The next roaster Kurasu will introduce is Oyamazaki Coffee Roasters in Kyoto.
Keep things simple, never forget your priority, why you set up and where you began—it may seem easy, but it is one of the most difficult things to keep in mind. Many of us must have had the moment when we ask ourselves while rushing through busy days, “Is this the life I really wanted?” Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura at Oyamazaki Coffee Roasters are the couple who dared to find an answer to those questions and gave life to one of the most distinctive roasters in Japan. Kurasu interviewed them about their journey and their unique business style.
Keita-san and Mayumi-san tied the knot at the end of 2010 in Tokyo. They were both busy working, and especially Keita-san, who was extremely busy with his consulting job, having a lot of business trips and many nights at his office. He did not used to see it as bad, but after getting married he began to rethink his priorities, and he started to wonder if he really wanted to deal with such an unbelievably busy life where he barely spent any time at home with his wife. In March 2011, the horrendous Tohoku earthquake occurred. Keita-san was far away from home for his work, as usual, and while he was lucky enough to be able to go home later that day, the incident felt like the last call for him to make a change in his life. Keita-san and Mayumi-san had a long talk discussing what kind of life they wanted to lead—and the answer was to leave Tokyo and start a small business together.
In 2012, they both quit their jobs and started travelling around Japan looking for an ideal place to start their new life. With the lease on their apartment due to run out in August, time passed very quickly as they struggled to find the right place. However, in July, Mayumi-san suddenly remembered Oyamazaki in Kyoto, near to where she grew up. For Mayumi-san, it was a city that was close but far—she used to always go past there by train on the way to Osaka, but had actually only visited a handful of times, yet somehow it remained in the corner of her mind, like an undiscovered charm. “The view from the train window suddenly came to my mind—the train goes through busy cities, and suddenly the sky breaks, and that’s where Oyamazaki is.” In one weekend they visited Oyamazaki and walked through the city. They both instantly fell in love with the city, and went straight to a real estate agent and signed a contract.
They chose coffee for their business, as it was something they were both interested in. They looked for a property to open a cafe but they struggled to find the ideal location, so that was when they came up with the idea of roasting coffee and selling it online. Roasting was always Keita-san’s interest, and an online business allowed them to start without an accessible physical shop they needed for a café.
In June 2013, they started roasting beans at home and selling them online. After a few months, they had an opportunity to sell their beans at a stall in front of Oyamazaki station; this then led to numerous opportunities to participate local events where they established their name in the small city of 15,000 people.
Oyamazaki is home to many artists and artisans, and those are people who are curious with and open to new things, so when news first came out about the roaster, their community spread it from there holding events and even making movies.
They began a business venture, distributing to some art galleries and “Pan and Circus”, a unique guest house in Kyoto using a renovated Japanese style house and decorated with antique furniture, is a prime example of their strength in a relationship with the local community.
They retained their “beans-only” style when they opened their shop in November 2014.
They decided to start serving coffee as a sample to give customers an idea about the flavour of their beans. In this way, they enabled their customers to enjoy coffee freely while taking time to shop for as long as they want. It was an ideal way to serve coffee as they very much wanted their customers to enjoy many different cups of coffee without the customers being forced to pay for many different types of coffee all at the same time. “Customers, local to the area or not, they all have to drink coffee together in a tiny space, and that creates conversations and new discoveries—it is always so wonderful to see it happens”, they smiled. Many come in thinking it is a café but when they find out its is different, some hesitate to take the coffee for free, and some even ask if their business is OK serving coffee for free. However, Keita-san and Mayumi-san strongly believe that this welcoming and relaxing atmosphere is one of the things that makes visiting them special.
Oyamazaki Coffee Roasters has two major standards when they pick the beans: they appreciate a variety, and each coffee needs to be interesting each coffee needs to be interesting enough that they would choose to drink it themselves. They are not planning to provide expensive beans such as those from Cup of Excellence, as their mission is to provide high quality, interesting variety of beans within the price range of 600-1000 yen, as they want to remain an establishment enjoyed by their local customers. They sell 4 kinds of roast: Medium, High, City, and Full City. When they get new beans, they try it out on each of the four roast levels and do cuppings each time to decide the most suitable. There may only be 4 categories, but each allows them to make a very fine and layered adjustment within those categories according to the character of the beans.
Their philosophy can be seen at their online shop too. Each photograph used on the background of the beans profile is not just a beautiful picture but actually a visual description of the taste note. Earthy, spicy, fresh and clean—it helps you imagine the flavour of the coffee just by looking at the profile and it informs your decision. They fully understand what the online shopping experience can lack, and the information people really need when they make a choice. Keita-san explains that most customers who just want to enjoy coffee do not need to know the information professionals use (such as altitude), but they want to know in detail how the beans taste. They also are very aware of the use of the words for description, and they try their best to describe the taste using food and other things Japanese people are familiar with, instead of using imported terms and exotic fruits.
Recently, they have invested in a new roaster. They used to use Fuji Royal’s DISCOVERY which can roast only about 200g, but as they now sell their beans wholesale and do events a lot more, they needed a bigger one, and they bought a GRN-1kg made by a manufacturer in Karuizawa. They didn’t get anything bigger as they still wanted to keep it small. They always roast to order to ensure they can provide the best customer experience in the best time, 3-4 days after roasting. This means they need to deal with a small batch from 100g, and they don’t want to waste even one bean, because they see beans as the crystallised passion and effort of farmers and buyers. They are not planning to change the way they pick beans either. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but it’s important that we take care of things with all our heart, at our own pace” says Mayumi-san.
Perhaps the story that best highlights what makes Oyamazaki Coffee Roasters unique is that they never sell ground coffee. They told us that they often had to turn down customers who don’t own mills because of that. It was not because they could afford to lose customers, and they did worry the decision could impact on the certainty of the future of their business. So why remain so rigidly resolved to sticking to this policy?
Keita-san gave us an answer which was a little surprising: “We were always ready to give up on this business if things don’t go well”.
Keita-san then explained that the most important thing for them was never a business itself, but them working together. Because they jumped into the market without any knowledge or pre-existing business connections, that enabled them to stick with the original idea of their business: Coffee tastes the best when you grind the fresh beans and brew it yourself. If they had started their business by working for an established coffee company, it's likely the company would have offered a grinding service, and as such Keita-san and Mayumi-san would have automatically offered the service themselves—however, because they opened this business due to their love of coffee, they did not feel it necessary to compromise their principles even if it was a more profitable business decision.
Through their business, Keita-san and Mayumi-san have changed their life to cherish what’s important, found their passion, and turned it into a great coffee roasting business much loved by locals. It is truly a wonderful example of what a human relationship can accomplish and it shows the importance of asking yourself what your heart really wants.
・El Salvador Santa Rita Bourbon Natural (City Roast)
・Papua New Guinea Bunum Wo AA (High Roast)