The owner/roaster, Kurosu-san, gained experience as a barista in Melbourne and brushed up his skills in brewing and roasting at Kyoto's leading specialty coffee roaster, WEEKENDERS COFFEE. Kyoto saw numerous specialty coffee places open this year, but Kurosu-san's unique approach to coffee makes STYLE COFFEE stand out- he expresses flavors and how they change as the time passes neatly visualized as a graph; one time he analyzed every single flavor element in a particular specialty coffee and recreated its complex flavor by combining multiple different ingredients such as fruits, tea and spices, and even beef jerky; he recently started making iced coffee in his own way, and he is now locking himself up in his lab for months to master the art of food and coffee pairing with a scientific approach. We interviewed him to find out how his journey started and where his future lies.
Kurosu-san's Encounter with Coffee
Originally, Kurosu-san was interested in general cultures in the West Coast of the United States, and he often visited San Francisco and Los Angeles. During the trip, he dropped by at Ritual Coffee Roasters and Four Barrels Coffee, and that's when he had his first encounter with specialty coffee and cafe culture. "I liked that those cafes provide people communities, and I liked how people come and go and how there is always something new. That made me interested in cafes as one sort of social environment, and the interest in coffee came later. Then I got a job at cafes and soon I started to be more aware of the operational and management side of the business, and I found myself wanting to be a good barista with a great technique in brewing and roasting", Kurosu-san recalls.
Kurosu-san worked for a traditional Kissaten, an espresso bar, and numerous other types of cafes in the Tokyo area. However, none of those could give him enough opportunities to properly train in coffee making and roasting. With frustration, he dreamt of a new environment with more challenges and opportunities. Then he found out that coffee culture is thriving in Melbourne, Australia, and that discovery became his call to change the path of his life.
Once he made his mind he did not wait a day- he soon landed in Melbourne with a working holiday visa in his hand, and it only took 3 days until he found his first job at a cafe. In Melbourne, Kurosu-san worked several jobs at once, in various different kinds of cafes to learn a variety of styles and operations. The biggest cafe among those served 800 cups of coffee each day, and that left a strong impression with Kurosu-san for how big the coffee market is in Australia, and how close coffee is to people's everyday lives. "There was a barista who makes the espresso, who then hands it over to the next team member who steam the milk...the operation was organized like a production line, and this meant I gained a lot of work experience in each task as well as develop the skills to do it quickly and efficiently. I became more consistent in my brewing, and I could learn many different things from top baristas in each cafe", Kurosu-san recalls.
During his last couple of months in Australia, Kurosu-san met Kaneko-san from WEEKENDERS COFFEE. Kurosu-san was working as the head barista at a cafe in Kew, and after learning about the sound reputation of his skills, Kaneko-san recruited Kurosu-san to manage their new Tominokoji branch and to work as his roasting assistant when he returned to Japan.
The Beginning of STYLE COFFEEAfter working for WEEKENDERS COFFEE for about two and a half years, Kurosu-san started to feel that he wanted to have more responsibility over the roasting process. "Running my own business itself was not the goal. I felt that my opinion and my work were very much valued and appreciated, but I still did not have the responsibility or the power to make the final decision. Unless I have that responsibility on my shoulder, I thought it was difficult to step up my skills", Kurosu-san explains.
Kurosu-san named STYLE COFFEE after his favorite snowboarder, Mr.Danny Davis and his nickname, "Mr.Style." It was given for his commitment to his own style, his attention and passion to details while his competitors seem to be focusing on more dramatic and flamboyant tricks. "I was very much inspired by his attention to the things that do not draw attention of people but essential to perfecting the art. I named my cafe after his nickname to remind myself to always be aware of the details which are truly important", Kurosu-san explains.
Kurosu-san's Approach to Coffee
At STYLE COFFEE they serve 3-4 single origins roasted with a Loring Smart Roaster 15kg, at their Japanese distributor in Nishinomiya, however Kurosu-san is hoping to own his own machine someday. "To be a good roaster, I believe that cupping is one of the most important skills to have. It's important to cup as much as possible to simply gain the experience, and it is also important to cup with skilled and talented people, observe them and learn from them. I find it quite interesting that wine somerieres, cooks, and patissieres, all pick up flavors differently. I am fascinated at how their senses were all trained in different ways, and this was something I learned a great deal from", Kurosu-san excitingly explains showing his endless wonder and curiosity for coffee.
On one hot summer day, Kurosu-san thought- "we usually express coffee's flavor with food. If so, is it possible to recreate the coffee by combining food?" "What actually makes specialty coffee so complex and rich in flavor?" So he asked a wine sommelier to collaborate on his project. After studying a single origin coffee from Brazil, disassembling and analyzing its flavor, they discovered that coffee's complex flavor is actually consisted of what's usually considered unpleasant such as sulphur and smoky flavors, but with all of the aroma intervening just like perfume- and that the acidity and its aftertaste is a balanced mixture of lactic acid and citric acid. The pair ended up with a combination of caramel, raisin, cacao nibs, beef jerky, chicolly tea, callaway, Goishi tea (green tea fermented with lactic acid), Jasmine tea, roasted almonds, roasted hazelnuts, and citric acid.
"This experiment started out as a simple question, and my goal was not to actually recreate the flavor of the coffee but I was more interested in what I can find during the process of it. I really enjoy finding something I thought I knew but actually didn't, and it was a great opportunity to share that journey with everyone", Kurosu-san looks back.
Kurosu-san's curious and meticulous nature gives his customers and himself completely new way of seeing and interpreting coffee- that leads to not only refining his sense of coffee making, but also to the encouragement for people to be more interested in specialty coffee and to enrich the coffee culture in Kyoto.
Kurosu-san says that the best thing about his job is the response and reaction he receives whenever he tries new things. He runs his shop alone, and when it is quiet he often dives deep into thoughts- and somehow, an expert on that exact topic he was thinking would come and visit the cafe, almost like magic. Kurosu-san says he feels the perks of his job are these blessed with encounters with people and the world of coffee that is full of exciting mysteries to explore.
Kurosu-san feels that the coffee community in Kyoto is growing as more specialty coffee places come along. "I see many people 'hopping' between cafes depending on their plan or purpose, and they are communicating and sharing on social media, I think that's a sign of the community growing here in Kyoto,'' he analyzes.
Kurosu-san is not planning to let that tide pass just as one fashionable trend. His future plan is to help the culture thrive, and to make STYLE COFFEE someone's first encounter with coffee that will change their lives, and to witness more and more new talents and chemistry emerge, Kurosu-san continues to be true to his style and creates a breath of crisp, fresh air in Kyoto.