In 2016, Grass Mountain Coffee opened in the suburbs of Taipei near the famous tourist spot of Yangmingshan. We interviewed the founder Ms. Chantil Ruan, who says, “I hope our store has a cheerful atmosphere that makes customers feel positive.”
“I want people to feel positive and cheerful coming to our store.”
The all-glass design allows you to clearly see the store from the outside. The store has a white roof and a white-tone interior design. The store, which lets in a lot of sunlight, is the very embodiment of the idea of “You Ming Xing (有明心),” making your mind positive and bright.
Chantil states, “I was not that a positive person, so I always need to be guided by where there was light. I named the shop, “You Ming Xing” taking the idea from the Yangmingism. Wang Yangming, the founder of the Yangmingism said, “It is important to ask yourself what is right, pursue it thoroughly (致良知), and put it into action (知行合一).” ”
“What I always think is that this store should also aim to satisfy such states. We try to share what we know, what we think about, and what we feel in our hearts about good coffee, sharing with all our customers.”
Yangmingshan is known for the Yangmingshan National Park famous for its cherry blossoms and hot springs that attract many tourists. The foothills of Yangmingshan, where she currently has her store, is her hometown, but it’s not that she was aware of the charm of the place from a long time ago.
Chantil states, “When I started living in the city for work for a few years, I realized that there was a wonderful environment and lifestyle here that I could pass on to consumers. Since I came back here about five years ago and opened my store, I have been able to rediscover the beauty and charm of Yangmingshan through myself and my customers. For me, Yangmingshan is like an object of faith where I can find peace of mind.”
Encountering delicious coffee
Chantil first discovered the delicious taste of coffee when she was twenty years old. At the time, she was studying in the Department of Food and Beverage Management at university where she studied all kinds of cuisines- Chinese, Japanese, and Western cuisines.
Chantil states, “I joined a coffee class with a friend without thinking much about it and learned how to brew and roast coffee, which made me realize how wonderful and interesting coffee is. Later on, when my university installed an espresso machine, I started to learn about coffee from scratch under the guidance of the equipment manufacturer.”
A year later Chantil got the opportunity to enter the Taiwan Barista Championship in 2009 when she was only a university student.
Chantil states, “The Championship made me realize the true taste of coffee. Many competitors use single-origin coffee now, but at the time, I used a blend of about five different types of coffee like Ethiopian coffee and Kenyan coffee that a roaster had selected for me. The coffee had a delicate and elegant aroma like a berry and flower, and it was really delicious at that time.”
For Chantil, whose five senses had been not sharp and had no idea how delicious coffee could be, it was the first time in her life that she had tasted a good coffee. Since then, she was hooked on coffee, and spent all her time outside of class brewing coffee and practicing to win the competition. She also entered the Taiwan Barista Championship in 2010.
“I didn’t know much about specialty coffee to begin with and I was just starting by looking at how others dealt with specialty coffee. The experience was valuable to me because I could understand the basics of specialty coffee such as the flavor profile and how to brew it.”
Setting a long-term goal is necessary for managing the shop well
With the opportunity of participating in the Taiwan Barista Championship, Chantil met many coffee-related companies, and she started working for one of them- a green coffee trading company- after graduating from university. After working at the company for about four years, she opened Grass Mountain Coffee in 2016.
“In the early days, we didn’t set a clear goal, so each of us just did what we thought we should do and what we wanted to do. However, when different people who had worked at the shop became dissatisfied and quit the store one after another, I realized that I needed to set a goal for the shop as the manager.”
In 2020, Chantil set a long-term goal: to open a roastery and five shops in the city center to expand the brand and become a relatively large cafe chain in the coming years. She shared the goal with the staff.
“I shared the shop’s long-term goal with my staff. To achieve the goal, we discussed where we were at the moment for achieving the goal and what kind of adjustment we needed to make to better achieve it. All of us were trying to be on the same page. When I changed the approach of how to manage the store, the feedback from staff and atmosphere of the store changed.”
“We needed someone to guide us”
When talking about “You Ming Xing,” it’s essential to mention the Yangmingism that Chantil is devoted to. There is a bronze statue of Wang Yangming in the Yangmingshan National Park near her home, so she had known of him for a long time, but she was not particularly conscious of Wang Yangming. It was not until she was twenty-five or twenty-six years old when she worked for the green coffee trading company that Chantil stumbled upon a book by Wang Yangming in a local bookstore.
Chantil states, “I’m a spiritual person and when I read a book on Wang Yangming, there were many things that made sense to me. Since then, I have been deepening my understanding of Wang Yangming by reading books and watching YouTube. I still don’t fully understand the contents, but I am certain that it has become an indispensable part of my life. I am seeking to be guided by something, so I think I am trying to learn about Wang Yangming subconsciously.”
She still keeps the book on the Yangmingism, which she bought back then, by her side as ‘the Bible in life.’
“At the time, I felt like I was blindly following my passion, but now that I am able to fully express the true taste of coffee through roasting and brewing, and convey the appeal of coffee to more people, and I can confidently say, ‘Coffee is truly wonderful.’ I feel like the coffee is acknowledging me, ‘You are great!’ ”
For Chantil, who has been searching for a way to accept herself as she is for a long time, the encounter with coffee and the Yangmingism must have been the “Good News Gospel.” As a local resident living near Yangmingshan, she wants to provide good specialty coffee while taking advantage of the strengths in the region. Acknowledging her hometown was one of the necessary steps to accept who she truly is.
Chantil states, “We want to convey positive energy through a cheerful space and atmosphere with good coffee, and through who we are. We hope that a cup of coffee can help people get out of a negative mindset.”
While she is aware of her shortcomings, she doesn’t pay attention to them and just continues to walk towards the light. Chantil’s shop will surely become ‘a light’ for many people.
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
“Delicate black coffee always makes me feel so good!! I make my breakfast and drip coffee at the store every morning when the store isn’t yet open. On a sunny day, I prefer having light roast coffee from Kenya and on a rainy day, I enjoy drinking strong coffee like medium roast coffee from Costa Rica. Like everyone else, I love to start my day with good coffee!”