The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster we introduce this month is MANLY COFFEE from Fukuoka. We interviewed Sunaga-san, who continues to inspire people involved in coffee in various situations, well-known for her contribution to the industry as she started the AeroPress Championship in Japan. We featured MANLY COFFEE back in February 2017- three and a half years have passed since then, and Sunaga-san has shared how her approach to coffee has changed and how the coffee scene in Fukuoka has transitioned during that time.
MANLY COFFEE’s Roast: A New Chapter
Recently, Sunaga-san upgraded her Fuji Royal roaster from 1kg to 3kg, and while she is happy having a big boost in power and capacity, she revealed that it delivered her some unexpected changes to her roasting routine.
"At first I was roasting comfortably, but as I was trying various things in order to realize what I had in my mind, something started to feel wrong. I would say it felt like there was a wall in front of me I couldn’t jump over", she described.
The troubled days continued, and one day someone told her that roasting machines has absolutely nothing to do with how the coffee tastes, and it is all about “how” she roasts. So she went back, tried a few more things, still finding herself struggling. Then she met someone else who was very confident to say that Fuji Royal is great for dark roast, but not so much for lighter roast, adding more to her confusion.
"This made me understand that there was some truth in both, and the reasons why. There are definitely some differences between machines that affect certain elements of flavor, but once your roasting technique reaches a certain level, it starts to matter less. But I was so stuck at the time, so I reached out to Ueno-san at LANDMADE in Kobe and asked for some training. He gives training and seminars at Fuji Royal and knows all about the machine.
He was very clear about the hows and whys of the roasting process best suited for Fuji Royal- he broke the process down to seconds and minutes, and he explained the logic behind each decision. It answered so many questions I had, and the strictly structured method actually freed me a lot. His training gave me a clear view of exactly which part of my method needed changing, and let me have a control on building different profiles depending on what I wanted to achieve."
“With the dots connected, MANLY COFFEE coffee, the fruit of trial and error, has evolved into a more balanced, sweeter coffee”, Sunaga-san smiles.
Passing the Baton: Moving Away from the JAC Admin
Sunaga-san is alsowell-known for her contribution to the industry for starting the AeroPress Championship in Japan, but she is planning to leave the management team next year. “When I was traveling around the world, I was impressed by how well-opinionated young people are, how they are actively getting involved to improve the industry. That was something I longed to see in Japan, and the championship is one of the things I have been wanting to hand over to the next generation.” She explains.
“More and more people joined the competition each year, and the management team welcomed so many unique people who are madly in love with coffee and AeroPress along its journey. So there is pretty much nothing I can do now, and I have great confidence in the team who share the core value.”
2021 will be a 10th anniversary since Sunaga-san first competed at the world championship. She views it as a good milestone and a good chance to focus on her shop, while continuing to give emotional support to the new team.
Coffee Scene in Fukuoka
Sunaga-san has been playing a leading role in Fukuoka’s coffee scene, and she has been a witness of its transition over time. “It’s getting more and more exciting with each new generation that emerges. The reason behind its great vibe is the love of the local people for Fukuoka. People in Fukuoka also prefer independent shops, and there are many who are successful. I believe many people are encouraged by that and start their own businesses too”, she analyzes.
The great and new thing about specialty coffee is how open the knowledge and resources are, and that’s what is making the industry inclusive and attractive. Sunaga-san explains that Fukuoka’s coffee community shares that trait. Rather than competing against each other, there is a tight-knit sense of community purely trying to nurture the market by working together.
She also points out that different elements of the industry are starting to merge- “cafe” used to be somewhere stylish, a space provides for community building and communication but not necessarily associated with great cup of coffee, while “kissaten” was pursuing excellence in taste, sometimes in exchange of the inclusive aspect “cafe” would provide. Now the demand for good coffee with high expectations for the whole experience is higher than ever, Sunaga-san feels she needs to keep updating herself while being aware of the global trend, to head in the right direction.
Rebuilding Her Way
"I remember telling you the last time that I wanted to be the best in the world. Now it feels a bit different. I would rather keep doing what I love, making the coffee I like, living the life I cherish, becoming physically stronger and healthier. Becoming the best in the world can be the result of that, but not necessarily so. When I came to terms with that I felt like I could just push on, developing my own path”, Sunaga-san explains.
One of the mottos of MANLY COFFEE is "Coffee is beautiful, Life is beautiful", and Sunaga-san feels that this motto describes how she feels at the moment so well.
Throughout the interview she spoke with carefully chosen words, as if she refuses to use any word that does not come from her heart, which made her story captivating.
The more we listened to her, the more we saw that she is a person of determination and eagerness for progress, who always tries to stay true to herself. When she communicates with others, those traits show her strength of sharing everything with people, including what she experienced, thinks, feels, and her very vulnerability. That is the key to the charisma of her as a founder of a new chapter in Japanese and Fukuoka’s coffee scenes, and a role model for the new generation.
A few days later, we received a message from Sunaga-san:
(We interviewed Sunaga-san before March 2020, and since then everyone’s lives have completely changed. So many things must have changed for Sunaga-san and so many things must have been going through her mind too. During this difficult time, and through the process of rebuilding the new value, her honesty to herself and to the world around her will surely work like a lighthouse in stormy weather.)