Release Date: Nov 7, 2016
Vaughan sits down with Yozo Otsuki, founder of Kurasu – the online shop to go to for buying coffee goods… which has now set up shop right by Kyoto station!
V: Yozo, congratulations on the opening of your beautiful KURASU cafe in Kyoto.
Y: Thanks so much Vaughan! It’s a project that I had in the back of my mind since the beginning of Kurasu 3 years ago, so we’re really excited that it’s actually happening.
V: What is Kurasu all about? What’s the concept and vision?
Y: Kurasu started as a online store selling Japanese homeware targeting audiences outside of Japan. After moving to Sydney Australia in 2013, I realised the lack of brands offering artisan made, handcrafted Japanese homeware which I was accustomed to. The focus gradually shifted towards coffee equipment and we rebranded ourselves to focus solely on coffee from 2015. It’s been best business decision for us as we’ve been able to focus on a core target audience so enthusiastic about coffee. It’s worked for me as well as I’ve always been personally enamored with coffee. I’ve been surrounded with the culture since a young age – my mom and dad both owned separate small jazz kissaten in Kyoto. They both laugh that I quit my investment banking job to be following in their footsteps in a way.
V: So, you opened a few months ago in Kyoto… What’s the reaction been like from the locals?
Y: It’s been absolutely phenomenal so far. We’ve opted not to do any large advertisements rather work organically and with the base we’ve gained through channels such as social media. Right now our customer base is half locals and half from overseas travellers, with a mix of young and old, people accustomed to specialty coffee and those who’ve experienced it for the first time. This mix of customers has been a challenge and excitement for us and it’s giving the atmosphere of the store exactly how I envisioned – people of all nationalities coming together enjoying coffee and having a conversation. We’re expecting this base to grow with a lot of online and print media exposure coming our way in the next few months – both locally and overseas.
V: What coffee are you serving there? What can customers drink?
Y: We were working with 2 concepts for drinks. Espresso, we’re using beans from Single O Japan. Their parent company is Single O based in Sydney and they basically use the same green beans and roast styles. I’ve never really been accustomed to espresso back in Japan. I think I’d had that negative association of burnt, dark, and bitter. The espresso I experienced here in Australia – Sydney and Melbourne, absolutely blew me any with the different flavour pallets I experienced – vibrant, fruity, and clean, and also a stellar mix with milk. I wanted the locals here to be able to have the same experience and was lucky that Single O Japan had just opened it’s doors for roasting just last year.
For the filter coffee drinks, we rotate monthly from roasters all over Japan. This is in line with our subscription service we’ve been doing for a year and also our main concept of wanted to introduce the amazing talents of Japanese artisans to a wider audience. We do our best to tell the story of each roasters and have a good balance and flavours and roast types so everyone that drops by can have a favourite. We want to be a place that local and people from all over the world can experience the unique flavours of Japanese roasters.
V: Tell us about the people who made the shop possible? Who did the design and construction?
Y: The concept building was done by myself. The details of the design and drawing was done by Ryoya Image Architects (https://www.facebook.com/RyotaImaeArchitects/), who was introduced by our builder Fukuken (http://fukuken.net/) – a family friend involved in building our family home in Kyoto years ago. A lot of support from different individuals along the way and it was great to feel that strong hometown support from the people in Kyoto.
A lot of help for the coffee side of things and I personally had no experience in the cafe industry. I want to particularly thank Yu Yama san that heads the operation in Single O Japan who gave us so many insights into the building of the cafe, sourcing the machines, and coming all the way to Kyoto to help our baristas nail down the perfect extraction for the coffee we serve.
V: How is the online shop going? For our readers who are not familiar with your online shop, what do you sell?
Y: We’ve been seeing a direct correlation with the building of the cafe and the online store. Having a physical front boosts the credibility of the online store and gives us base to spread our message and branding. We’ve seen a lot of sales of equipment directly at the cafe as well. We sell a wide range of coffee equipment focusing on pourover, ranging from big brands such as Hario or Kalita to smaller and a focus on individual artisans such as Torch or coffee measures by woodworker Ishii Koji san.
V: Tell us about your subscription! Do you ship all over the world? And what type of coffee do you normally send subscribers?
Y: We’ve been doing the subscription service for over a year now with great success. We feature specialty roasters from all over Japan trying to keep the selection as wide range as possible. Small batch such as Otomoni Coffee in Mie prefecture to established roasters such as Onibus in Tokyo. The main objective of the service is in line with our core branding – to showcase to the world Japanese products and tell the story of the artisans. We feature each roaster through lenghtly interviews and always post blog posts and insert information cards with the packages.
V: Finally, please share with us the short term and long term future of Kurasu. Are you holding special events in the near future? And will you be setting up shops in Tokyo or in any other locations?
Y: For now it’s focusing on the cafe we’ve built in Kyoto and building a core following with the locals here. Only 2 months in we’ve held multiple public cuppings, guest barista sessions, hand drip seminars, and looking to be involved in local coffee events. We’ve done a good job establishing ourselves overseas through our 3 years in the online business but now the focus turns inwards in Japan. For the online store, our focus had been on Japanese products targeting overseas customers, but I think it would be interesting to feature great upcoming products from overseas into Japan. Whether it be through products through our online store or a community through our cafe, our vision is to have a intertwinement of coffee cultures between Japan and overseas. It would be great if we can position Kurasu be in the centre of it.
V: Thanks for your time, Yozo! We all look forward to visiting!
interview with Yozo Otsuki (@kurasu.kyoto)