"I'll do everything I can to make great tasting coffee" - Interview with Wakoya roaster Shinya Kobayashi

About a 10-minute drive from JR Fukui Station, across from Fukui Youth Sports Park, which is crowded with local families on weekends, is Wakoya, a coffee shop that roasts its own beans.

The shop is run by Miwa Kobayashi , the representative, and her husband Shinya Kobayashi , the Chief Quality Control Officer and roaster. They are husband and wife, and hold qualifications in all coffee-related processes, from selecting the green beans to brewing, and have impressive records in competitions, touting their service as a "coffee bean specialty store."

Wakoya was started by Miwa with the desire to "deliver specialty coffee to the local people of Fukui as an everyday coffee rather than something special," and has garnered attention not only from coffee lovers in her hometown of Fukui, but from coffee lovers all over Japan through mail order and other means.

"We want to deliver high-quality coffee beans"

The reason Shinya became a roaster was because Miwa decided to become independent as a wholesale and retail coffee bean roaster.

"My wife used to work in education, but after giving birth she switched to a coffee sales position. It's still hard to find high-quality specialty coffee in Fukui, so we decided to go independent, wanting to spread the word about high-quality, delicious coffee at a reasonable price in Fukui."

Miwa, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience in coffee, will be in charge of sales and the company president, but of course a roaster is needed to roast coffee in-house. Shinya had never had anything to do with coffee before, but he actively participated in seminars and study groups, improved his cupping skills and roasting knowledge, and was put in charge of roasting.

Of course, roasting itself also started from scratch at Manabu , but the skills he had acquired in his previous jobs came in handy here.

"I started out in a sporting goods store, doing technical jobs like maintaining and mounting skis and snowboards and stringing rackets, then I did things like maintaining commercial machines. Looking back, I didn't find the work of finishing something nice and neat to be difficult, and I think it was similar to roasting the beans to make them delicious."

Shinya had a deep understanding of machines, and during the process of searching for a store, he also developed a deeper understanding and commitment to flavor.

"After work, my wife and I would cup the coffee together, and we began to understand the difference between good quality coffee and not so good coffee. It became natural for me to roast the coffee and for the two of us to taste it."

Challenge all kinds of qualifications and competitions

Thus, in 2009, they opened a roastery that only handled specialty coffee. From there, the Kobayashi continued to improve themselves.

When starting their Japanese coffee shop, the couple both obtained qualifications such as an SCAA/CQI certified Q Grader (coffee appraiser), a JCQA certified green bean appraiser master, and an SCAJ certified Coffee Meister (Miwa is an Advanced Coffee Meister), making their knowledge and skills as coffee workers visible.

Using her ability to assess the quality and flavor of beans, Miwa has served as a certified judge in various competitions hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ), including hand drip, barista, siphonist, roaster, and brewer.

Meanwhile, Shinya is actively participating in competitions as a player. Some of his most notable achievements include second place in the 2015 JCRC (Japan Coffee Roasting Championship), second place in the 2016 JCTC (Japan Cup Tasters Championship), and most recently, winning two titles in the Geisha and Traditional categories at the 2023 PCRC (Panama Coffee Roasting Competition). In addition to these, he has achieved good results in many other competitions.

Shinya says that because it started with Manabu in Germany, his world has expanded as he has participated in competitions.

"I had no experience (working in the coffee industry), but I think it gave me the resolve to go all out if I wanted to be a professional. When I opened the shop, high-quality beans were just starting to come out, so the timing was good."

Wanting to find high-quality beans and deliver them to the people of Fukui, Wakoya started out in a small 16-tsubo (49.2 m2) space, but in the third year moved to its current 665-tsubo (665-tsubo) store with a parking lot. Around this time, Shinya began winning prizes in various competitions.

"From Seed to Cup" comes first

The Kobayashi have acquired comprehensive knowledge and skills related to coffee, from raw bean appraisal, cupping, roasting techniques, and brewing techniques. The reason for this is their strong desire to provide delicious coffee with thorough quality and temperature control from seed to cup.

"As I continued selling coffee, I gradually began to think that I wanted to offer my customers better coffee at a fair price."

As the name suggests, Wakoya only sells "top specialty coffee" that has won prizes in auctions and contests, and high-quality "specialty coffee" that meets strict quality standards. To that end, Wakoya has traveled to coffee farms around the world and built relationships with local producers.

When the store first opened, it was not well known and wholesale was the main source of sales, but after success in competitions, its skills became known and the store's reputation gradually grew.

"Looking back, it was a virtuous cycle of meeting various people at competitions and seminars, listening to their thoughts, practicing what I learned, and giving back to my customers. Gaining experience as a judge has led me to think about what makes a good coffee, and to spend my days facing coffee."

Balancing daily work with competition preparation and practice is difficult, but he says it also provides good stimulation.

"Participating in competitions keeps my daily roasting work from becoming monotonous and allows me to try new things. It's hard work, but I can incorporate what I learn into my coffee shop, whether I get results or not."

Even with all that experience, the practice of coffee techniques and the daily work contribute to Wakoya's reputation and growth.

Encounter at "PCRC"

Among recent competitions, the double crown at the PCRC (Panama Coffee Roasting Competition) in 2023 became a big topic. They roasted two types of beans, Geisha and Traditional, and won both.

"For PCRC, the theme was decided first, and the preliminary round was decided in groups. Also, a unique method of PCRC is to submit a presentation document that describes the intention behind roasting the beans according to the theme. Many people helped me with the presentation documents, and in the finals I was able to produce a very good presentation document and delicious coffee that matched it. Above all, winning after being judged by the judges and customers gave me a lot of confidence."

When we asked Shinya , who has competed in various competitions, "What does roasting mean to you?" he replied, "It's about bringing out the diverse flavors, sweetness, and cleanliness of specialty coffee in a well-balanced way. It's important that the coffee that customers who buy the coffee beans brew and drink is always delicious." It's not just about deliciousness at competitions, but the customer always comes first.

"Many of the beans roasted for competitions are very lightly roasted, and while skilled coffee roasters can handle them well, some are difficult for average people to extract. Depending on the beans, you may need to adjust the extraction method. If there is a strike zone where anyone can brew it and it tastes good, I aim for that and make it easy for customers to enjoy it using normal brewing methods."

The technique to achieve this is "proper roasting." By controlling the characteristics and profile of the roaster and making fine adjustments by Shinya himself, he is able to create coffee with a wide strike zone, regardless of the skill of the coffee brewer.

"I like to think of it as making small adjustments to the profile so that even light roasts can be brewed deliciously. Even when I roast darker than usual, I'm careful not to bring out the bad flavors that tend to appear with dark roasts."

The roaster used at Wakoya is a large Probat 25kg roaster. Although they needed the size, they like the high heat storage capacity, high exhaust efficiency, and ease of use of the semi-hot air.

"It combines the best of both hot air and heat storage roasters, allowing you to roast a beautiful light roast as well as a sweet dark roast. It's a 25kg pot, but it can maintain a stable profile from larger to smaller roasts, so we can even roast small quantities of around 2kg."

A "delicious bridge" between producers and consumers

At Wakoya, we visit coffee-producing countries every year and actively communicate with the farmers. Because coffee is an agricultural product, the quality varies from year to year. We conduct cupping on-site to check the production process. Obtaining the latest information and conveying it in our own words leads to a sense of security and trust from our customers.

Specialty coffee producers strive to try new things every year, such as new varieties and new processes. We are able to deliver the new coffees they have worked on to consumers, and we are a Japanese coffee shop that travels to producing countries every year. We also believe that it is important to further hone our skills as roasters so that we can provide a coffee experience that exceeds the price.

When you think of Fukui, you think of Wakaya.

Regarding participating in CROWD ROASTER , Shinya said, "I'm looking forward to meeting new customers who will use CROWD ROASTER ."

" CROWD ROASTER has the image of being a service that has many famous roasters participating in Japan, so I'm very happy to be included. It's a humbling feeling to be able to be a part of it, as I'm seeing my dear friends with whom I've competed in various competitions up until now. Just like in competitions, it's exciting to be able to try new things. I would like to put the experience I gained at CROWD ROASTER to good use in other areas as well."
WAKOYA 's future goal is to be recognized in Fukui Prefecture and across the nation.

"When people want to drink delicious coffee at home, I want Wakoya to be the place that comes to mind when they think of coffee in Fukui."

The first set to be offered at CROWD ROASTER was a Panama tasting set that caught Shinya 's eye.
We offer three 30g sets of top quality Panamanian coffee, including the hard-to-find Altieri Geisha , roasted by Shinya Kobayashi .

Take this opportunity to try out the wonderful roasting techniques of the PCRC champion.

<Product Details>
Limited Panama Box 2 feat. Shinya Kobayashi
A set of three rare Panama coffee varieties.
・Altieri/ Geisha /Washed/Dilgo Lot 90+
・Hartman Farm/Chichogaro/Honey Kotwa Farm/Ethiopian original/Natural
30g x 3 types
¥2,980 (tax included)

Shop Information
1914 Fuku 2-chome, Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture
OPEN: 9:30-17:00
CLOSE: Tuesday