NAGASAWA COFFEE Kazuhiro Nagasawa

NAGASAWA COFFEE

Kazuhiro Nagasawa

A coffee shop in Morioka with a distinctive personality. What is the owner’s goal of a borderless society?

Kazuhiro Nagasawa, the owner of NAGASAWA COFFEE who is originally from Morioka, Iwate prefecture was selected as one of the twenty people who are changing the world through the work in the coffee by the global coffee media outlet SPRUDGE in 2019. We interviewed Mr. Nagasawa who says, “I want to create a shop that respects each individual’s way of enjoying coffee.”

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Each person has his or her way of enjoying coffee.

NAGASAWA COFFEE with its relaxed and open atmosphere reflects the relaxed and open way of thinking of Nagasawa. The shop has all-glass windows that let light in and has a limited number of seats in proportion to the size of the shop.

Nagasawa states, “The main premise of the shop is for customers to enjoy themselves, so we don’t have rules like refusing customers with children or telling customers not to take a lot of pictures. Of course, there are limits to it but we want to be the place that respects each customer’s way of enjoying coffee without imposing our values on them.”

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“I want as many people as possible to enjoy coffee.” Nagasawa’s wish for as many people as possible to enjoy coffee is also reflected in the way that he doesn’t call coffee he serves at his shop specialty coffee even though he is very particular about it himself. For example, he bought a vintage overseas-made roasting machine, OLD PROBAT UG-15 manufactured in the 1960s for the shop.

“It’s true that we deal with specialty coffee but I try not to think of it as if the specialty coffee is superior. This is because it’s meaningless to have a shop where we don’t make many people happy. It was the coffee that taught me the joy of making myself and others happy.”

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While searching for the quality, I got serious about it.

Nagasawa’s first encounter with coffee dates back to about 30 years ago when he was working for a coffee wholesaler and back then, he was not a coffee lover.

Nagasawa states, “It was just something bitter to drink at first but as I continued to drink it, I began to enjoy the aroma and the taste more and more.”

Nagasawa wanted to be a professional snowboarder in his 20s and left the company to seriously devote himself to the sport. However, he gave up on his dream of becoming a professional snowboarder when he faced the reality that only a handful of people can make a living from snowboarding. What brought Nagasawa back to the coffee was his hobby of the backcountry.

Nagasawa states, “The coffee I drank while enjoying the view from the snow-covered mountains was delicious. Of course, the taste of the coffee is important but I realized that the flavor changes depending on where you drink it or the surrounding environment, and also who you drink it with. This made me love coffee even more.”

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However, he did not suddenly take a 180-degree turn to open a coffee shop. While he worked at the company, he started roasting coffee by hand at home.

As he continued roasting at home, Nagasawa realized the limitations of doing it as a hobby. If he wanted to aim for the quality he would be satisfied with, he has to get serious about it. Having come to this conclusion, Nagasawa built a prefab house in his yard and boldly purchased a 3kg Fuji Royal commercial roasting machine.

Nagasawa states, “It’s not so easy for an amateur who doesn’t know how to use a roasting machine to start a coffee shop. I thought that if I wanted to make it a viable business, I would need to spend some time building up my skills. It was a sign of my determination.”

It was in 2010 that he reached a satisfactory level in his skills after about five years of apprenticeship and started preparing to open the shop. Just at the time he was about to finalize the design of the shop, got a bank loan, and his dream to open his coffee shop was about to come true, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. It was just three days before he signed the contract.

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Creating a shop that many people enjoy.

Nagasawa states, “When the earthquake struck, everything came to a halt. We ran out of building materials and our loans were reduced, so we had to scrap all our plans.”

As he was pondering what he should be doing from now on, Nagasawa began volunteering in the disaster-affected areas and distributed coffee at evacuation centers. It was about a month after the earthquake when water and food were finally available. The words by the people who drank coffee lightened up Nagasawa again.

Nagasawa states, “Many people were happy to see me and said, “I just wanted to have a cup of coffee.” and some even said, “Thank you for coming here from all the way.” They encouraged me and that made me realize that I couldn’t just sit around and give up the coffee shop.”

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After volunteering in the earthquake-affected areas, Nagasawa realized the mysterious power of coffee and opened NAGASAWA COFFEE with his concept renewed in 2021.

Nagasawa states, “Before the earthquake, I was thinking of opening a coffee shop specializing in light roast coffee which I like. When I saw the relieved faces and smiles that a cup of coffee can have for people, I began to think it is meaningless to open a shop unless it’s a shop for making many people happy.”

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It seems the concept of respecting each individual’s way of enjoyment was well suited to Morioka’s small market size. The shop was moved to a space twice as large the size of the previous location and installed a vintage roasting machine while fulfilling an ideal that he had long held in his heart. In 2018, he bought a vintage roasting machine.

Nagasawa states, “I use a computer to record and store roasting data but I don’t think that digital is everything. It’s just for something I refer to and I think it’s important to be able to notice things that can’t be shown in data like the change in sounds and smells that we feel by our five senses. I believe that some areas can only be done by a human.”

Nagasawa also pays attention to the way he uses space while applying his experience of tasting delicious coffee in the snowy mountains. Even though space is larger in the new shop, the number of seats has remained the same with the previous shop and the architect was surprised and said, “Why don’t you add more seats?”

“The reason I relocated was I wanted to install a vintage roasting machine and the way I thought was I can think about money later.”

Nagasawa’s way of life is to always try to find a balance between his preceding ideals and reality. Although the number of people visiting the shop from outside the prefecture is increasing, Nagasawa is not planning to open other shops because he wants to focus on the quality of coffee and the service.

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Connecting with each other through the common language of “It’s delicious.”

Why did Nagasawa, who is a native in the town, decide to open a shop in Morioka while knowing the market would be small and the shop is not located in a perfect place and he’s rather at a disadvantage?

Nagasawa states, “I didn’t think the location mattered. After the earthquake, I thought about opening a shop in Tokyo or Sendai but Morioka was my favorite place, and more than anything, I had the utmost confidence that as long as I provide world-class products, people would someday notice me .”

Nagasawa proved that he was on the right path in 2019 when he was selected by SPRUDGE, a well-respected media outlet in the coffee industry, as the only Japanese person to be featured as one of the twenty people who are changing the world through the work in the coffee industry.

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Nagasawa states, “I realized firsthand that coffee is a drink that can connect people beyond cultural and language barriers with the common language of “It’s delicious.” and that it can be used so that we can interact with people from overseas and expand our circle of friendships.”

The stance of respecting each individual’s way of enjoying, which has remained unchanged since the opening of the shop, is also connected to the ideal store that Nagasawa envisions.

Nagasawa states, “I can’t forget the scene I saw at a café in Barcelona, Spain, where a staff member with Down syndrome was working as a packer in the full view of customers. The people with disabilities are integrated into daily life, which gave me a sense of richness that is not found in Japanese society.”

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He also has expanded his activities in the past few years like visiting Taiwan to open a pop-up store while putting down roots in Morioka.

Nagasawa states, “I realized firsthand that coffee is a drink that can connect people beyond cultural and language barriers with the common language of “It’s delicious.” and that it can be used so that we can interact with people from overseas and expand our circle of friendships.”

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Nagasawa is also a parent with a child who has a disability.

“It’s not in the exaggerating way like solving social issues but I want to create a society where people with disabilities can live a normal life that we also think that’s normal. To achieve this, I would like to do what I can, like securing employment for people with disabilities.”

Surrounded by the coffee placed in the center, a circle of prosperity is spreading without barriers. I believe that NAGASAWA COFFEE will build a future where he and the people around him will be happy.

Originally written in Japanese by Kaede Sato.

MY FAVORITE COFFEE

It has been about ten years since I started a routine of taking an hour to drink my coffee slowly every morning while reading the newspaper or writing emails. It helps me relax because I don’t have to think about anything else and it also helps me to switch off from reality. My favorite has been using a Wilfa grinder to grind beans and brew them in a 1-liter French press. Beans from Ethiopia are my favorite but I drink anything. I try to keep the brewing process easy and tasty so that I understand the perspective of consumers.

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