Taiju Hayashi is the man behind Arise Coffee Roasters, a two cafe/roasting operation based in Tokyo’s Kiyosumi-Shirakawa neighborhood, which, thanks in part to the opening of Blue Bottle Coffee, has become something of a coffee-tourist destination within the city. In contrast to Blue Bottle’s characteristically stark, visually clean interiors, Arise’s two locations carry a distinctly more relaxed vibe, a reflection of the laid back owner himself.
Hayashi has been in the coffee game for a number of years now, and he seems to know everyone. He’s always smiling, and you won’t ever hear him speak negatively about anyone else in the industry. He is a kind man, an interesting man, and a man with a style all his own.
How did you get into coffee?
“I’ve been working with coffee for 16 years now. Before I started in coffee I was actually in fashion college. Somewhere around the time I graduated, a designer brand, Zucca, opened a cafe in their clothing shop called Dragonfly Cafe. Now it’s pretty common to find cafes in boutiques but this may have been the first one. It was hard to find work in the fashion industry and when I saw that fashion and coffee could go together, both being lifestyle products, I sort of drifted towards coffee. I started working for a wholesale coffee company called Yamashita Coffee. I had worked there for a few years learning about roasting on all sorts of different machines, but when I went to visit a coffee farm in Guatemala that’s when I really felt a connection to coffee.
What is your favorite thing about coffee?
I’m into skateboarding. I’m into music. I’m into anime. There are a lot of other people who like these things, too. But I feel that all of these interests are generational. Coffee, however, surpasses all generations and ages. You can be a teenager or a grandmother and still love coffee. I have a lot of young customers here, sure. But I also have some customers in their 90s. I like that coffee is for everyone. When I visited Okinawa I saw some cafes that were really open. Locals went there, elderly and young people went there, tourists went there, even tourists from abroad. I thought, ‘that’s what a coffee shop should be.’
Why did you decide to start your own cafe?
After working at Yamashita Coffee for 10 years I started to want a deeper connection with the people drinking my coffee. I started working at Cream of the Crop Coffee, a roaster with a cafe space to make that happen. After a few years of doing that customers kept encouraging me to open my own shop. I wanted to bring coffee to the community in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, so I started Arise.
What’s the philosophy behind your coffee?
I try to accent the fruitiness of the bean. I like coffee that is juicy. A lot of Japanese say they don’t like acidic coffee. But I don’t think that people realize that acidity doesn’t necessarily mean sour. A lot of coffees are really sweet. I also avoid dark roasts even though so many people prefer them around here. If I had one dark roast then people would just pick it all the time without considering anything else. If I don’t have a dark roast it coaxes people to try new things, to taste coffee they otherwise wouldn’t. I also want to highlight this area, Kiyosumi, with my coffee; Coffee with a relaxing and comforting vibe.
Where do you see the coffee scene going in Tokyo?
The coffee scene in Tokyo is really exciting right now. I like seeing coffee expand, and I try to visit other cafes and roasters on my days off. But, right now we are in a coffee boom, maybe even a coffee bubble. That might end any day, we don’t know. I think all coffee will go a little lighter than the popular dark-roast, but eventually both styles might blend a bit. If the scene bursts it’s going to be the cafes that have strong ties to their communities that stick around.
Any other cafes you recommend?
Mighty Steps and Davide Coffee Shop.
(note: parts of this interview have been paraphrased. The interview was conducted in Japanese and was adapted to English by the author.)