The next #KurasuPartnerRoaster is TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters, located in Osaka, specializing in wine and coffee. Their warehouse-like building has a high ceiling and sun shining through large windows,onto an vast number of wine bottles that greet people when they enter.
They started out in 1992 as a liquor shop selling a wide variety of imported sweets and miscellaneous goods; however, in 2013, they shifted their focus to wine and coffee with a service provided by specialists, they were remodeled as TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters, and leading the industry in Osaka ever since.
Since they were originally a liquor shop, they naturally started out with a greater emphasis on wine. However, as their experience with speciality wine grew, they started to consider that it is often the case- even at highly acclaimed restaurants -that while you can get a top bottle of wine with a detailed guide about the terroir and producer, the coffee served after dinner is usually quite disappointing. They therefore decided to make wine and coffee double pillars of their business and introduce high quality, good tasting products in the Kansai area. We interviewed Iwasaki-san, their roaster, who is in charge of one of those pillars- coffee.
Iwasaki-san and Coffee
Using their enormous 35kg Loring Smart Roaster daily, Iwasaki-san creates their signature roast of TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters. Adding to his already busy schedule he would join numerous championships. He won the second prize at Japan Coffee Roasting Championship (JCRC) and works globally. However, although coffee is now the cornerstone, it has not always been the case; in fact, until his late 20s, coffee was not even part of his day to life, and his passion was in vintage clothing and furniture. He especially loves American vintages, and he would tour around the shops in search of great encounters with nostalgic gems, dreaming of becoming someone who would introduce those cultures to people. However, by his mid 20s, he had run out of new shops to discover in Osaka, so he would hop on a night bus once a month to go all the way to Tokyo to expand his adventure.
Soon he became a regular customer at a furniture shop in Yoyogi, Tokyo. They also serve drinks and Iwasaki-san quickly became friends with their bartender.. One day, the bartender recommended that he visit a Nordic furniture shop that had recently opened in the neighborhood- and this opened the door to Iwasaki-san's journey with coffee.
The shop that had been recommended turned out to be Fuglen Tokyo, they had just opened their first Japanese branch there. It is a cafe, bar and also a furniture shop, and the staff there were were pioneering the third wave in Japan, including Suzuki-san, the founder of TRUNK COFFEE. Being oblivious to all of that, Iwasaki-san was a little surprised to discover that they served coffee. At the time he was not a big fan of coffee, however the calm and welcoming atmosphere of the place led him to try one cup. That cup turned out to be a utter revelation, Iwasaki-san recalls- “It tasted almost like tea, and I was surprised at myself being able to drink coffee, let alone loving it!”
The cafe staff explained a lot about the coffee, Iwasaki-san remembers, but he could understand only about half of it. But the surprise lingered in his mind for a long time, and the driving purpose of his monthly trip to Tokyo gradually became to visit Fuglen as his heart was drawn to specialty coffee.
Iwasaki-san started to look for a cafe that serves specialty coffee in Osaka, and he found TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters very recently opened their coffee department. For two to three years since then, Iwasaki-san nurtured his dream of working in the coffee industry , a dream that became stronger and stronger with every visit to the shop to buy coffee beans. Back then, the specialty coffee industry in Osaka was still young, and every cafe he found already had more than enough baristas fighting over the position. Iwasaki-san patiently waited for a chance, and took any chance to be involved with the industry, especially with Fuglen Tokyo. One time, as a token of appreciation for Iwasaki-san helping the shop with their event, Suzuki-san offered to give him a training with their espresso machine, which made Iwasaki-san’s determination to succeed even stronger.
Despite being happy and successful in his then-current job, it reached the point where his passion for coffee lit up his mind and couldn't be ignored, which led to Iwasaki-san finally getting a position at TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters as a barista.
“If you do not love what you do, it is difficult to motivate yourself to learn deeper. After entering the coffee industry, I realized that what I love and what I’m good at are different things and I was surprised to see how much I can motivate myself when it comes to coffee. At TAKAMURA, I am allowed to explore my interest freely and that lets me try many different things”, Iwasaki-san recalls. The curiosity around coffee that sparked in his mind never run out, and he soon became interested in roasting, putting him on the path to become the head roaster at TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters just three years later.
TAKAMURA Coffee Roasters’ Roast
Iwasaki-san explains that the Loring Smart Roaster can roast a very clean and light coffee. It is a great machine to express a bright acidity rather than a rich sweetness, a characteristic that appears even in dark roast, creating a clean and easy-to-drink cup.
Along with the Loring, there is one more roasting machine that helped him establishing his skill; FUJIKOUKI’s 200g mini roaster, “DISCOVERY”. Iwasaki-san literally discovered it collecting dust at the corner of the shop, and immediately asked for the permission to use it. Back then being a barista, he still had not much idea about the roasting techniques, and with a basic tutorial, he put his head down and experimented as much as he liked after finishing his shift.
His eagerness and relentless curiosity soon caught the eyes of their roasting team, and Iwasaki-san was invited to a study group with many skilled roasters such as Ueno-san at LANDMADE and Ida-san at ROKUMEI COFFEE, and received training, which led him brushing up his skills quickly and ultimately had him nominated to be the head roaster of the company.
“It was barely two years since I had started roasting, but despite that short period of time and limited work experience, I still considered myself quite informed and trained. That is all thanks to the people in my life who did not hesitate even once to share their knowledge and experience. Without their help, I could not have won the prize at JCRC as well”, Iwasaki-san says. His heart is filled with gratitude for being lucky enough to have met the people he needed to meet, each at the perfect time in his life, and that lifted him up to where he stands today.
Iwasaki-san also explains that he often has to roast a very small batch with the enormous 35 kg roaster and that forced him to be creative and flexible to figure out the successful method in any roasting condition. “We do not usually roast one big batch. We usually stock more than 30 different kinds of single origins, and the batch is even smaller with COE so I cannot afford to fail. That definitely made me flexible.” With all this experience nurturing and developing his sturdy foundation skillset, it has meant he has found it far more straightforward to adapt when encountering new and completely different roasting machines, such as Lucky and GIESEN.
The Future of Iwasaki-san and His Coffee
Iwasaki-san told us that he is planning to establish more face to face communication with the coffee farms. He is also aiming to continue to compete at JCRC to master the roasting skill and establish his style. His heart always wanders towards the adventures and challenges to make specialty coffee culture flourish in Osaka.
Iwasaki-san believes that coffee production and consumption is one long marathon in which none of the participants can afford to drop the baton. Every individual cup of coffee starts out as cherries, then they are picked, they ferment, they are processed, roasted, then brewed- with so many stages coffee has to go through to reach the lips of the customer, Iwasaki-san feels such a sense of responsibility being the person in charge of its final stages. He feels the need even more to preserve the original goodness of the bean and brew that into each cup, alongside the importance of telling his customers all about its journey, the culture and the environment behind the coffee they are enjoying so they know they are sharing in the incredible work that involved hundreds of people.
“I want to roast something that can also tell people it’s what Takamura tastes like and feels like. While cherishing the original character of the beans, I want my coffee to remind people that it was roasted by someone and of the good time they spent at Takamura” Iwasaki-san explains.
What “a Good Cup of Coffee” Means to Iwasaki-san
“I don’t know if I should say this as I’m specialized in COE and specialty coffee, but I think it’s completely fine to answer, if someone asks “what is the best cup of coffee you have ever had?”, that the best coffee ever in your life is something like ‘a cup of instant coffee I had with my girlfriend, sitting on the beach’. For me, a good coffee of course should taste good but there is more to it- the atmosphere you are in, the music, the climate and the character of the local area you are in...everything contributes to the experience, and I want that whole experience to be good for my customer. At least when they visit us, I want to provide that total experience here in Takamura. And showcasing that idea and suggesting many different possibilities to create such environment for people is what I would like to continue to do in the future”, Iwasaki-san says, his attitude reflecting the open approach he has in realizing that a good cup doesn't just rely on brushing up his technical skills.
“I always tell baristas that they can do absolutely anything if that is to create a good coffee. I want them to pursue something new, interesting and unique to them with passion at any time and that goes the same for my journey”, Iwasaki-san explains.
“It was a total coincidence how everything started”, Iwasaki-san looks back his path. However, his passion for storytelling and culture sharing by his own means was always there, since the early days of him walking around furniture shops. That love led him to his encounter with coffee, through to where he stands today, sharing his passion with the world.