Pharos Coffee is a roastery and cafe that was born in Taipei in 2019. The original plan to open the first shop in Jimbocho, Tokyo was postponed due to COVID-19 and Taipei shop was opened first. Jimbocho shop is expected to open in the winter of 2021. We spoke with the two co-founders: Mr. Ryan Hsieh, who is in charge of coffee roasting and brewing, and Mr. Yuan Lee, who is in charge of branding and other aspects of the company.
Words Help Us Understand Coffee
The website of Pharos Coffee, based in Taiwan, is available in three languages: English, Chinese and Japanese. Currently, Pharos Coffee has a café in Taipei though it was initially planned to open its first shop in Jimbocho, Tokyo, Japan.
“We had to postpone our opening due to COVID-19 last year, but we wanted to start by serving our wonderful coffee to people from different countries in Jimbocho, a used book town that attracts unique foreign customers” says Yuan, who is in charge of the operation.“
The taste of coffee that Ryan roasts is so wonderful that it would be a shame to just serve it in one shop. I want to reach as many people as possible without being tied down to an ordinary, physical shop. That’s what we are thinking; so we are planning to expand our business to the whole world mainly through our online store.
For customers, the advantage of the online store is they can enjoy coffee without being limited by physical distance or space. On the other hand, not being able to experience the communication directly with barista is a disadvantage; however, we have prepared product introductions that appeal to users: emotions to compensate for this.”
For example, Ethiopia Hadeso is introduced as follows: “The Hadeso offers a citrus tone typical of its origin, Sidama, as if it came straight from the wilderness with the slightly bitter fragrance of the rind of a freshly picked tangerine as you split it open. The scent conjures up the experience of the whole citrus fruit, flesh and rind included, as if you are out there in nature. Aside from the predominant citrus experience, a hint of black tea can be discerned in both the flavor and texture. ”
“I ask Ryan about his impressions and feelings about the coffee he has selected and how he would like them to taste, and then I try to reduce it to a reasonable amount of words. The interesting thing about using words is that they not only convey the taste to the customer but also the scenery that Ryan imagined through the coffee.”(Yuan)
Ryan says, “In fact, the process from coffee selection to roasting is almost like a documentary story. As a person who communicates directly with the producers, understands the true nature of the coffee beans, roasts them and conveys their appeal, I don’t want to just use words like ‘citrus taste’ or ‘flowery aroma’. Ideally, we want the consumer to become the protagonist of the story and have the feeling that he has chosen the coffee beans together with us.”
Yuan says, “I just think that the details of the story and the process of making the coffee are not the most important things to consumers. I think it is enough for them to drink a cup of coffee and feel how they feel. Eventually, we may introduce the story but at least for now, we want to communicate with consumers about the taste.”
The brand name ‘Pharos’ (meaning lighthouse) reflects Ryan’s desire to be a guide for consumers to enjoy their coffee journey, including how to brew and select coffee beans.
The shop is an exhibition of coffee
On the website of Pharos Coffee, there is a message that seems to speak for itself: “There is no such thing as normal. I am glad I was born in this time and age. “Why did they choose this phrase?
Ryan explains : “ I have been drinking coffee for about 25 years since I was 12. I started drinking a lot of coffee with sugar and milk, instant coffee, and canned coffee out of necessity to get caffeine.
The big difference between now and then is that the chances of encountering coffee that is ‘totally different from the coffee I used to drink’ have increased dramatically. This is because advances in machinery and scientific cultivation and fermentation processes have resulted in a huge variety of coffee refining methods and flavors.”
At any given time, Pharos Coffee has four to six different coffees for sale in the cafe and online. In the two years since its launch, the shop has offered 15 types of coffee. When the old coffees are sold out, they add new coffees to the lineup.
Ryan says, “We try to have a variety of coffees in our lineup that vary greatly in flavor. We are always on the lookout for new flavors that will help us be a lighthouse for consumers and show them the breadth of the coffee world. (It should be noted that when we purchase coffee beans from the same producer or refinery and even if the beans get sold out in 3 to 6 months, we may resell them the following years.)
This is because everyone has their own preference. Some people may like washed, others may like honey process. We try to provide consumers with a wide range of choices while focusing on quality so that they can find and explore their own favorites.”
The Pharos Coffee’s shop is located on the second floor of a building that houses a bookstore on the first floor and an art gallery on the third. Looking at the sophisticated black and white shop space, it is no wonder that both of them have a hobby and a habit of coming in contact with design and art.
Yuan says, “I think of our shop as an exhibition hall. You can see comments on Instagram like ‘It really tasted like strawberries‘ or ‘It really tasted like whiskey’ because those customers who come to the shop can discover and experience diverse and new flavors and tastes of coffee.”
The journey to explore coffee continues
Ryan has been drinking coffee since he was 12 years old, but it wasn’t until he was 30 years old that he entered the world of coffee. At a time when he had lost sight of the meaning and purpose of life, coffee became a lighthouse that illuminated the path he needed to take.
“I had been in the food and beverage industry for a long time, but I didn’t have any special or outstanding skills that would allow me to make a living. I wanted to acquire a special skill or expertise that would give me a sense of accomplishment. With this in mind, I finally chose coffee after trying bread making and pasta making, simply because it was delicious and gave me a sense of fulfillment. Standing at the counter as a barista, not in the kitchen where I can not see the customers, and being in direct contact with the customers’ reactions and voices, was in fact the real appeal of coffee, I thought.”
After being enrolled in a professional training school, Ryan became more and more fascinated with coffee as he learned that there were many different tastes and flavors of coffee. After graduating from the school, he became an assistant at the school.
“I think it was a good thing that I was stretching myself as much as I could to absorb the knowledge about coffee in order to answer many questions I was bombarded with from the students. It made me happy to share my knowledge with the students and I felt a sense of accomplishment.” This sense of accomplishment motivated Ryan to continue his studies and he was eventually recognized by the school and given a position as a teacher.”
After spending seven years as a teacher, he opened his own shop. One day, Yuan, who was working as a brand designer, joined the coffee class that Ryan held at the shop.
“Since we were going to serve coffee at a small hotel I was running, I wanted to know some things about it, even though I wasn’t going to be brewing it myself. After learning how to make espresso from Ryan, I opened my own café but I wanted to bring Ryan’s delicious coffee to the world, so I started Pharos Coffee with him.”
One of the tasks of a brand designer is to create a bridge between the consumer and the brand. Rather than calling each coffee by the name of the country of production or the plantation, they assign numbers such as No.1, No.2… to make it easier for consumers to understand, which is also part of the brand design.
Ryan says, “I partnered with Yuan because he once joked ‘I don’t make profitable investments.’ We just want to bring good coffee to as many people as possible. That is why for instance, we choose to open a shop in Tokyo.”
A few years ago, Ryan also opened a new door to the coffee world when he started visiting coffee origins to buy green coffee and started direct trading with the producers.
“We realized that if we could increase the profits of the producers through direct trade, the quality of life of the producers would greatly improve. For example, one producer’s family whose children started learning music was very happy to be able to provide better education for their children. I was so impressed by this that it sparked in me a desire to be involved in the process through coffee.”
Yuan thought it would be a shame to keep the coffee roasted by Ryan only in the shop, probably because Ryan himself is continuing his journey to explore coffee. There is no such thing as ‘the norm’ and it is certain that Pharos Coffee will continue to teach us about the vastness and diversity of the world.
written originally in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Ryan: I drink coffee out of necessity for my work but I don’t think that I am conscious of drinking coffee. I am happy when I can feel some surprises in the process of buying good coffee beans and delivering them to the consumer. I don’t often take much time to brew coffee for myself ‘so I feel the happiest when I find small surprises in the process.
Yuan: I drink coffee on a daily basis, and like Ryan, I sometimes find that the taste and unique flavor of coffee makes me feel happy and it also changes my mood in an instant. That is what I love about coffee.