There are quite a few Baristas all over the world who have performed in National and World Class Championships and many of them have impacted the coffee world with their performance.
Japan has proven to be one of the most fruitful countries when it comes to coffee professionals. That, of course, will not surprise those who know of its work ethic and diligence to excellence.
Today we are going to talk about one of these Barista Champions who fascinated the coffee community with their ingenuity on the world stage.
His name is Yoshikazu Iwase, CEO of Rec Collective Co. and 2nd place at the 2016 World Barista Championship! Now let’s see more about who he is and what it is that makes him interesting!
Early years and Career
Yoshikazu just like many other coffee professionals discovered the rich and magnificent world of coffee in his early twenties. More specifically, that was when he was 24 years old and started working part-time at a coffee store.
That coffee store was called Manu Coffee in Fukuoka prefecture, and that was his first encounter to truly high-quality coffee.
Up until then, he had only tried average, everyday cups, that don’t really catch your eye when you first try them. But in that store, for the first time he could get a taste of top-notch, specialty coffee beans, and that’s when his interest peaked.
Excited as he was at the beverages he could make and the experience he could provide for his customers, Yoshikazu chose to learn as much as he could about the subject.
It should be noted that “specialty coffee”, as a trend, was only then starting to spring forth in Japan, and very few stores (Manu Coffee included) had their own espresso machine.
Having learned as much as possible and given the still recent emergence of specialty beans in the area, Yoshikazu decided to open his first mobile sales store (a van with an espresso machine) with his friend Kitazoe Osamu, who was also interested in the subject.
They opened that store in 2008, and founded “Rec Coffee” company, which later expanded into several stores.
How Rec Coffee began!
As Mr. Iwase said, Fukuoka District was chosen as Rec Coffee’s birthplace for many reasons.
For starters, even though it is not as large as other major cities, and naturally is less populated, there are certain elements that make it a perfect place to start such a business.
One of these reasons is that, from Mr. Iwase’s perspective, the people of the city enjoy shopping on the roadside stores much more than in large commercial facilities. So there is a solid chance to get more traffic if he can impact the location of the store.
He also described it as a city with a more artistic and unique culture, where there is a majority of sensitive people with their own style, and that felt like a great place to make his debut.
It was also really favourable that there were not many cafes that served espresso-based coffee in Fukuoka at the time. Manu coffee, where Yoshikazu worked before, was a pioneer and because of its peculiarity more people were drawn to it’s certain individualty.
Yoshikazu saw that in this city, espresso was just being introduced but the already existing coffee culture was not going away. Instead, the two were mixing in various different styles, and the stores that incorporated and fused both cultures were getting exceptionally popular.
What better place to establish a Specialty coffee store that aims single-mindedly at customer satisfaction?
Championships and Awards
In the following years, after starting Rec Coffee with Kitazoe, Yoshikazu worked as a Barista in the store and while the company was expanding (we will talk about that later) he kept honing his skills to make the best coffee possible.
To further improve, however, he decided that competitions were by far the best way. Not only did that give him ideas to get better, but it also granted him recognition as a professional.
So, he participated in the Japan Barista Championship, the national tournament for baristas, in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
In 2011 he placed third and in both 2014 and 2015 he got the first place! That meant that he could participate in the World Barista Championships of 2015 and 2016 as Japan’s representative, which he did.
In 2015 he ranked 7th out of 48 competitors which disappointed him. After a year of meticulous practice and diligent work, however, he rose to the 2nd place out of 61 countries with a very bold mix of two single origin coffees (something very unusual for the world stage).
Although really stressed, as even the best professionals are when confronted with the world, his performance was spectacular, and I watched it here for anyone who may be interested.
Remember Rec Coffee which we spoke of a second ago? Apparently, Yoshikazu isn’t only skilled in making coffee, he is very charismatic as a manager too. And you won’t believe just how far a small van with a coffee machine can get you.
After the first success of 2008, Rec coffee opened its first non-mobile roadside stores in Fukuoka prefecture. One was the Yakuin Ekimae store and the other one was “Rec Coffee Faam Café” in the Asian Art Museum.
Up until 2016 these were the only two stores of the company. Since then, however, the number has increased to 10 instead of 2, with 6 stores in Fukuoka, 2 in Tokyo and 2 in Thailand.
Right now, Yoshikazu is working as the company’s manager and is trying to improve its standing in the business world as much as he can.
The goal of the stores remains intact though. He wants as many people as possible to enjoy some delicious coffee and this is something guaranteed to find in his stores.
Yoshikazu is a magnificent example of what enthusiasm can accomplish when combined with diligence. It stills strikes me as a breathtaking event, how a small van with a coffee machine can become a 10-store chain of cafes without losing its initial focus: To provide the best coffee possible!
And for those coffee lovers who read up to now, I wish you all the best coffee experiences and may you find yourself in a Rec Coffee store one day! There is no doubt it will be an unforgettable memory!