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    Interview with Ayaka: our new general manager Part 1

    Hi everyone!

    Today we are sharing an interview with Ayaka, for the first time since 2017 May! 

    It is no exaggeration to say that Ayaka is the face of Kurasu- but some of you may have noticed that she’s not at the cafe as often as before. 

    To explain why, and to find out what her past 4 years at Kurasu have been like, we sat down and had a lovely chat with her. 

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    Can’t believe it’s been 4 years since your last interview,  Ayaka! How are you doing and what is your current job at Kurasu? 

    Ayaka:

    It’s difficult to explain, but at Kurasu we have a cafe team and an online store team, and we have our boss, Yozo-san. I’m working between each section like a cushion or a bridge, to support everyone in the team. 

    How’s your new position?

    Ayaka:

    I was already doing something similar before this position was established, so there’s no difficulty with transitions and such. 

    I would say that before it was harder because I was also working full time as a barista as well as the manager, and each task was pretty demanding and required my full attention. 

    Having said that, the team has increased almost double in number of staff members compared to last year, which means I was having to manage a lot more people, and constantly running out of my time, haha. 

    So I talked to Yozo-san, and told him that I don’t think I can achieve everything I want to achieve if I were to continue working as a barista and a cafe manager, and he made this new position for me. 

    It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work at the cafe anymore, and I still do about once a week, so that I can enjoy working as a barista, while keeping myself up to date in terms of what’s happening at the cafes, how we are welcoming our customers, and how they respond to anything new we do. 

    I’m currently working in the upstairs office at Ebisugawa, aiding the communication between the online shop team and the cafe team. We also started hosting more Instagram lives, and I feel that communicating with the viewers and building the community there is also my new job. 

    Is there anything you find more fun or exciting compared to how you were working as a barista before? 

    Ayaka:

    Oh yes! There’s not a single day that I don’t want to go to work. Actually, I feel more like “yeah! bring it on!” each day.

    ーーーAw, that’s nice! 

    Ayaka:

    I believe that to help my colleagues feel like “I get to go to work today!” rather than “I’ve got to go to work today”, it’s essential for me to be an example and enjoy my work myself. That’s the biggest motivation for me to stay positive and have fun. 

    For example, whenever I am on the edge or stressed out and freaking out, everyone around me instantly notices and cares for me, and offers all the help they can. While I am ever so grateful for that, I know that I should have stopped myself from even bringing myself to that point in the first place. 

    So I always make sure to be the first person to say “lunch time!”, “let’s go home!”, or “let’s do it!”. Just like I was enjoying working from the bottom of my heart as a barista, that sort of positivity definitely is contagious. 

     

    What is the most favorite drink to make as a barista? Your answer was “latte” 4 years ago. 

    Ayaka:

    Hmmm, I haven’t been thinking about it lately. 

    The act of brewing coffee itself used to be so special for me, but now making coffee is almost like my second nature, and I focus more on how I can make the time my customer spends with the cup of coffee special. 

    Thanks to my long career with coffee, making a good cup of coffee has become more like a starting point rather than a goal, and now I feel I can channel my energy to make the whole coffee experience more special beyond the quality of coffee itself. 

    4 years ago, when I said I like making latte, I was enjoying the challenge of how well I can steam the milk and make a silky smooth latte- now it’s normal for me to be able to make a perfectly steamed and tempered milk even while I’m having a chat with someone. 

    That, I think is the biggest change that happened to me in the last 4 years- I’m one level above enjoying making a particular drink, and have reached the point where I can focus fully on hospitality. 

    ーーーWhat was the turning point in that transition? 

    Ayaka:

    Probably since we started to roast our own coffee. 

    Having a responsibility in controlling and managing the coffee roasting process means that we can have a constant, real time interaction with the coffee. 

    Since we’ve got the full control over who roast the beans, when it arrives at the cafe, for how long we let them age, by discussing in the team, our coffee has become practically perfect. We feel that instead of worrying about how to excel at techniques like latte art as an individual barista, there is a much bigger and better thing to focus on to reach for our goal.   

     

    I know you are rarely behind the counter now, but what’s your future plans for that?

    Ayaka:

    I would love to continue making coffee as long as I can. Without the customers, cafe can’t exist. Among so many cafes in Kyoto, there are customers who choose to visit Kurasu. 

    Some may come by chance, others chose to come, and there are regulars who would visit us almost every day- there are all kinds of customers visiting us under all kinds of circumstances. Whatever their reasons are, I feel that we are responsible to make there time here worthwhile and special. That’s how I feel everytime I work at the cafe. 

    Some people may want to enjoy coffee quietly, and others may want to talk to me about something. I dare not say that I want to make everyone smile, but whenever a customer talks to me and shares their fun and happy stories, it makes me happy too. 

    I love sharing feelings and emotions like that, and that’s something I can only experience through face to face communication- it’s inspiring.

    Me physically being at the cafe also helps communicating with other staff members too-  I am hoping that my experience as a barista may help solving issues my colleagues may be going through, or help supporting new baristas joining our team in the future. 

    ーーーI agree that having a boss that knows exactly what you are going through as a first-hand experience is very helpful. 

    Ayaka:

    Yeah. Less frequently it may be, but I’m planning to continue working at the cafe. 

     

    What is your favorite coffee? It can be a specific variety, origin or a roaster.

     

    Ayaka:

    For example, there are people who think that what their mothers cook is the best. But I think that’s something you realize only after eating something else.  

    ーーーI think I know what you are saying. You can't know it until you compare it to something else. 

    Ayaka:

    Exactly. And I feel that way about Yoshihara-san (our roaster)’s coffee. 

    It’s not me trying to sell Kurasu to people, it’s just my standard coffee now I drink every day. 

    Whenever I go out and have some other coffee, I think “I love Yoshihara-san’s coffee.”

    I genuinely do, haha! 

    ーーーOh wow! That’s powerful. So he’s like your mother now. 

    Ayaka:

    Yes, he is my mom. lol

    When I cup several different types of coffee, some roasted by Yoshihara-san and the other by someone else, I could tell Yoshihara-san’s coffee every time without knowing anything beforehand. 

    ーーーThat’s impressive! 

    Ayaka:

    I don’t know why, but I do. I think Yoshihara-san’s coffee has become a part of me. 

    Even when I’m at home and if I find his coffee particularly good, I’d text him saying”it’s so good!”.  

    ーーーAww, it’s so touching. I love the relationship you have there.

    Loved to hear that her most favorite coffee is what Kosuke roasts- on the second half, we will ask her about her new job, her favorite coffee equipment at home, and her future plans. Stay tuned!