The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is a pioneer of specialty coffee culture in Toyama, hazeru coffee. We interviewed the owner, Kubota-san and he told us about his journey.
How hazeru coffee Started
Kubota-san originally started his working life in a career as a banker. After work, he often dropped by at a cafe to study, relax, and just to feel refreshed with a cup of coffee. As he spent more time like that, he started to wonder, “what if I could be working in an environment like this?” “what if my job was to create this kind of atmosphere?”.
“Your job takes more than half of the time of your life. When I thought about that, I started to doubt if my job (as a banker) is really what I want to do, or what that makes of my life. Then I thought, if I have to spend so much time of my life working, I’d rather get a job I love”, Kubota-san reflects.
Kubota-san had one memory that still warmed up his heart after many years - the taste in his mouth after trying latte for the first time, at a Starbucks in Yokohama, where he spent his college life. “I remember feeling amazed at how pleasant latte could be to drink, with the coffee matching with sweet milk” Kubota-san recalls. As he thought more about how he wanted to live his life, that pleasant memory of coffee became vivid. Kubota-san decided to enquire at Starbucks Japan about job opportunities and was surprised to leave they were preparing to open their first branch in his local area. When he heard this, his mind was made.
In 2002, Kubota-san successfully got his dream job at Starbuck Japan. He found it to be a pleasant and friendly working environment and established his career as a store manager, where he worked for 15 years. Throughout his time there, he was completely fascinated by coffee and the joy of providing the customers with a moment of relaxation and aromatic coffee- however, as his love for coffee grew, he started to feel somewhat frustrated.
“What I wanted to do and what Starbucks was doing was generally going to the same direction. However, given the nature of their business, their focus was more on their cafe as a space and environment rather than the coffee itself. Also because they are a chain brand, their coffee is more like a cup that anyone should be able to brew at a certain level to maintain the consistent quality, rather than the best cup that barista could ever make. That started to frustrate me, and I started to wonder, ‘what if I did this, or what if I tried that’ to make my coffee even better”, Kubota-san looks back the transition.
After experiencing the shock of the earthquake in Tohoku in 2011 and going through several changes in his life, Kubota-san had a chance to reconsider his path of life yet again. Founding hazeru coffee and running his own business was his answer of which direction his life should take.
What hazeru coffee Offers
“There are constantly more and more new innovations in the specialty coffee market, such as new varieties and processing methods. I opened hazeru coffee back in 2016, hoping to create a place where people can causally enjoy specialty coffee and immerse themselves with latest trends and well-curated products”, Kubota-san explains. The concept of the shop was inspired by TAOCA COFFEE in Hyogo and 27 Coffee Roasters in Kanagawa, and if you look around the shop, you can actually see things in common, such as a wide selection in the varieties of coffee on offer and the minimalistic interior.
The coffee-loving population in Toyama is actually quite large- however, most of them prefer to drink canned coffee and traditional dark roast, and Kubota-san feels that after 2 years of running the roaster that that trend still strongly remains. He explains that while there are cafes and roasters in the area, it is still a little rare to find somewhere people can just drop by and have conversations about coffee. “Specialty coffee has so many unique and fun facts to introduce and discuss, and missing the chance of communicating those wonderful details is a great loss”, Kubota-san explains.
At hazeru coffee, people can try out samples and hear about each coffee’s backstories and discuss the flavor. Many people originally ask for “something not acidic”, but it is often the case that after trying some light roast they completely fall in love with it.
Kubota-san recalls that at the beginning he was putting too much thought about his business model- because he wanted to target the type of customers who have high standards and expectation in food and drink but are not necessarily familiar with specialty coffee, so he decided to open his shop in the area with many of the high-end grocery shops. However, as time went by, Kubota-san started to want his business to be more inclusive and open to people with many different tastes and preferences, and offer a cup that can be enjoyed by anyone.
hazeru coffee’s Roast
The roasting machine Kubota-san operates is Fuji Royal’s 5 kg with a customized drum. For the training, Kubota-san contacted his friend who runs a roaster in Ishikawa and asked for his advice prior to the opening.At the same time, Kubota-san started regularly visiting Tokyo to attend as many seminars and workshops as possible, something he continues to do to this day.
At hazeru coffee, they offer 7 different kinds of coffee with a roasting level between light roast and medium-dark roast. While they can serve for a wide range of preference, they never miss a chance to introduce the whole different aroma and flavors light roast can offer to people who tend to stick to dark roast.
Expressing the rich and full flavors of the coffee while keeping it as sweet as possible- that’s the theme of hazeru coffee’s roast. To achieve that, Kubota-san meticulously adjust the machine’s settings and picks out any defective beans by hand before and after roasting, keeping the quality high and consistent.
Kubota-san also attends many roasters retreats to expand his world- roasting in a new, unusual environment with different kinds of roasting machines keeps his mind fresh and flexible, Kubota-san explains. “I rarely could make connection with people in the industry when I was a part of the big organization such as Starbucks. Now I’m simply enjoying meeting many fellow roasters, and that encourages me a lot to reflect on my own relationship with coffee roasting”, Kubota-san told us.
It’s been 2 years since the opening, and Kubota-san’s wish to run a cafe where people can casually drop by and learn more about specialty coffee hasn’t changed. He wants his place to not be intimidating and wants his customers purely enjoy the cup of coffee in front of them, and if it turns out that they want to learn more about it, it’s ideal- that’s the idea.
“Future plans? I will take one step at a time, but maybe to run the shop well, communicate with the local community well, keep the coffee roasting class I’m running rolling, and go out often and meet new people”, says Kubota-san. He is planning to open a second branch in the city center, aiming to be more accessible for more people- hazeru coffee surely will continue to build a bridge between specialty coffee culture and the people in Toyama.