THE COFFEESHOP is a specialty coffee shop located behind the campus of University of Tokyo in an area where time flows calmly. They are developing several businesses not only through their stores but also through their e-commerce site, including a subscription service that delivers coffee every month and a service that allows customers to create their own drip bag designs. We interviewed the store manager, Mr. Daito Hagiwara, who says, “We do a lot of things, but the most important thing is to make people feel that the coffee is delicious.”
Having delicious coffee at home.
THE COFFEESHOP opened in 2011 and the concept of the shop is to provide total satisfaction in the coffee experience from selecting beans to drinking. The store was born to focus on roasting and extraction methods to convey the rich taste and deep culture of specialty coffee.
In the definition of specialty coffee set by the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan, the first sentence says, “It is a coffee that is evaluated by consumers as delicious and satisfactory.” This is also the ideology that guides THE COFFEESHOP.
When the shop first opened, they purchased and sold roasted coffee, but in 2013, they started roasting their own coffee. From the time they purchased green coffees, they repeatedly went through cupping and sample roasting, and carefully selected and sold only coffee that they felt was “delicious.”
The company practices “From Seed to Cup,” through quality control at every stage from coffee beans to the cup, by offering a choice of four different brewing methods when serving coffee in cafes. The company launched a subscription service for coffee in 2012, which was rare at the time.
Attracted by the deepness of specialty coffee, Hagiwara, who joined THE COFFEESHOP in 2016, says, “I think a coffee shop doesn’t end after selling coffee. If something happens during the process of brewing and drinking the coffee at home, causing it to spoil the taste, it no longer meets the definition of specialty coffee.”
I wanted to make it easier for beginners.
It has been his goal since his days in university to open his own store in the future.
“When I was a child, I loved it when my family would tell me how delicious my food was. When I was in university, I worked part-time at an Italian restaurant, and it made me happy to make people happy with what I cooked because no one was angry when they were eating good food.”
I joined PRONTO (an Italian-style café bar chain in Japan), which deals in food, coffee, and liquor, as a new graduate employee because I thought I could learn a wide range of things. His proactive approach to his work was highly evaluated and he was given the responsibility of leading the launch of a new business in his fourth year of working at the company. This was the time when he was involved in the launching of a handcrafted coffee shop, focused on pour-over coffee.
Hagiwara drank coffee every day and was not particularly fastidious about it, but he thought for the first time that the luxury item was interesting. However, the more he wanted to pursue good coffee, the more he felt the difficulty of achieving the quality he wanted in the limitations of chain stores. Gradually, his desire to improve his skills in coffee led him to leave PRONTO.
Around this time, Hagiwara visited dozens of coffee shops that roasted coffee in-house. Regardless of reputation among the public, he was reaching out for what he thought was good coffee and that led him to specialty coffee. He also felt the difficulty in entering the specialty coffee field as a beginner with its detailed categorization of origins and flavor expressions.
“There were not many stores that would kindly offer specialty coffee to beginners at the time. I felt that there was a need to communicate to people how wonderful they taste and about the world of coffee in a more understandable way.”
It was THE COFFEESHOP that was close to his ideal in terms of taste, store design, and staff. Hagiwara asked the shop directly about job offerings and joined the company in 2016. He immediately became a store manager.
Don’t let people think you’re just highly skilled in business.
THE COFFEESHOP has a wide range of businesses, but the one common idea they share is looking at coffee from “a consumer’s perspective.”
In order to make good coffee at home, the company introduces how to use its tools and recipes on its website, YouTube, and other social media. They also offer a service called a “bean overhaul service” where they exchange unopened beans, which they bought over a month ago, free of charge. The coffee beans that are returned or their residues after extraction are reused as dyes to make eco-bags and coffee-dyed tenugui (Japanese traditional handkerchief).
These ideas came from casual conversations at staff meetings. The idea for the “bean overhaul service” came from the founder, who asked, “How can I make a tasty brew out of old coffee beans?” This was how the idea came about.
The “coffee sharing service” which allows users to send coffee to family and friends who live far away, was also an idea suggested by a staff member who thought it would be nice to have the same coffee in each other’s hands while making a video call in the middle of the Covid-19.
“We are involved in a variety of businesses, which is one of our strengths, but we don’t want to be a company that just knows how to get ahead. People tend to think that a company like ours, having great power in transmitting messages, is highly skilled in commercializing the businesses and that the taste of coffee is just an afterthought. Since this is not the case, I would always go back to the basics and pursue good coffee and try to provide the best customer service.”
What’s good is good.
How did Hagiwara become the person he is now?
In his childhood, he had a vague idea that he would become a teacher because his mother was a teacher. He played baseball in elementary and junior high school because his older brother did. It wasn’t until his high school days when he started playing in a band with his friends that Hagiwara first derailed.
“That was the first time I chose my own path and started doing what I want to do. I chose to go to a private university instead of following my parents’ advice to go to a national university. In the band, I wrote a lot of peculiar songs, such as songs without lyrics and songs with strange rhythms.
“I continued to play in the band until I was in university, but all the members, including myself, didn’t have many friends, and we were all ‘different.’ We were confident about our music being ‘different’ from other major Japanese popular music and we thought they were boring. On the other hand, I admired crazy rock bands like The Blue Hearts and The High-Lows (Japanese punk rock bands) because I was actually so smart and excelled in academics. In other words, I was a ‘weirdo’ who thought it was cool to be unusual and different from others.” (laughs)
“However, what music and specialty coffee have in common for me is that I seek things that I think are essentially good on the inside and not just the superficial. There is no reason not to like a song that can really move you. I think it’s the same with good coffee.”
Hagiwara states, “I guess the world of specialty coffee and I were the best match.” After joining THE COFFEESHOP, Hagiwara started roasting coffee on full scale at the end of 2017. Then in 2018, he participated as a member of a team in the Roast Masters Team Challenge 2018, a national competition for roasting skills, and won the championship. He states that his current goal is to win the Japan Coffee Roasting Championship (JCRC).
The idea “I want to start my own business” disappeared.
THE COFFEESHOP, which always thinks of what they can do no matter what the situation is, has not changed even under the circumstances of Covid-19. During a state of emergency due to Covid-19 in April 2020, the company offered free shipping on its e-commerce site, named its monthly blend “At Home Mix” (implies the coziness of being “at home”) in May, and made drip bags they offered for free. They sent them to between 2,000 and 3,000 customers with the message, “Enjoy your time at home and let’s get through this difficult time together!”
“We started getting a lot of messages from customers online saying, ‘Thank you for delivering coffee in such a difficult situation’ and ‘The coffee has helped me a lot.’ Reading these messages made me feel so good to have been doing this job.”
While he was deeply feeling the significance of the existence of THE COFFEESHOP store and its brand, something unexpected happened. The founder of the company passed away in November 2020.
“That’s when I began to feel a sense of responsibility to continue the shop, both for myself and for the staff. I had always felt responsible as the manager and head roaster and had been leading everyone ever since, but somewhere inside, I really felt that I belonged to the team at this company.”
“I owe a gratitude to the founder for supporting me when I had no experience in the specialty coffee industry and for entrusting me with the management of the store and allowing me to do whatever I wanted to. Now, the idea of starting my own business, which has been in my mind for a long time, has completely disappeared, I feel that I am destined to run this store.”
The simple naming of the store, “THE COFFEESHOP” reflects the founder’s wish to become one of the leading coffee shops in Japan. One of Hagiwara’s goals is to win the JCRC is because he wants many people to know that there is such a good coffee shop.
“Coffee is a part of our lives and it’s all about making people think it tastes good. Of course, we also place importance on factors such as social significance and helping producers, but the final goal is to make people feel that the coffee tastes good and that is what we have been aiming to tell people from the beginning.”
Originally written in Japanese by Hitomi Cubana.
“For me, coffee is something that I can’t live without drinking every day. There are many ways to drink coffee, but I like the coffee I drink with someone rather than drinking it alone. When I serve coffee at the shop, I always brew a little extra for tasting and say, “I think this is really good,” offer it to the customer and the customer says, “Yes, it’s good.” I enjoy having this kind of conversation with my customers and it is my happiest moment.”