Kurasu is a company that promotes the Japanese coffee culture from Kyoto to the world on online store by selling Japanese coffee equipment or through a physical store that sells them and serves home-roasted coffee. The company also offers a subscription service of coffee beans in partnership with roasters around Japan and is working to develop the coffee culture in Japan. We interviewed Mr. Yozo Otsuki, the director of Kurasu, who states, “We have the role to convey the appeal of coffee to the people.”
Working together to boost the industry.
Kurasu is a retail store that sells hundreds of coffee equipment and coffee beans to more than twenty-five countries every month and they also run a roastery that roasts carefully-selected coffee at a coffee shop serving specialty coffee. Although Kurasu is running multiple businesses in the Kyoto area, the underlying idea for all the businesses remains the same.
Otsuki states, “How can we make more people drink coffee? Our business is centered on such an idea. I have established connections with roasters all over Japan and disseminate information through websites and social media because I want to spread the coffee culture. I want to create an environment where many people can easily enjoy coffee.”
In July 2020, Otsuki opened the Kyoto Ebisugawa branch as “a showroom” where you can touch the equipment, learn how to brew, and have fun drinking coffee. Not only visitors can purchase coffee beans and coffee equipment that can reproduce the taste of professional coffee at home but also they can receive advice on coffee such as the best way to brew it.
Otsuki states, “Coffee already has a positive impression as a source of comfort and relaxation. We are not selling coffee itself, but rather we stand between the coffee and the customers and tell them about the appeal of coffee that they don’t know exists.”
The reason why the roastery Kurasu is collaborating with other roasters is that he has a vision of making the coffee industry more exciting. Since Kurasu has created the map of coffee shops in the Kyoto area and he tells the customers about it, many coffee shops introduce the Kyoto Ebisugawa store to the customers when they are asked about where to look for browsing or buying recommended coffee equipment.
The power of coffee that I realized in Sydney.
Otsuki founded Kurasu in 2013, an online store in Sydney that sells Japanese daily necessities and miscellaneous goods so that he can share more fine products from Japan to the world. This was also the job he chose after quitting his job at a foreign securities firm Goldman Sachs to achieve a way of life where he could freely choose his working style and location.
How did Otsuki become involved in developing the coffee business?
Otsuki states, “I saw the potential when I saw the equipment from Japanese manufacturers such as HARIO was used in cafes of all sizes in Sydney and Melbourne. Once we started selling them on our online store, we received inquiries not only from individual customers but also from coffee shops who wanted to use them in the stores.”
Seeing the different coffee cultures in Sydney was also one of the reasons that drew Otsuki into the world of coffee.
“There are so many occasions that people drink coffee outside; while jogging in the early morning, during a commute, on a lunch break during a snack break, etc. It is not uncommon for people to drink three or four cups a day. 2,000 to 3,000 cups of coffee are sold in a popular store per day and because of its high amount of consumption, it is possible to handle a large quantity of good coffee that makes the quality of coffee inevitably high.”
“Moreover, since Australia’s economy has been expanding for the past twenty years, all coffee shop owners seem to be happy and positive. One of my acquaintances is a barista who earns ten million yen (about 92,000 USD) a year which would be the equivalent of six to seven million yen a year (about 55,000 to 65,000 USD) in Australia. When I saw the vibrancy of the people created by the virtuous cycle of the economy, I realized the potential of coffee.”
This is how Otsuki relaunched his online store Kurasu as a coffee equipment specialty store in 2015 and started a subscription service in partnership with roasters around Japan. He opened a coffee stand Kurasu Kyoto Stand in the following year serving specialty coffee in his hometown in Kyoto in response to the fans’ requests to want to drink Kurasu’s coffee.
Pour-over coffee as the starting point
He opened a store in Singapore and Bangkok and a roastery where he placed a Dutch-made Giesen W6A roasting machine in Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. The Kyoto Ebisugawa store, which opened in 2020, is the company’s fifth location worldwide. Kurasu has been expanding the scope of its business as needed but the core of the business has not changed.
Otsuki states, “My starting point was my passion to convey the beauty of Japanese craftsmanship and sophisticated culture, which I realized after living abroad and how I expressed myself has changed but my desire to inform people about the good things that I am into was maintained. The products I sell on my online store are limited to the ones I check by picking them up personally in my hand and the ones I intuitively think that I want to place online.”
Among Otsuki’s coffee-related memories is the coffee his mother poured over for him. His mother, who was a coffee lover and once ran a jazz cafe, never missed her custom of pour-over coffee every morning.
Otsuki states, “Ever since I can remember, it has been normal for me to smell coffee in the morning, so I guess that kind of coffee has become a standard for me. That’s probably the reason why I started drinking coffee; I made poured-over coffee every day when I was a university student. Even when I worked at a company, people looked at me strangely because I stubbornly refused to drink the coffee provided at the office and handed out coffee I poured over to everyone.” (laughs)
Looking at Otsuki who ended up working in the coffee business, his mother proudly said, “He is my son, isn’t he?”
Kurasu becomes part of people’s daily lives.
What are the roots of Kurasu, a company that connects various people with coffee through business?
Otsuki states, “I think the positive mindset of the Australian people was a big factor. I could have been ridiculed the idea of quitting Goldman Sachs and starting an online store, but everyone around me said, “That’s a great idea!” Everyone around me was so supportive.”
The design of Kurasu Kyoto Stand is a coffee stand, which is the mainstream style of coffee stands in Sydney. The reason why the store is so small, which is about 28 square meters, and the height of the counter being so low is that they wanted to reproduce the feeling of closeness between the baristas and the customers.
Otsuki states, “It’s nice to have a Japanese-style coffee shop where customers can quietly enjoy their space but I wanted to make a place where customers can come in more comfortably. Although I believe that coffee tastes better when it is enjoyed in a happy mood and in a space where people enjoy conversation not only with the baristas but also with other customers.”
Kurasu wanted to make coffee more accessible and friendly and with this in mind, they have launched the beta version of a new technology-based app called KOHII that connects coffee with people.
KOHII is a detailed portal site for coffee shops that are equipped with a system allowing users to check the production areas and prices of coffee handled by nearby coffee shops and placing orders via mobile phone.
Otsuki states, “We wanted to make it easier for people who don’t know much about coffee to enjoy a good cup of coffee; without them feeling embarrassed to ask shop staff questions or have to worry about what to order.”
In Japan, where coffee is readily available at convenience stores and chain stores such as Starbucks, Otsuki is convinced that there is still room for specialty coffees where anyone can see the producers’ faces and the quality is guaranteed.
I want to create the same positive cycle in Japan that coffee has created in Sydney. I’m proud of the good relationships I’ve built with roasters by visiting them all over Japan. I want to learn and better myself with them and deliver delicious coffee to as many people as possible.
Our aim is to recommend to them a coffee that reminds them of good things. The carefree and diverse ways of enjoying coffee proposed by Kurasu will surely become a part of our daily lives. Such a future will surely bring more depth to the brand name Kurasu.
The text was originally written in Japanese by Kaede Sato
Interviewed by Tatsuya Nakamichi
It’s the coffee I drink every morning, whether it is on a workday or a day off. I drink a wide range of coffees from partner roasters that we deal with; to coffees from our subscription service. That’s part of my job, but I have recently used six different types of coffee beans with the combination of four different types of coffee equipment depending on my mood. That is a must for me to begin a new day with feeling refreshed.