Takayuki Ishitani, the barista who won his third Japanese championship [Special Interview]

On September 28, 2023, Takayuki Ishitani, who serves as CROWD ROASTER 's advisor, won his third victory at the finals of the Japan Barista Championship (JBC) held at SCAJ2023!

He said there was a lot of pressure in this tournament as he competed as the defending champion among many rivals. At the end of the tournament in early October, we looked back on the event.

The biggest feeling after winning was ``relief''

──First of all, congratulations on winning the Japan Barista Championship. This is your third time competing, how does it feel to have won?

Ishitani: Well, I'm happy to be happy, but the biggest feeling I have is that I feel relieved, which is different from the first and second times.

Everyone was watching me as if I had made it to the finals of the last world tournament (I finished 4th at the WBC 2022 tournament), so I didn't think I was feeling that much pressure, but in the semi-finals I was really nervous. I was nervous.

──During the semi-finals, there was some equipment trouble. As a result, Mr. Ishitani had to start over at the end, but how did you feel at that time?

Ishitani: Even though it was a problem, I was lucky to be able to start over from the beginning. Although it was physically demanding, emotionally I felt lucky.

--That's right. Especially during the finals, the MCs said that the tension was rising rapidly and that the finals seemed the most relaxed.

Ishitani: That's right. In the semi-finals, I was so nervous that I wondered why I was so nervous, and when I looked back on it, I laughed. So, if I went into the finals without thinking about how difficult it would be and just wanted the judges to drink good coffee and have fun, I think I would have been able to enter the competition naturally and in a good mental state.

──You said that you participated this time because you wanted to compete in the world championships again. Were you confident?

Ishitani: Well, I went into the day with the feeling that I had prepared up to that point, so I was confident that everything would be fine as long as nothing happened. However, in real life, it's not impossible to make mistakes such as spilling the cup or hitting it with your hand when taking it out. I do what I want every year, with the confidence that as long as there are no irregularities like that, I'll be fine.

──About how long do you practice for a tournament?

Ishitani: I practiced for the 15-minute competition in the finals about a dozen times. The most difficult part is actually creating the presentation before that. As always, it takes me one to two months to think about the theme, what to say at the beginning, and what to say at the end. The most difficult time is until the first phrase comes out.

Reason for the theme “Making the barista’s ideals a reality”

──The final presentation was made after such hard work, and people said it was surprising that the order was milk beverage, signature beverage, and espresso. Please tell me the reason.

Ishitani: That's right. I had practiced milk a lot before the preliminaries, and it was a drink I was confident in, so it was the easiest theme for me to work on. The theme this time was ``Making your ideals a reality,'' and the judges thought it would be easier to tell the story of how milk didn't work out for a long time, but now that we have coffee like this, our ideals have come true. I thought it would be important to first understand the feelings of these people.

Of course, as I was thinking about the presentation, I thought about the order, but I thought it would be more appropriate to bring the espresso at the end.

Even in movies, there are several climaxes, and starting with an espresso certainly builds excitement, but I think it would be difficult to build up the climax over and over again. I chose this order because I thought that by first tasting the milk, then adding the signature to the top, and finally the espresso, I would be able to create points that would get the judges excited.

Encounter with coffee beans

-- Regarding the coffee this time, the milk and signature were mainly Finca Milan from Colombia, and the espresso was Deborah Geisha from Panama, with a little Milan added. How did you come across the beans for this competition?

Ishitani: I actually went to Panama in April 2023 and did cupping at various farms, and I found that Geisha from Deborah Farm was the most delicious coffee for me. So, when I directly asked the producer, ``I'd like to use it because it's going to be in a tournament,'' they said, ``If you want to use it in a tournament,'' they gave it to me. Actually, I was a little worried about how my coffee would be received, as the selection method is washed, which is the Shin of the fermentation process used these days.

However, since I thought it was delicious, I decided that I wanted to use it in espresso. I also consulted with the roaster and while looking for something, I found Milan Farm in Colombia to be interesting. The producer is working on a difficult process called the ``culturing process,'' but the result is an interesting flavor.

So I chose it because I thought it would be interesting to combine the cutting edge with the classic Geisha .

──How much time do you actually spend choosing coffee beans from among so many?

Ishitani: It didn't take much time to find it. Basically, choose from what the roaster has. I don't really say that I like the beans, but it's more about who will bake it for me and who I want to work with.

Since coffee beans are harvested, we cannot use coffee that is not in season, and we choose coffee that is in good condition at the time of the tournament.

──Because Mr. Ishitani is working as an individual as TAKA ISHITANI, it is important for him to cooperate with reliable roasters.

Ishitani: Well, I trust the roasters a lot and I entrust them to them. Of course, I'll give them feedback after they try it and say it would be better if they tried it a little more, but when I do that, they'll respond by saying, ``Next time, I tried grilling it this way,'' so I trust them in that regard.

──In this coffee in particular, the gorgeous flavor of the signature beverage was impressive. Even though it was based on espresso, you added a variety of other drinks. I think it's difficult to convey the taste in words, but I feel that this is exactly what Mr. Ishitani was talking about at the beginning: ``new possibilities for coffee.''

Ishitani: That's right. First of all, it is impossible to create this kind of taste unless the coffee has a strong personality. Of course, I think there are many delicious dark-roasted coffees, but if that's all there is to it, the taste ends up becoming similar, or rather, the individuality disappears.

Creating a signature beverage is similar to creating a cocktail. The point is that you can now use coffee as one of the ingredients and use it with a variety of other things. So, I listen to various things from the bartenders and get hints from bartenders on a daily basis and combine them as I make them. It's just like a cocktail.

The secret theme is "to be close to our customers"

──The theme that successfully connects seemingly unrelated things such as milk, signature, and espresso was "making the ideal a reality."

Ishitani: That's right. On top of that, we placed importance on being close to our customers during the final espresso.

Extracting Geisha is very difficult and often blurs. If it's fermented coffee, you'd be surprised at how strong the aroma is, but when it comes to clean washed coffee like Geisha , it's hard to tell how good it is. Those who are familiar with it will think, ``This kind of washed rice is delicious after all,'' but those who are not familiar with it will probably find it ``sour'' or ``thin.'' That's a waste.

However, by adding a little Milan, the outline of the flavor becomes easier to understand, which makes it easier to convey to customers. Our final ideal is to get close to our customers and share their coffee with them. That was the underlying theme.

However, for the presentation during the competition, I had to condense my presentation, so I wasn't able to talk much about it.

However, I wanted to convey the fun of specialty coffee, and how, as SCAJ celebrates its 20th anniversary, what was once an ideal can now become a reality.

──In fact, a lot of thought was put into adding just a little bit of Milan, which was used at the beginning.

Ishitani: That's right. So if you add another coffee that isn't Milan, you'll probably lose the consistency story.

Also, I don't know how much I was able to convey this to the judges, but all coffee beans are slightly different, so I wanted them to understand the technical aspects of controlling this.

It's not easy to make all the same coffee using the same grind, but the coffees we made this time were all made with different beans, and the dial ring, mesh, and recipe of the grinder were all different.

The World Championship is an opportunity to learn things you don't know yet.

──Finally, please tell us your enthusiasm for the World Championships (WBC) to be held in South Korea.

Ishitani: The work leading up to the last world tournament was a time where I was able to absorb a lot of things that I didn't know. When I think that I will be able to do that again in six months from now, I am really looking forward to it. I'm really looking forward to seeing what I can still absorb and what I don't know.

And of course, I want to get results this time. Last time I was able to achieve my goal of remaining in the finals, so I want to do my best to win.

──What are you thinking about in order to become number one in the world?

Ishitani: Even if you say you're aiming to win, competitions are still a really fun place. Rather than trying to win, I would like to have fun and express what I don't know for 15 minutes. The tournament has just ended, and I haven't decided on what I'll be doing in the next tournament, so I'm at that stage right now.

──The world championship will be held in May 2024, but will there be no presentations or coffee beans used this time?

Ishitani: Over the course of six months, the condition of the coffee changes, and newly harvested beans come in, so of course we have to think about what to use. I'm thinking about what kind of presentations I'll give around the world and planning my schedule.

---I'm looking forward to the world championships as well. Thank you, Mr. Ishitani. And congratulations!

At SCAJ2023, the day after the JBC finals, we had a talk and extract event with LEAVES COFFEE Ishii Yasuo at the CROWD ROASTER booth.

You can see the details from the archive distribution below!
Please take a look.