This is an interview with Yuma Kawano, the representative of LIGHT UP COFFEE, who looks at coffee and tea, two drinks that are somewhat similar but different from both sides.
In the first half of the article,he talked about why LIGHT UP COFFEE chose to hand-drip their coffee and the criteria for selecting beans.
In the second half, we asked him about his thoughts on the roasting process and his involvement in cultivation, which can be said to be his one and only effort.
The LIGHT UP flavor created by roasting. A balance that can be drunk every day and a personality that makes a difference.
Q.As I listened to what you just said, I thought that the difference between coffee and tea is roasting. In tea, we can't make any changes to the tea from the point where it is produced by the producer. Strictly speaking, some tea shops do the final roasting themselves, but it's a tiny percentage. But with coffee, there is still room for stores to be creative with the taste through roasting. What is the process of roasting that LIGHT UP, which received the baton from the production, thinks is the most important?
There are two criteria for roasting deliciousness, two contradictory concepts. One is that individuality stands out.
The personality of a bean comes from three factors: variety, refining method, and environment. If the roasting process makes it muddy or bitter, the character will disappear.
The other criteria are balanced.
At first glance, it seems contradictory, but we are trying to achieve both simultaneously.
Our coffee is well-balanced, so it is sweet even when it is cold, and it is not too sharp, so it is a coffee that people can drink every day.
For producers of unique coffees to be rewarded and for production to be sustainable, it is necessary to distribute the beans in large quantities. That's why I don't want to be a store that specializes in a special drink once a month, but rather a store that you can feel the difference in, in a balance that you can fit into your daily life and want to drink again tomorrow.
Q.Indeed, if you were to ask me what kind of tea I would like to drink every day, I would choose sencha for its well-balanced flavor. By the way, I think all of LIGHT UP's coffees are light roasted.
There is no doubt that deep roasting and light roasting both produce flavor through roasting. However, the most important thing we want is to have a clear taste. It is light, clear, and easy to drink, and because it is clear, you can understand the flavor behind it. I think this is a taste that only light roasts have that deep roasts do not.
Then, whether the taste beyond the clear taste is exciting or not depends on the ingredients, doesn't it?
ーWell, that's where the potential of the material comes into play.
Once, we made a lot that was too sparse. We picked only unripe beans on purpose, and when we tasted them after processing them, we found no bold flavor.
I thought, "This is going to be an unsatisfactory coffee even if I roast it light and clear." I realized that it would be better to heat it up and taste more impactful when you drink it.
This is not to say that deep-roasted people are using unhealthy ingredients. It's just that our feeling is that coffee that tastes good when you look beyond the light roast is often coffee with excellent local refining and environment.
Q.If the goal you're looking for is "clear," it means that the approach you can take to achieve it is lightly roasted as a result.
It's just that the best way to feel the goodness of such beans is to roast them light.
Cultivation, harvesting, and fermentation. Coffee beans made from scratch with local growers.
Q.I'd like to go back to the topic of selecting beans a little bit, but you just told me about the axis of selection, but how do you actually look for them?
There are two routes. One is to buy from a specialized trading company. The other route is exceptional, and we work together with producers to produce the products.
We work together with the local producers, giving them feedback on the taste and the production process, and then we buy the coffee from them in Taiwan, Vietnam, Bali, Java, and Sumatra.
I've never heard of a coffee shop that started from a farm or a refinery, either. I don't think many coffee shops know how to make a refinery.
ーI've never heard of it, that's for sure. It's just that single-origin coffee is also traceable, but other coffee shops basically buy it from trading companies.
Many people go to the production areas, but they are all just visiting.
I've never seen a coffee shop like ours that has built a refinery, formed a farmer's cooperative, united 30 growers, and created a fermentation process or sorted the ripeness of cherries.
ーIt means working together with the growers from harvesting, fermentation, drying, and distributing coffee beans.
So LIGHT UP is involved from the production stage.
Oh yeah, the agricultural revolution is already happening in Bali!
Last year, the title of a coffee culture magazine called "DRIFT" was "It's time for farmers to drink specialty coffee." That's really hot. It's time for farmers to drink specialty coffee.
Q.I've heard that coffee and cacao producers don't know about the final processed coffee and chocolate. By the way, why did you choose Bali?
The first coffee plantation I ever visited in my life was in Bali. It was in Bali that I realized the difficulties of coffee production in Asia.
A method called the "Sumatra method" in Bali, to put it bluntly, "coffee sold still damp."
When coffee is dried, it is common to dry it down to 10% moisture content, but the Sumatra method sells it at 20% moisture content. This allows for quicker shipping, so it's a production method that pays off quickly for the farmer, but once they get used to it, they don't think about making good coffee even if you have to delay it.
When I thought about the flavor beyond the clarity I mentioned earlier, the way it was made here (drying time, bean ripeness, fermentation time) was not the way to create exciting flavors. That's what I realized when I went to Bali.
When I saw that, I asked them, "if I could give him all the money and buy a few hundred kilos, and Why don't you try making it once using the recipe I gave you?" I told them enthusiastically that I thought it would be delicious, and they agreed, and when I actually made it, it turned out to be really delicious. That was the first time I realized that Bali coffee was not tasty because of the refining.
From there, I decided to tell this to the producers. I started working on the idea of making world-class coffee from Bali.
Q.When was that?
The first time I went, there was the year I graduated and started working for Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd.; I was given a paycheck in July and used it all in August.
ーHave you been working on this project since that time six years ago?
For the first time in 2015, and was shocked and got passionate that it would be delicious.
In 2016, I put my plan into action, and it produced delicious beans.
In 2017, we did a crowdfunding campaign, installed machines to change the refining process, started local production activities in 2018, started tours in 2019, and started the owner system in 2020.
Since I'm actually doing it myself, I know which process has the most impact on the taste. When you've been there dozens of times and done it from the ground up, you know what's important.Q.I see. For example, I think you can judge picking by the color, but how did you make a recipe for fermentation?
Fermentation is basically just putting it down, but to turn it into a recipe, I had to do a lot of PDCA.
When I was in Taiwan, I made a lot of divergences. Pattern A is this temperature, Pattern B is cooler, and so on. I tried every fermentation environment I could think of, including temperature and time, and tasted dozens of them to see how the flavor changed depending on the conditions.
ーIt's a lot of trial and error.
Yes, I packed the logic to death and created the recipe.
ーIf we could do it from the production stage, it would be a fascinating coffee shop.
Yes, I want to tell you how interesting that is.
A world where enthusiasm and quality are rewarded. The roles of producers and stores.
Q.I think it's time for my last question, can you tell me about the hottest producer?
What is that?
ーFor example, in our case, there is a producer in Kagoshima who is very passionate.
70% of the green teas produced in Japan are of the same variety. It's called "Yabukita," high quality, cold-resistant, and easy to grow. The cultivar exploded in the 1940s and is still by far the most popular cultivar in Japan.
In short, this cultivar is produced by almost all the growers in Japan. The producer says, "If I master this cultivar, I can become the best producer in Japan," and continues to produce Yabukita with all his might. His love and passion for tea production are so great that his "Yabukita" is delicious and has a very intense taste. He is one of my favorite tea producers, both for his tea and his attitude toward tea production.
I'd like to ask Yuma, who is very close to the producers, about the episodes of such impressive producers.
That makes me a producer, so that makes me us.
ーWell, that's true, too.
Aside from that, one of the producers I found interesting was a fourth-generation female farmer named Laurent, who runs a farm at 1,700 meters in the mountains of Dalat, Vietnam.
Initially, they were an ethnic minority, and until a while ago, they were making clothes and textiles. They stick to natural methods and don't use machines at all. They said that as long as they had a tub and water, they could make coffee anywhere. They actually wash tons of beans by hand in the vats.
In Ethiopia, they wash the coffee in a canal with a stick.
And in Latin America, where there is more money, there are washing machines and techniques that use a jet stream to remove dirt and grime.
But Laurent just put the fermented coffee in a giant vat, filled it with water using a hose, and did a rugged version of grinding rice. He jangles it with his hands.
The water is changed three times until it becomes clear, and tons of coffee is made by hand.
It's not that her way of doing things is good or bad; it's just that she wants to make good coffee by managing it with her own hands. That's how she makes the coffee taste so good, and she's really focused on making the coffee in her community taste good.
She loves coffee so much that she's been rushed to the hospital twice for eating too many coffee cherries in the forest.
That's how much she loves coffee, and she's very passionate about how to make coffee taste good, with all the management and manual work she can do. I can feel her passion when I work with her, and she gets mad if I try to go to the next place without leaving a little dirt when she lets me wash it.
Q.In the past, hand-picking and hand-rubbing were the main production methods for tea. Even now, that production method remains in a small part of Japan. However, the amount of tea produced by hand is inevitably small. How do you guarantee the quantity?
Humanitarian tactics. We're all in this together.
ーNot even to raise prices?
Oh, we do raise our prices. Of course, we increase the price for our hard work, and to raise the price, even more, we roast our own coffee and distribute it to coffee shops in town.
We do many things to raise the value of our delicious coffee, and we are particular about every detail.
ーIt's wonderful. Is there a structure in place in the coffee industry that allows profits to go to the producers?
No, I don't think so. It's a culture that was born in the colonies. The reality is that the product's value has finally risen in the developed countries, and it is being bought at a meager unit price in the producing countries.
I think the biggest issue is distribution. We haven't met buyers and exporters who recognize the value and will buy at a high price.
So, even if we try our best, who will buy it? How do you make it taste good in the first place? They don't know.
From their point of view, the basic rule is to follow the method handed down from generation to generation. That's the way it should be, but if it rains too much one time and the beans go wrong, the cash flow will collapse, and the farm will go under. To prevent this from happening, I think we need to have a system where we can bring in connections and know-how to increase the value.
Q.That's the reason why you are involved in the production of coffee, isn't it?
I think farming is a job of worrying about the future and "protecting" the land. It's a job of worrying about whether the rains will be okay this year, or whether the weather will be OK, and just protecting the land.
The moment we take a risk and try something new and fail, it's all over. We would not be able to survive. Because of this kind of work, I don't think we have the spirit to take on new challenges. It's also wrong to criticize us for being conservative.
We are forming a growers' cooperative because they should just stick to the way they have always done it and pick the best cherries. We're going to take the risk of adding value by doing new fermentation and refinement, and the growers can just keep doing what they've been doing.
I think we need to be the ones to look outward and take risks, so that is what we are doing.
Q.What we also think is that producers are fighting against the earth, nature, climate, and other things that are too big for them to control by themselves. Maybe that's why they have a sense of impermanence, a sense that there is nothing they can do.
It's like they have no choice but to go with the flow.
Q.Maybe that's why I'm so reluctant to try new things.
It's tough. You have to let go of your defensive side.
Q.We understand because their main task is to deal with production. That's why we have to take the risk to protect them. It's the same with tea and coffee.
ーFrom the cultivation of coffee in the region to the brewing process in the store, I feel like I have a better understanding of what LIGHT UP COFFEE is aiming for. Thank you very much for sharing your precious stories with us.