The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is Cafe FUJINUMA in Oyama, Tochigi. We have been blessed to meet many wonderful roasters, and some of them had their previous careers in totally different industries- such as the owner of Cafe FUJINUMA, Fujinuma-san. We interviewed him to find out about his journey and how coffee has changed his life.
His Path with Coffee
Fujinuma-san left his hometown, Oyama, to study film at a university in Tokyo. His dream was to become a film director, Aand that led him to enter the film industry. He found making films was exciting, but extremely busy at the same time. He could barely take a day off, but whenever he found some time to himself, he would visit cafes in the city and rested his mind.
“After I spent a year in the industry, my mother called- she was opening a little tavern in town and she needed my help. We discussed and decided that simply doing a tavern wouldn’t be good enough to be successful, and opened a cafe instead. That’s how it all started”, Fujinuma-san explains. They took about a year to prepare, and Fujinuma-san would attend every single pourover seminar he could find, and chose to get a supply of highly-graded coffee from a roaster in the area to aid his brewing skills that were yet to be fully established. Fujinuma-san recalls that his perspective completely changed when he transitioned from being a customer to being a potential cafe owner, and that’s how he knew that his life was starting to change.
The more that Fujinuma-san learned about coffee, the more he became drawn to it- while he had originally been planning to helping his mother set up the business, when the time came to leave he found it impossible not to continue on the journey he had started with coffee. Adding to that, his mother had to temporarily leave the running of the cafe in Fujinuma-san’s hand while she attended to a family matter, making Fujinuma-san the effective owner of the new family business. “It was unexpected and I couldn’t decide which path to choose until the very end. There were people waiting for me, preparing a position for me to go back to, but in the end, I had to say ‘I’m sorry, I want to choose coffee’ and jumped into this whole new world”, he looks back.
Now his mother is back in business, serving hearty homemade dishes for lunch- the cafe has evolved into a much loved place in town. They rent out the cafe’s space for weekly live music sessions, and Fujinuma-san runs a private film society creating promotional films for Oyama, hoping to help his dear hometown and its culture to thrive with coffee and much more.
Journey in Oyama
Cafe FUJINUMA started out by supplying roasted specialty coffee beans from a roaster in the area. There are around 10 roasters in Oyama, but at the time most of them only produced dark roast coffee. Fujinuma-san visited them to ask if they can do light roast and single origin, while often travelling to Tokyo to keep up to date with the trend.
There were days that only a handful of people visited, and they weren’t looking for a light roast. “Most of the customers said it’s too sour, and that was all, and I didn’t have a career to prove myself but I had my vision and I was confident in it. So I kept on serving what I believe is the best, and people gradually started to embrace that”, Fujinuma-san explains.
As his skills and visions became more refined, he started to feel more and more frustrated that he was unable to get the exact sort of coffee he wanted, and that made him consider roasting himself.
Cafe FUJINUMA’s Coffee
Fujinuma-san started his roasting training in Gunma prefecture. He originally came across the roaster as a potential supplier for light roast beans, but after Fujinuma-san explained to them exactly what he wanted, the roaster encouraged him to learn how to roast himself, so he could fully express the great passion he had developed. Fujinuma-san immediately started training with them, and also attended the roasters’ camp hosted by SCAJ (Specialty Coffee Association of Japan) to further brush up his skills.
In their second year, they invested in a roasting machine, and Fujinuma-san chose a domestic manufacturer, Fuji Royal. For the first six months, he frequently visited Fuji Royal’s HQ for additional training and gained familiarity with their machine. “There was a constant fear of failure- if I fail to express the flavor or fail to make the most of the characteristics of the beans, that means I have instantly wasted 2 kg all at once. It was a tough and long journey before I could finally achieve a consistent result and establish my roasting style”, Fujinuma-san recalls.
Now he does not need to worry about wasting beans, with several established roasting methods which he flexibly applies to the beans depending on their characteristics. His current mission is to create guidelines to share with his new staff. “Until now it has only existed in my head but now I need to record methods and techniques and put them into words and numbers. There is a traditional concept of artisan world being secretive and closed, but I don’t think that’s the way to survive. Luckily I have been given several opportunities recently to train other people, so I will make my knowledge and skills more and more accessible to aspiring roasters”, Fujinuma-san says.
Relationship with Coffee Farms
Last year, Fujinuma-san had a chance to visit coffee farms for the first time- and he was excited to share with us what he had learned from the experience as it was something he had been longing for some time. He witnessed a great range of working environments and financial states of various different countries including El Salvador and Costa Rica, which were two countries facing opposite situations with regards to their coffee producers. By learning the reality, Fujinuma-san felt even more strongly about making a change he had been long been wanting to make.
“We’ve been saying ‘from seed to cup’ for almost several years now but I feel we can go further and give our customers a human connection with their coffee. It's standard practice in the industry to only provide the data and profile of the coffee, and that has been bugging me for a long time. I wanted to talk about the coffee I serve with the actual, first-hand knowledge and establish a personal connection to each coffee”, Fujinuma-san explains.
Cafe FUJINUMA has been increasing its presence in the area, opening their first branch in 2017. “It would be interesting if we could supply to more and more places including small-scale shops and restaurants so that people can have a good cup of coffee basically anywhere in Tochigi”, Fujinuma-san tells us about his ambitions. He is picturing a future that people do not need to specifically go to a coffee place to get a good cup, but they can get one after a good meal, on in places they just drop by unplanned- and that is the new norm Fujinuma-san wants to establish for everyday life in Tochigi.
“I am less obsessed now in a good way, and at the same time I feel that my curiosity and desire for adventure is rising. Perhaps I’m more laid back and can finally see the bigger picture”, Fujinuma-san smiles. His future plans are to discover every chance in Oyama, to spread specialty coffee culture across Tochigi, and find something special only Oyama can achieve. His great care for details as well as the grand vision for his business and for the industry as a whole seem to have much in common with film making- there will be so much to be discovered and nurtured in Tochigi, and with that Fujinuma-san’s journey continues.