The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is Mount Coffee in Hiroshima. The shop, which specializes in selling beans, is located in the town of Kogo-kita, “a town that words like ‘calming scenery’ and ‘quiet afternoon’ capture its nature extremely well”, according to the shop owner, Yamamoto-san.
With 18 years of experience in the industry, Yamamoto-san happily runs his shop and has just celebrated its 4th anniversary. Yamamoto-san visited Vancouver at the age of 18, where he had his first encounter with Starbucks; it was a great shock for him when he saw everything they offered- the size of the business i.e. branches on every corner nationwide, and the variety of drinks on the menu that people casually drop by just to grab and go. Later in Japan, he established his career in the industry starting with Starbucks Japan, and then several roasters including one of the top specialty coffee roasters in Hiroshima, green coffee.
His dedication to his job and his passion for coffee naturally led him to the desire for wanting to prove himself and his own ideas in the form of his own business, which led to the genesis of, Mount Coffee. Local people welcomed the arrival of the first shop in the area where they could get locally roasted beans with great enthusiasm, and it continues to grow as a popular destination, full of customers even on weekdays.
“Vegetables, seafood, whatever you trade, getting the best and freshest product should always be the main focus of any business. In my opinion, coffee beans are no different, and simply focusing on that detail alone should be enough to be successful in daily life”
Yamamoto-san chose a corner of the town’s main shopping street for his business; for him, it was vital to be located in an area that would best support the locals' lives, it was the whole point: “I am happy keeping my business local. I want my shop to be as accessible as the places people go for daily shopping- I want people to just drop by when they run out of the beans just like any other produce”, he explains.
“Vegetables, seafood, whatever you trade, getting the best and freshest product should always be the main focus of any business. In my opinion, coffee beans are no different, and simply focusing on that detail alone should be enough to be successful in daily life.” he says, a philosophy that is reflected in his roast.
Yamamoto-san believes that the quality of the beans is the single most important factor that affects the flavor; adjusting other aspects such as upgrading the roasting machine is not substitute for recreating what the best ingredients can do. He has always used the Fuji Royal 5kg, semi hot blast type throughout his career- establishing a skill and an eye for the details to spot the exact balance of how it should be roasted.
Mount Coffee offers 9 to 10 kinds of beans, 6 kinds of blends and some single origins. Creating a signature blend was Yamamoto-san’s first task- each blend comes with a number to indicate the roast level, and by offering single origins of the beans used in his blends, it makes it easier for customers to know where to look. Yamamoto-san offers sampling and a friendly consultation to each customer discover their taste instead of making a menu full of information- he personalizes the service as much as he can, as that's one of the unique advantages his, local business can offer.
“Dark roast in Japan has followed a pretty unique path- specialty coffee culture is the most recent chapter in its story, inspiring it to transform, and I want people outside of Japan to know more about it through my coffee”
In the future, Yamamoto-san plans to scale up his roasting batches, requiring him to purchase beans more from Asia. It's an idea that's been growing after experiencing several issues during the process of purchasing specialty coffee beans leading him to question the current situation: while majority of the beans originate thousands of miles away in Africa and South America, sometimes he had to judge the quality of the product just from small photos of the farm and snippets of information such as altitudes, the fact that the farm has a lake nearby and so on. On the other hand, some importers only provide numbers and data analysis which makes the selection process seem mechanical, almost making him forget that coffee is a product of nature. Through such experiences, Yamamoto-san started to long for “real” background stories that help people to understand more about the farmers and what they value in their work , not just judging it on the objective data. To achieve this, exploring the much closer, neighbourhood countries that share a lot of values with his culture will help ensure that this purchases are more informed and well-curated, an idea that makes more sense to him.
For this round of subscription, Yamamoto-san will introduce 2 different roasts of the same Indonesian coffee. The light roast has a unique tomato-like flavor and represents the characteristics of the area; the darker roast is a snapshot of the deep world of Japanese dark roast. Dark roasts in Japan has followed a pretty unique path- specialty coffee culture is the most recent chapter in its story, inspiring it to transform. The bitterness and richness of it can sometimes deter people from trying it, especially outside of Japan, but Yamamoto-san sees a lot of potential in the new era of dark roast- “I think it needs some time to be appreciated, but once people accept its characteristics, suddenly there is a whole new world waiting for you”, he explains.
Coffee production in Asia has long been considered immature as an industry, but that has a lot to do with quality control and curation. As a roaster in Japan, Yamamoto-san’s new adventure is to curate good beans from Asia, and proudly roast and introduce them to the world.
“Down to the earth” is a good way of describing Mount Coffee’s philosophy: supporting local life, and in return being supported by the locals. While that pleasantly calm life maintains its rhythm, Yamamoto-san never misses a chance of developing himself- he often joins coffee festivals and events held in many places including Taiwan and Tokyo, providing a limited edition blend, meeting new people and seeing new things. “I have this idea of what and how I think now, but how I see the world will continue to be flexible and I’m comfortable to accept any unexpected changes in me”, he says, his words demonstrating to us a great example of living an organic life.