The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS in Kuramae, Tokyo. Their sweet and fruity coffee has quickly become a hot topic among coffee enthusiasts in Tokyo, and they have grown to supply their coffee nationwide. Their fame was then boosted especially after getting featured by one of Japan’s most influential magazines, Brutus. The owner/roaster, Ishii-san has a unique background for a coffee roaster, starting out as a professional boxer when he was a highschool student- we interviewed him to discover how that journey led to coffee.
Ishii-san’s Journey with Coffee
Ishii-san's first big milestone happened quite early in his life, when he decided to retire from his boxing career at the age of 19. When he was a little boy, Ishii-san had a dream of opening a restaurant of his own, so he thought his next move could be in the food and beverage industry. To make it come true, he started out with working in as many restaurants as possible to gain some insight of the industry.
Ishii-san spent several years busy boiling ramen noodles, serving customers at a hamburger place, and grilling chicken at a yakitori bar, gaining first-hand experiences in kitchens and customer services, although they weren’t very financially rewarding. “As one of my philosophies I have this motto- ‘always think about the balance between a dream, a supply and a demand’. When I was following my dream while supporting my family, I was failing at balancing these out and that was a very frustrating time in my life”, Ishii-san looks back.
Ishii-san also describes himself as a quite stubborn character, who is determined to only rely on what he has actually seen and experienced. Despite the financial pressure he was under, he still felt the need to experience it all to truly achieve his goal. Ishii-san then decided that he needed to learn about architecture, especially to learn the basics of exterior and interior of restaurants and shops. So he worked in the construction industry, and quickly became successful- after a year and a half, Ishii-san started a construction company with 5 of his colleagues.
5 years of successfully running a company provided Ishii-san with financial stability and confidence in his management skills. On top of that, Ishii-san continued to have several part-time jobs in the F&B industry to continue gaining as much experience as possible. “I don’t have an MBA, but I took every chance to learn all about the business from my own experience”, Ishii-san explained.
Ishii-san had his first encounter with specialty coffee when he was given a bag of light roast Ethiopian coffee as a souvenir. “That was completely different from the coffee I knew, and that was a very shocking experience. I had never associated coffee with words like ‘strawberry’ and ‘fruity’, and that instantly intrigued me to this completely new concept of coffee”, Ishii-san explains. He started to brew specialty coffee at home, and the more he learnt about coffee from the science behind it to the deep world of aromas and flavors, the more he realized that he wants to make coffee his trade.
However, Ishii-san didn’t jump straight into opening a cafe. To start with, Ishii-san opened a Spanish bar, and once he was successful in running it, he gradually opened new branches one after another, and installed an espresso machine in the third shop. The fourth shop he opened was a coffee stand, and Ishii-san featured several Japanese micro roasters and served specialty coffee. After a year and a half, with enough experience and confidence Ishii-san opened LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS.
Choosing to Roast by Himself
Ishii-san used to purchase coffee from neighboring roasters in the area, but he started to feel a desire to express his ideal flavor more freely. With an aim to establish a unique brand himself, Ishii-san decided to start a coffee roastery of his own.
“I named the roastery LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS after the cycle of life- leaves come out in spring, flowers bloom, leaves get green in summer, then they turn yellow and they fall- but the life itself continues, it carries on. There are things that change and don’t change. I wish I can be like that. I want to accept changes and make changes happen, growing bigger while being down to earth, my roots digging deep.” His concept reflects who he is: he knows what he needs to achieve his goals and what works best for him.
LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS’ Coffee
At LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS, you can choose your coffee from two kinds of espresso and five to six kinds of filter coffee. Within the selection of the filter coffee, there are two options: a “standard line” for your daily needs for a good cup of specialty coffee at an affordable price range, and a “premium line” for a special cup using high-end varieties such as Gesha coffee.
The roasting machine Ishii-san uses is a Probat with a vintage roasting chamber with the latest burner, which enables Ishii-san to create the exact, ideal flavor he has in mind.
“I visited Oslo and Portland to look for an ideal flavor. I tried hundreds and thousands of cups, and that led me to a certain characteristics I want to express with my roast. Then I checked what kind of brewing gear and roasting machines my favorite roasters use, and surprisingly, all of them were using Probat. And most of them were using an old Probat, and when I asked why they told me all about the great quality of the vintage iron chamber. The vintage one can sustain the heat a lot more than a modern ones. We use computers for modern roasters to cover any shortcomings caused by the quality of the metal. So I combined the good old iron chamber with the latest, high-quality burner to make a roasting machine that can create my ideal flavor”, Ishii-san explains.
Ishii-san mastered his roasting skills mainly through his visit to several roasting machine manufacturers and he learned to adjust his technique depending on the characteristics of those different machines. To brush up his skills even more, Ishii-san flew to Oslo and visited numerous cafes to learn from the top roasters.
“I struggled a little at the beginning, but as I had such a clear idea of what kind of coffee I wanted to roast, I didn’t find it so hard to get there” Ishii-san reflects. Ishii-san roasts making the most out of the hot blast his vintage Probat creates to realize his signature, sweet, fruity and clean cup. Ishii-san aims to create a light roast heavy on sweetness and aroma, which makes it very satisfying to drink.
With the aim of making his business global in mind, Ishii-san is planning to open several branches in busy towns and tourist spots within Japan such as Kanazawa, to make his brand more widely recognized. He is also eager on training aspiring baristas and providing opportunities for them to challenge at championships.
Ishii-san is also planning to source green beans directly from farms- “We are sourcing beans from US, Norwegian and Japanese importers, but I am aiming to establish a good relationship with a farm and make the trade direct and more personal. It would be wonderful if I can source something that’s specially grown for us and supplied only for us, to brew coffee you can only drink at LEAVES COFFEE ROASTERS”, Ishii-san says. He is planning to visit African and Central American countries this year, especially Guatemala and Ethiopia, to pursue the possibility. With his motto, “make sure to have a good balance between a dream, a supply and a demand”, Ishii-san will surely achieve his goal- as he always has been- with his down-to-earth attitude.