The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is SUIREN+ Coffee Roaster in Hiroshima. We visited the roaster, Ando-san to discover his journey.
The Encounter with Coffee
Ando-san was born in Hiroshima, where SUIREN+ Coffee Roaster is located. After his graduation, he moved to Osaka to study GC&P at the TCI, and continued to establish his experience in F&B industry working at Japan Agricultural Cooperatives and multiple restaurants.
Running his own business was always his dream- and one day, he was asked if he was interested in running a cafe. To prepare for this big leap in his career, Ando-san started working in a cafe to train himself as a business owner in preparation of the opening of the cafe in 2 years time. The cafe was serving their house roast, and that’s how Ando-san’s first encounter with coffee was made.
However, it took a little longer until he actually became interested in coffee- he was under a lot of pressure running a business on his own, and he still had so much to learn: customer service, coming up with new creations for the food menu, accounting etc. He was eager to squeeze all of this learning into a short period of time, and consequently he had no time or energy left to explore anything else.
“If I’m the only one there to do it, I need to be able to do it”
But one day, Ando-san was told to take over the cafe’s roasting section as their roaster suddenly left their job. He wasn't particularly into coffee at the time, and he was obviously frustrated to add something else to his already overloaded days. But he didn’t have any choice- if he doesn’t roast, they’ve got no coffee to serve. So Ando-san started roasting.
“When I failed, I could tell it was a failure- but I didn’t know why or how to improve it. my taste buds were not attuned for good coffee, and not knowing what’s good frustrated me greatly” Ando-san recalls. He felt guilty that his coffee got served no matter what, and doubts started to arise as he disagreed with a culture where serving coffee of that level was accepted, and his biggest frustration was that he wasn’t able to create the final roasted bean as he envisaged it. As a professional in food with a great pride in the quality of his work, this was an unbearable situation for Ando-san.
Anso-san didn’t give up- “if I’m the only one there to do it, I need to be able to do it. I needed to serve good coffee”, he recalled, and that was the start of his exploration into the art of coffee roasting.
“I was almost forced to be interested in it” Ando-san says, but it is clear that his strong will and pride to provide good culinary experience and his strong sense of responsibility to be in charge of what he can do were the first steps on this new path to a brighter future.
From “Suiren” to “SUIREN+”
With growing confidence in coffee roasting, Ando-san installed a roaster in his newly-opened cafe, “Suiren” and started to serve a house roast. Ando-san was very much adored by his customers, being referred to as “Suiren’s master” and started to frequently receive enthusiastic feedback for his coffee.
“I realized that I can make good coffee that people like, and that made me want to roast the coffee I serve and and at the same time further develop my skill” Ando-san recalls. While circumstances forced the cafe to close, many of his customers wished him to keep on roasting, so they could continue to buy his beans. Ando-san installed a small roaster at home and started to sell beans online and at events. He personally hand-delivered every single bag of beans, driving everywhere, sometimes even as far as Okayama, a hundred miles away. This extraordinary effort led to a new door opening- one day, at the event Ando-san was delivering to, he met a couple from the neighborhood he grew up in as a little boy, and they immediately recognized him. They owned a building and were looking for a tenant, ideally a bakery or a cafe. They’d heard that Ando-san had become a coffee roaster and was searching for a place for his shop; a deal was quickly made and- SUIREN + Coffee Roaster was born.
“This area has an unlimited possibility- it is a great chance for me to pioneer”
Most of SUIREN+ Coffee Roaster’s customers are the locals. The first hurdle Ando-san encountered was setting the price. Before he earned his Q grader certificate and opened a physical shop, he had been selling his coffee for around 500 yen per bag. Upon opening the shop, Ando-san decided to focus on high quality specialty beans and set the price around 700-800 yen. Naturally, long-time regulars started to ask many questions- why it is so expensive now, what the difference is- Ando-san explained honestly and openly that the beans are of a much higher quality, and the new price is the absolute minimum he can sell for and keep his business running.
“It’s easy to find negative sides of people and things, and doing the opposite is often difficult. I’m trying many things to make it easier for everyone to find good in the thing I love” Ando-san explains. Dark roast has been a standard in the area, and people are not eager to try new things. However, the new customer experience of selecting coffee from different regions, trying out serving samples as well as having an informative conversation, has led to the locals to gradually change their preferences. After trying his new specialty coffee, people soon became great fans and would regularly return to the shop with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The shopusually offers 8-15 kinds of coffee, and along with clear and simple product information panels, well-informed, coffee-loving staff who communicate very well with the customers. As a pioneer of the specialty coffee culture in the area, Ando-san is converting challenges into opportunities one by one.
Ando-san’s trusted roasting machine is a Giesen. He chose it because it was easy to control, and he also liked the fact it would make him one of the first people to roast with Giesen in Japan which back then was something that appealed to him. Ando-san always makes sure to sample the green beans before purchasing them, testing them himself before going onto roasting.
After switching the roaster from Fuji Royal to Giesen, he noticed a significant improvement in flavor. ”With this great machine, I know that once I brushed up my knowledge and skill, the result would be even greater and this idea motivated me” Ando-san explains.
Through his experience of attending several tournaments, Ando-san developed a much deeper appreciation of the entire process of coffee production; he especially felt the need to understand the roasting process and be able to demonstrate his skill to the public. The Roastmasters Championships were a wonderful opportunity to see where his level was, meet the country's top roasters, and hopefully learn so much from them.
Even after refining his skill to the point that he became a finalist, Ando-san still feels he has so much more to learn. He also realized that the winning method at tournaments is not necessarily always equal to what “good coffee” means to a customer who visits his shop. As a Japan Coffee Roasting Championship finalist, he now feels he has gained the credibility to support his words as well as the responsibility.
Ando-san travels to coffee farms at least 6 to 7 times a year. One day, his reputation as a world travelling Q grader reached Laos so they invited him to visit their farms. The invitation appealed to Ando-san’s interest in exploring options for direct trading, so he immediately flew to Laos.
The first batch he was presented with upon his arrival looked rather disappointing with lots of defected beans-however, grabbing a thread of optimism, Ando-san hand picked them and roasted with a pan… they turned out great! They also brought Typica still with parchment which blew his mind even more- “They were almost as good as what you get in Ethiopia, a hidden gem; if they can improve their production system and flow, top specialty beans are totally within their grasp”, he recalls his excitement of the discovery.
With nothing established and uncertainty everywhere- Ando-san found himself completely charmed by the atmosphere full of undiscovered wonder in Laos. Lately, he is working with the Lao Coffee Association to train their very first local Q grader. While everyone’s eyes are still fixed on places like Ethiopia and Kenya and coffees such as Geisha, working on Laos coffee is a great challenge and opportunity for Ando-san.
“Keep moving, and it will always bring something good. That’s my motto”
Ando-san is well known for his active nature- he attends multiple events all over Japan as well as abroad in places such as Taiwan. We asked him one final question, “what is your secret ?”
“I would like to keep my business here in Hiroshima, but I still need to go to many places to see many things in order to grow more. I believe that if I keep myself busy and happy, that positive vibe will attract people. The more I move, the more opportunities present themselves. Keep moving, and it will always bring something good. That’s my motto.”
He doesn’t deny that he sometimes fancies the idea of becoming 60 years old, 70 years old, brewing coffee at his own cafe just like he used to decades ago. However, now is a time to move. Values change as time goes by, but the core of something good never fades. With that in mind, Ando-san keeps on travelling to the place that needs him and calls him, everyday.