Special interview with R&D ESPRESSO LAB representative Kokoro Honda

This time, the grinder used at CROWD ROASTER , the EK43, started to malfunction, so we invited Honda Shin, representative of R&D ESPRESSO LAB, a group of coffee mechanics who have expanded their activities to focus on maintaining espresso-related machines and grinders, to come in and talk to us while we maintained the grinder.

We interviewed Honda about his own career and the company.
We'll share some interesting stories about how he decided to start a company specializing in machine maintenance and what kind of work he does on a daily basis.

(Interviewer: Hiroto Usukura , CROWD ROASTER )

Focus on the machine, not the barista

Usukura : What made you decide to enter the coffee industry?

Honda: It all started when I started working at Starbucks in Tokyo while I was a student at University Manabu .
When I was working there part-time, specialty coffee was at its peak, about 10 years ago, around the time Blue Bottle Coffee opened in Japan.

During my time at Manabu , I had the opportunity to travel abroad to countries like the US, Canada, India, and Australia. I saw the coffee scene there and thought it was cool, so I became hooked on specialty coffee.

Even back then, I was so passionate about coffee that I wanted to have an espresso machine at home and a MAZZER grinder, but since it wasn't available in Japan, I researched how to get it and ended up buying it myself.

Usukura : Manabu : Was there anything that you found useful from your exposure to overseas countries during your student days?

Honda-san: It may be because I was originally in the Management Manabu , but when I went overseas I would observe what kind of market it was in that country.

Seeing a market like Japan where chain stores are strong and a market like Australia where people drink coffee at their favourite coffee shop every day, I realised that this was a cultural difference.

From then on, I began to constantly question things, and my experiences abroad have led to the way I work today.
Usukura : What is your background in the coffee industry?

Honda: After that, when I was looking for a job, I took over at Lucky Coffee Machine, where I maintained the machines for about three years.
After that, I worked in sales at DCS for about a year, and that's where I'm still today.

Usukura : I'm sure you had other options besides using a machine, such as barista or roasting, so why did you choose a machine?

Honda-san: When I was looking for a job about 10 years ago, there wasn't much focus on roasting.
At that time, NOZY COFFEE was at its peak, and they helped elevate the status of the vague profession of coffee barista.
However, I thought I could become a barista later.

So what else can you do besides being a barista? Having seen the coffee scene overseas since I was a student Manabu , I had a strong desire to go abroad someday.

I vaguely thought that if I could go abroad, I needed English and some other competitive skills.
That's when I started to focus on machines.

Usukura : Did you start your current company immediately after leaving DCS?

Honda-san: The launch of my company was actually a series of miracles (laughs).

When I was at Lucky Coffee Machine, I originally joined the company because I loved specialty coffee, but there weren't many opportunities to use that knowledge.
Lucky mainly sells commodity coffee, such as coffee from convenience stores and coffee chains.

I realized that this wasn't what I had hoped for, so I joined DCS as a sales representative.
At that time, the customer base changed, I was able to interact with a variety of people, and I became immersed in the world of specialty coffee once again.

However, as I continued working there I learned about the Japanese coffee industry and felt the gap between it and other countries.
So I decided to go abroad, something I had always dreamed of.

Just as I was making various preparations to go abroad, the coronavirus hit and I was no longer able to go.
At that time, I was honestly in despair...
So we wondered what to do, and that's how our company was started.

Giving up on going overseas, he became an authorized dealer of coffee roasting machines

Usukura : What prompted you to start a company?

Honda: At first, I only did small jobs, just doing help for people in need around me or for acquaintances.

However, I felt that we wouldn't be able to scale if we continued like this, and when I wondered what kind of work I could do other than machine-related work, I decided to try roasting.
The first roasting machine I bought there was "aillio", which we now handle as an official distributor.

Usukura : Why did you focus on "aillio"?

Honda-san: No one else had one, and an acquaintance of mine was using Aillio. When I tried his coffee, I thought this would be great, so I bought one.

Once we started using it, we were inundated with inquiries from all kinds of people, and we stopped being a roaster and shifted towards being an agency.
From there, we started getting more offers for repairs and agencies, and we eventually settled on our current company style.

Usukura : So, did the company start out by selling "aillio"?

Honda-san: Of course, this is true for "aillio" as well, but whenever we went to do maintenance, customers would ask us if we had any tools like this, and so on. That's how we started bringing in products from overseas.

Usukura : When bringing products from overseas, such as "aillio," do you contact the manufacturer directly?

Honda-san: Of course I contact them directly. People overseas are very clear-spoken and either good or bad, and the decision is often made quickly (laughs).
It seemed like "aillio" wasn't doing much at the time, so we were able to come to an agreement quickly.

Usukura : You've been really proactive since you started your company (laughs). Is there anything you value in your work?

Honda-san: The "R&D" in the name of my company, "R&D ESPRESSO LAB," stands for "Research & Development." I chose it because it meant encouraging improvements to something, making it better, and innovating without staying in the moment.

Our goal was not to improve the machine, but to make the coffee taste better.
So, we would like our customers to feel free to come and ask us about anything related to coffee, regardless of whether it's about machines or not.

So, solving the coffee problems that our customers have is our number one priority.

Flexible response to requests from cafes and baristas

Usukura : What kind of people do you usually get job offers from these days?

Honda: As expected, we receive a lot of inquiries from cafes that mainly serve specialty coffee, but we're also receiving inquiries from a variety of other places, including Italian restaurants and freelance baristas.
Furthermore, we have been fortunate to receive more requests from barista champions recently.

Usukura : What do you think sets you apart from other companies?

Honda: I feel like there aren't many coffee makers that operate flexibly.
I think a big difference between us and other agencies is that we have coffee machine technicians at the top, and because of that, I think the speed of decision-making is overwhelmingly different compared to other manufacturers.

Usukura : Please tell us what your goals are for the future.

Honda: Japanese engineers tend not to disclose much information, so it is often the case that when experienced engineers leave, maintenance becomes impossible.
In order to change this situation, I would like to share the skills I have as a technical trainer.

As our company name suggests, we want to continue to be positioned to solve problems.
Honda is always searching for what the problem is and how to solve it.
Through this interview, I realized that it is precisely because of Honda's personality that so many coffee shop owners come to him for advice about machines.

Honda also performed maintenance on the EK43, which is the main subject of this article.
The grinding was surprisingly quiet and smooth, and the entire CROWD ROASTER team was amazed.
We also asked about easy maintenance that can be done at home, so we would like to introduce more detailed maintenance methods in the future.
looking forward to!