Release Date: Jun 10, 2016

Vaughan heads out to Tsujido in Shonan to visit 27 Coffee Roasters, not far from the beautiful Shonan T-site complex, for this interview with CEO and respected roaster Kohtsu Kasai.

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Vaughan: Kasai-san, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. Thank you for making the time. What’s your roasting schedule like today?

Kohtsu Kasai: Thank you for coming. I’m roasting the usual 20 batches, 8kg per batch.

V: I’ve tried your beans at Ki, MJ&friends and Cafe Kitsune of course too. I’m a big fan. And the owners and baristas at these places speak very highly of you. Where else uses your beans?

K: I’m happy to hear that. Mainly a lot of local spots use our beans. Where are you from, Vaughan?

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V: Melbourne. Have you ever been?

K: I just got back! I try to visit Melbourne every year. There are so many fantastic roasters and coffee shops there.

V: What was the plan this time?

K: I was there for 4 days this time, I visited 10 shops or so. Of course I also caught up again with Toshi at Market Lane…

<We are interrupted by Emi, one of his baristas, holding a 3/4 size latte. She passes it Kasai-San, he dips the spoon in and lifts it up to check the texture of the milk, dips again and tastes a spoonful. I watch the staff watching his eyes intensely. We wait a few seconds. He nods and says “okay”. And that’s it. He is then interrupted by a phone call, so I use the chance to chat to Emi about what just happened.>

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V: Emi, what just happened?

Emi: Master judges our coffee. After starting work, before serving any of our customers coffee, we make a coffee for him to approve. And once we’ve got the green light, we’re able to serve customers.

V: Wow, I’ve never heard of anything like that before. But it does make sense. And I suppose it gets everyone motivated to work right from the get go.

E: Exactly…

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V: Emi, can you tell us something else unique about 27 Coffee Roasters?

E: Well, as you can see, we import a lot of coffee goods and interesting items from overseas. Sometimes we are the only place in Japan that sells them. We were the first buyer of Prana Chai from Melbourne which is now available at a few cafes around Tokyo, and we also have Keep Cups from Melbourne too, which are really popular. What else? We have Dulce Sugar from Costa Rica here. And also all of our gift boxes and wrapping paper is from Knot and Bow in Brooklyn.

<Kasai-san returns…>

K: Emi used to work in Melbourne as a barista for 18 months.

V: Fantastic, it’s great to see so many baristas come back inspired by Melbourne coffee culture. What type of baristas do you usually recruit? Do they need a lot of experience?

K: They don’t need a lot of experience. I get a lot of my baristas involved in roasting, so they’re able to learn and grow a lot here at 27 Coffee Roasters. In regards to what type of person I recruit, I just want people who are honest and down to earth. It’s also a lot about personality. But normally, I can just look into their eyes and know if they’ll fit and work well with me.

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V: Why did you open in Tsujido?

K: I opened here 19 years ago. I like the feeling and expression of a “local” area. In the surrounding areas, large scale shopping malls have been built one after another in recent years. I considered opening a store in one of the developments, but I soon realised that it’s very contrary to our style.

V: Where does the name “27 Coffee Roasters” come from?

K: 27 was my baseball uniform number when I was a boy… it was kind of my first number, if there is such a thing. So, it’s become a memorable number in my life.

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V: Tell us something that you remember vividly about your time in coffee.

K: I remember encountering a COE (cup of excellence) coffee from Bolivia while cupping the first time. It was like 180 degrees different from any of my coffees. My view of coffee changed after that taste.

V: And what’s life like now working in the coffee industry?

K: I am very happy. I am blessed working with coffee, and am surrounded by wonderful people. There was also a long painful time, but I had to go through it for my feeling to be where it’s at now. I myself am now able to have a lot fun working with the youth – the next generation – to help create the future of the coffee industry in Japan!

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V: Finally, is there any news that you can share with us about 27 Coffee Roasters?

K: Well, the bakery next to us closed down, so we’re going to be taking over that space and opening a cafe there in the summer. The plans are still being drawn up, but that’s really exciting.

V: That’s fantastic. We look forward to visiting again in the summer!

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Interview by Vaughan @vja

Photography by Nik van der Giesen (@nvdg81)

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