GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS is a shop of single origin coffees that opened at Jimbocho in Tokyo in 2015 with the concept of introducing coffee culture from Japan to the world. We interviewed Mr. Kiyokazu Suzuki the founder who carefully selects the menu and coffee who says, “We only serve coffee to customers that we are satisfied with.”
In a sanctuary
In Jimbocho, Tokyo, where secondhand bookstores and cafes are concentrated, there is a coffee shop that is described as “crazy” by foreign customers who are coffee connoisseurs; GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS, which opened in April 2015.
Kiyokazu Suzuki, the founder and owner of GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS states, “We only sell single-origin, light roast coffee, and our lineup is very particular. Some of the prices are outrageous like 3,500 yen (about 32 USD) per cup of coffee. I am sometimes told, “Why don’t you open one in Shibuya? I don’t understand it because this place is hard to come by,” from customers who have been to many different coffee shops around the world.” (laugh)
With the concept of introducing coffee culture from Japan to the world, GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS targets coffee lovers from overseas and expresses its Japanese flavors in many ways, such as using a Japanese family crest as the store logo and paving the walls of the counter with cobblestones. Perhaps, this is why the shop attracts many overseas customers but it also has won the hearts of Japan’s core coffee fans. Why did he choose Jimbocho as the area to open his coffee shop?
Suzuki states, “When I came here for the first time, I felt that the area was not influenced by anything. The Imperial Palace and Yasukuni Shrine are nearby and you can feel the history and culture of Japan. It is also known as a town of craftsmen and some stores have been around for generations. I got the impression that this town has remained unchanged for a long time and will probably remain unchanged for decades to come. It never goes out of fashion. The bubble tea shop opens occasionally but it goes out of business soon after the opening. It may be difficult to gain recognition here, but I felt that if I wanted to build a coffee shop that would last for generations, this is the place.”
Suzuki’s desire for high purity in the coffee is also reflected in the way he has created his store: “I don’t serve blended coffee at all and I only serve my favorite light roast coffee to customers.”
“I listen to the opinions of trusted baristas and I only serve what I am convinced is delicious. We know that if we think of it as a business, it would be better to offer dark roast coffee and blended coffee. We are happier to offer coffee that we believe in 100% that is good and even if people don’t like it at all, it is better than offering them coffee that we don’t like.”
“All of the staff at GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS are happy to serve coffee that we like and passionately recommend the coffee they like to customers by saying, “I definitely recommend this one!” “You should definitely drink this one first!”
“We tell the customers who want to drink bitter coffee the reason why we don’t have bitter coffee. When we have dark roast coffee, coffee may burn and the flavor may be lost, so we guide them to light roast coffee, “Please try this type of coffee that is spreading rapidly around the world.”
“If we offer coffee that the customers like, we won’t be able to reward the efforts of the producers. When I visited coffee producers and saw the smiling faces of hard-working producers like mothers working as short-term laborers and children helping with the work, I didn’t want to blend coffees whose origins are from different places that I don’t know about. I don’t want to compromise on that.”
I wanted to work using my specialized skills.
Suzuki entered the world of coffee when he was 23 or 24 years old. After graduating from a vocational school for programming, he started working for a company but he realized that it was not the job he would do forever after the first year of school. While he saw his friends fulfilling their dreams of becoming hair stylists or joining entertainment agencies, he was just walking on the rails laid out for him. Combined with the inferiority he felt, his desire to start a new life grew stronger and stronger every day.
He still didn’t know what he wanted to do. His days of searching for his dream began while working as a company employee. He made full use of weekday nights and holidays, Suzuki looked into various worlds such as the world of car and motorcycle repairing, the world of silver accessory production, pottery, and glasswork, and then came to a conclusion.
“If I have a specialized skilled job, I can go abroad and work as I wish. I will not be blamed for having a beard or long hair. I thought that was the best way to live without being influenced to do something by others.”
Suzuki, who is very particular about his work, was not satisfied with just attending pottery classes. Eventually, he bought a potter’s wheel and built a kiln at home where he fired plates and cups.
Suzuki states, “But when I handed over my good works to my friends, they would say “Thank you,” but I couldn’t see them feeling truly happy. I felt the same way when I gave them T-shirts and silver accessories I had made. Eventually, I realized that it was difficult to turn my self-satisfaction into a business.”
Coffee was also one of the candidates for his dream. Not satisfied with just brewing coffee from purchased beans, he started hand-roasting coffee at home, and as he became interested in the differences in taste depending on the place of origin. He was stuck in the world of coffee.
“Unlike wine, which can only be bought by the bottle, there is a lot of room for modification for coffees like roasting and extraction, so I got into it.”
Coffee brought a breakthrough to the troubled Suzuki. When he brewed coffee that was roasted by hand at home and offered it to his friends, all of them were pleased saying, “It’s delicious!” and that they would like to have it again. Suzuki states, “The great satisfaction from others I felt was the deciding factor for me to become a barista.”
Creating a shop that shows we are proud of Japanese culture.
After working at a coffee shop owned by a barista who won the Japan Barista Championship, Suzuki went to work at Paul Bassett which was produced by its namesake Paul Bassett, an Australian who became the youngest barista world champion at the age of 25. Also, many of the founders of the shops that have led the coffee scene in Japan like FUGLEN and ONIBUS COFFEE used to work at Paul Bassett.
Suzuki, who had planned to start his business in about five years, worked there for twelve years, not only because it was difficult to save money, but also because he was entrusted with an important role. He was in charge of the shop as a chief barista and a head roaster and he was also involved in opening new stores in Korea in a hurry.
Suzuki states, “Because I was there for a long time, I could also take my time to think about the coffee shop I would open after I would become independent from them. I was influenced by Paul’s idea in the beginning that Australian coffee culture is the best in the world, but I started to change my way of thinking about his idea around the fifth year of working at Paul Bassett. The more I came in contact with overseas coffee cultures, the more I learned that people overseas admired Japan’s unique culture of pour-over coffee and Japanese-style coffee shops. At the same time, I began to wonder why there were no Japanese who were proud of their Japanese coffee culture.”
“In Australia and Italy where people are proud of their coffee cultures, Starbucks sometimes pulls out from the market because the coffee culture of the country does not leave room for Starbucks to come in. On the other hand, in Japan where there is no such thing, I started to feel the coffee culture is being invaded every time a foreign coffee shop opens or expands in Japan.”
He began to ask himself, “What is the meaning of doing coffee in Japan? What does that mean I was born in Japan and how can I contribute to Japan?” The concept of speaking about coffee culture from Japan to the world was born from facing these questions. As Blue Bottle Coffee took the idea of Japan-born pour-over coffee, which is a culture unique to Japan, pour-over coffee became cool to people overseas. I wanted to create a shop that would make people proud of Japanese culture.
Steadily spreading the appeal of specialty coffee.
The English word ‘glitch,’ which Suzuki used in the name of his shop, has a meaning of a small problem that prevents something from being successful or working as it should. This is because he believes that ‘unexpected coincidences caused by a bug can lead to unexpected discoveries,’ even though he creates a recipe for each lot in advance and thoroughly manages data from roasting to extraction.
Data should be kept as a record and it is useful for training staff but the data is just data. Only humans can make coffee more aromatic, tasty, and delicious. That’s why the recipes change little by little over time. It’s not just about what I think tastes good but it’s also about what all the staff at the shop think tastes good.
At GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS, new barista staff members are always asked to pour-over coffee.
Suzuki states, “90% of me feels I should improve but I discover something new in the other 10%, which leads to the discovery that leads to my growth in the understanding of coffee.”
When you’re working by yourself, you tend to rely on your experience and it becomes difficult to create something extraordinary from new perspectives. More than anything, I get excited when unexpected developments and discoveries are made there.
GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS, which constantly aims for high-level coffee, currently operates three other coffee shops in Akasaka in Tokyo, which is currently closed and in Nagoya prefecture in addition to the Jimbocho branch. Nagoya prefecture is known for a fiercely competitive coffee shop district where dark roast coffee and a well-known nationwide chain coffee shop store of Komeda Coffee is widespread. In Nagoya, which has a strong coffee culture, coffee shops are so popular that people make lines outside the stores on weekends, but the type of customers is completely different from that of Tokyo.”
Suzuki states, “I teach the basics of coffee to young people who don’t know the difference among single-origin, dark roast, and light roast coffee, hoping that it will help them understand the appeal of light roast coffee. Communicating the value of single-origin and light roast coffee is more difficult than I imagined. Coffee brewed by a cute barista or latte artist can be more appealing to customers than coffee that is particular about the place of production or the name of the farm in other countries.
Suzuki states, “Having said that, the only thing we can do for the coffee origins is to steadily spread the appeal of specialty coffee. To do that, we have to take a broader and deeper look at coffee and add value to it, and we have to make sure that ordinary consumers have a palate that understands the quality and taste of the coffee.”
Suzuki states that he does not intend to expand any further because he wants to operate the shops within his reach.
“Ideally, we would like to have more and more staff who become independent from us meaning they open their coffee shop. It’s a form of goodwill sharing like a bit of franchise, but they can decide the name and the form of the shop by them.”
GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS has had eight baristas who became independent from them and opened their own coffee shops in the last six years after its opening. Having a role model around makes it easier for them to follow in his footsteps and create a virtuous cycle. The company also provides free support for starting a business such as lending equipment and providing consultation.
The number of micro-roasters and shops specializing in light roasting is increasing worldwide and we are at a turning point in the specialty coffee industry. Just as the wine market, which used to be dominated by red and white, has become more and more diverse in terms of regions and production methods, I believe that the time will come when people would look back and say, “I miss the time we had dark roast coffee around.”
The text was originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
I like making coffee for others and I also like others making coffee for myself in my personal life. The sound of the beans being grounded and the aroma filling the room gives me a sense of satisfaction that I can’t get from making instant coffee. It is a moment that makes me realize that coffee is a drink that creates happiness in a space where the thought for someone else dwells.