the project from the meeting stages and responded to the customers’ requests as much as possible. There were a lot of situations where I had to take care of things so that we could proceed with the project without making each other uncomfortable, but I didn’t find it hard; in fact, I enjoyed it.”
The starting point was an experience he had in his third year of working at the company. One day, he received a phone call from a client who was using a system that Umezawa had built who said, “I would like to consult with you about another matter.”
“My boss said to me, ‘A call like that is a sign that you’re becoming a full-fledged member of the company’ and I was really happy that they saw me as a person in charge. It’s the same in my current job and it makes me happy when a customer who comes to the store once comes back a second or third time.”
Umezawa’s desire for face-to-face relationships and the experience he offers to customers at his 17 square meter store is probably leading to a world of happiness, connecting people who drink coffee with people who make coffee.
Originally written in Japanese by Kaede Sato.
“It’s a cup of coffee I drink when I take a break to relax and eat my favorite sweets. I also like coffee on its own, but when I combine it with something sweet, it increases my happiness level. I have my favorite drippers and equipment, but when I enjoy my coffee, I try out different things and make coffee.”