Taiwan, which has had a strong image of tea culture, has been gaining momentum in coffee culture in the past few years. In Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, there is one roaster who is trying to breathe new life into Taiwan’s coffee culture. Mr. Yu-ta Chu is the owner of Oasis Coffee Roasters which was established in 2018. We take a closer look at the three-year journey of Mr. Chu, who formerly worked in the film industry and later became fascinated by a cup of specialty coffee which brought him to running a popular cafe in Taipei.
Feeling in an oasis with an encounter of a cup of specialty coffee
In the past few years, Taipei has seen a rapid increase in the number of coffee shops advertising that they roast their own coffee, and many high-quality roasters and cafes have emerged one after another, competing with each other. Oasis Coffee Roasters, a modern store that has been in business for three years, attracts the fashionable young people living in Taipei.
Yu-ta states, “Taipei’s coffee culture environment is very similar to that of Japan with the presence of cafes and roasteries all over the city. To be selected by the customers, I am always conscious of differentiating ourselves from other stores by handling coffee beans that are rare in Taiwan. Not only that, but also I try to create a store where people can enjoy a special cup of coffee easily and learn more about coffee.”
Before becoming a roaster, Yu-ta was involved in film production as a visual artist. It was an encounter with specialty coffee that made him enter a different industry.
Yu-ta states, “The cup of coffee that changed my life in 2015 was coffee roasted by Tim Wendelboe from Norway who was the winner of the 2014 World Barista Championship (WBC). I still remember the shock I felt when I took the first sip. I felt like it was not the coffee that I knew. It was so sweet and fruity that I felt like it was like juice. It was a moment that changed my image about coffee.”
“From that point on, I became immersed in learning how to brew and roast specialty coffee. I repeatedly ordered all kinds of coffee including famous coffee from around the world, coffee that had won the Cup of Excellence, and coffee made by famous people, and tried brewing them in my own way and started to become fascinated with specialty coffee.”
In front of the store, the slogan of the shop, “FIND THE OASIS” is displayed. The slogan expresses Yu-ta’s wish that the store would become an oasis in the city.
Yu-ta states, “I had a very hard life when I was making films. I didn’t have much time for breaks. I was probably working twenty hours a day. I was just so exhausted. My little pleasure was to go to small cafes in the city during my short breaks.”
“Listening to music and drinking a cup of coffee in a small space while talking with the owner of the coffee shops was like I was in an oasis.”
“When most people hear the word ‘oasis,’ the image that comes to their mind is probably of a place full of greenery and water that exists in the middle of an arid desert. This image of ‘an oasis’ in the middle of a city lined with office buildings is exactly what inspired me to choose the name of our shop, Oasis Coffee Roasters.”
The store’s big sliding doors blur the boundary between the outside and inside space making it easier for customers to step into the urban oasis.
A circle of people connected by sharing knowledge of coffee
Although coffee culture is spreading in Taipei, not many people enjoy specialty coffee yet. Many people prefer standard a coffee menu with items like cafe latte or coffee with sugar, and enjoy the time and atmosphere of a cafe that may be shared with the coffee culture in Japan.
The appeal of specialty coffee is not only to enjoy the taste of high-quality coffee, but also to appreciate the taste of coffee by learning about the process and culture of how the coffee is made.
In order to spread the appeal of specialty coffee to consumers, Yu-ta thought it was important to establish a culture of appreciation for specialty coffee in the Taipei coffee industry.
Yu-ta states, “In our first year of business, we faced the challenge of sharing the deep appeal of specialty coffee with customers who were not familiar with it.”
“To communicate about specialty coffee to customers, we thought it was important for staff who serve specialty coffee to first exchange more information and connect with each other to boost the industry as a whole. In Taiwan, many stores don’t like to share their knowledge and information about coffee for fear of being copied by other stores.”
“However, even if you were to imitate someone’s methodology of roasting coffee such as adjusting the roasting time, temperature, and heat, you would never get the exact same taste. This is because the skill and personality of the person who brews the coffee are also involved.”
“If we can share information and then discuss it, I think it will lead to the development of the entire industry. I believe that if stores unite to explore the appeal of specialty coffee, this will gradually lead to customers’ enjoyment.”
Taking advantage of his experience in film production, Yu-ta has created original videos on his official YouTube channel “Oasis Fashion” and Instagram. Yu-ta uses beautiful images and animation to express his knowledge of coffee, how to brew it, and how to roast it.
Another thing that Yu-ta is contributing to the coffee industry in Taiwan is training the people who work in the coffee industry. He shares his dreams with the staff, and they help the store to grow.
Yu-ta states, “The salaries of cafe workers in Taiwan are relatively low. In terms of job satisfaction, the will of the manager or owner often takes precedence, making it difficult for staff to find fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment in their work.”
“Creating a coffee shop is accomplished by a team effort. I am always conscious of how to make the staff want to work there for the long-term.”
“In terms of salary, we have introduced a system where 5% of the monthly sales are shared as a bonus for the staff. This motivates the staff to work together to achieve higher sales for the store.”
“As for the sense of accomplishment, we always ask potential employees about their dreams when they apply for a job. By asking them what they want to achieve through their work in the next year or two, we hope to create a store where their dreams can come true while working at Oasis Coffee Roasters.”
“It’s not just because I want the staff to work at the store for the long-term but also because I want to encourage staff who want to own their own store someday like I started my store. I hope the staff can learn as much as they can at Oasis Coffee Roasters, and when they leave our store one day, it would be great if we could work together as teammates in a different way.”
Dreaming of opening the Oasis Coffee Roasters overseas
Yu-ta, who has been looking at Taiwanese coffee culture from various angles, answered the question about the most memorable episode of his three years at Oasis Coffee Roasters. Surprisingly, it was a very simple episode that reminded us of his starting point as a roaster.
Yu-ta states, “When a customer first came to our store, he said he didn’t like sour coffee and only enjoyed bitter coffee. However, as he continued to come to the shop, the range of coffees he wanted to try gradually expanded, and he came to enjoy fruity coffees and coffees with strong acidity.”
By stopping by Oasis Coffee Roasters, value that a person places on coffee changes. This is the result of Yu-ta’s passion to never stop learning about coffee. Even three years after opening the store, many different things about coffee interest him, and he says that he feels an unquenchable desire to learn more about coffee.
Yuta states, “From my first encounter with a cup of specialty coffee, I learned about coffee brewing, and then I was not satisfied with just brewing coffee, so I tried roasting coffee. I also began to expand my understanding of where coffee comes from and how it is grown. I have never felt that my knowledge of coffee was complete each time I learned a new thing about it, and I wanted to keep learning more.”
Yu-ta, who faces the daily challenge of making coffee to his satisfaction, dreams of opening the Oasis Coffee Roasters overseas, outside Taiwan. He would like to open the Oasis Coffee Roasters in Japan or Europe. His vision is to create his stores with unique characteristics rooted in each region, rather than having Oasis Coffee Rosters grow into a chain store operation.
As a step toward his dream, he also values the interaction with roasters from other countries by participating in international competitions for brewing and roasting organized by the World Coffee Events.
Yu-ta states, “I have been able to face coffee in this way for three years because I have a passion for coffee. In my opinion, to be able to brew a satisfactory cup of coffee takes a lot of trial and error and steady effort. No matter how much time and effort it takes, I never felt I got tired of trying to make a satisfactory cup of coffee.”
“I believe that the starting point for creating a coffee shop is the passion of the owner. Passion creates the appeal of the store and spins a story about the store through coffee.”
“I went from working in the film industry to becoming a roaster, but my fundamental beliefs have not changed. Although the method of expression has changed, what I want to do is to express the story I want to tell people in my own way.”
“When I was working in the film industry, I couldn’t directly see the reaction of the audience who have watched what I expressed, but now I can feel the reaction of the customers face-to-face. They sip the coffee I brewed right in front of me, and it gives me great joy. This moment makes me feel truly happy that I chose my current job.”
Originally written in Japanese by Chiho Maezawa
“When I roast green coffee, I sometimes think of a modification plan, like if I adjust this part of roasting coffee, it will be tastier. When I try it out the next day and find the taste to be as good as I expected, I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. The result of my efforts is a cup of coffee which gives me great joy in life.”