In the concrete maze of Osaka there is a small shop called Lilo Coffee Roasters. This ‘easy to mis’ shop is the home of the perpetual smile of Keita Nakamura: Barista, Roaster and mentor of the staff of Lilo Coffee Roasters. Lilo Coffee Roasters is a brand that I encounter all over Asia and so it was time to get to know the person behind this brand of perfectly roasted coffee.
The story of Keita starts about 10 years ago when he was taking on jobs everywhere. Back then his passion for coffee was already unfolding as he roasted his own coffee beans at home in a skillet. It was trial and error over and over, but it did not stop him from trying to get the best out of his beans. Fast forward to 5 years ago. The owner of hair salon ‘Lilo in Veve’ wanted to open a coffee shop underneath the hair salon and asked Keita to come and work for him. Keita immediately saw that both hairdressing and roasting/brewing were forms of art that could easily fit together and so he took on the job of Barista and Roaster.
Finally Keita got access to his own roaster he started to teach himself how to roast. Taking bits and pieces of information of friends, he managed to create his own unique style of roasting.
When I roast, I have one thing in mind: the first impression of the coffee.
The first impression of the coffee is the most important part of roasting in my opinion. I know my coffee beans thoroughly and I know what feeling or emotion I want to bring across when people take their first sip. In order to that, I need to know all about the fruitiness and natural flavors of that coffee. I then try to bring out the best and create a perfect first impression. Look at it as if you’re serving a ‘god shot’ espresso to a customer; I want to serve the ‘god shot’ of first impressions.
When I asked why he wanted this so badly he responded with an example:
Whenever people start their day, they make themselves beautiful with hair gel, make up or nice clothing. If that works out, it can mean the beginning of a great day. As if you can take on the world and nothing can bring you down. I feel that I can do the same thing with my coffee. The first sip of a cup of coffee can have a huge impact on your day, especially if it’s good. I guess I hope to be the director of the your day and bring you joy and happiness.
To do that, a roaster needs to know everything there is to know about the coffee he roasts. Keita used to buy the coffee himself, but has recognized that sometimes there are people better suited for the job.
But Keita knows all about the coffees that he sells; what flavors and aromas the coffees bring forth, acidity and mouthfeel. When choosing his coffees, he takes all that into account and so makes it possible to suggest the best choice of coffee for customers who don’t know what to choose.
Keita Nakamura is not the only one working in Lilo Coffee Roasters. The whole staff consists out of 3 Ladies and a guy and they all need to be able to bring that perfect first impression to the customers. So how does he do that?
I train my staff for three months in which they learn the basics of being a barista. I also teach them about my mission with the first impression. The real learning, however, starts after this period. My staff will brew coffee and the customers will give them feedback. This way, each staff member will be able to learn and put a little of their own personality in their brewing. I do not demand of them to brew exactly like me, but I do demand something else. In Lilo Coffee Roasters its important that there is a consistency of quality, not a consistency of brewing. When one is brewing differently than I do, they ensure that other ‘sweet spots’ of the coffee are discovered. The brew might taste a little different, but the quality of the brewing remains the same.
The consistency of the quality is something that is always there. I often drink a cup of their Dominican Jarabacoa from Alfredo Diaz when I am at Lilo. Each and every time, this cup of coffee tastes just wonderful and the tasting notes are always the same. I don’t know if it’s the consistency in brewing, the roasting or the ambiance at Lilo Coffee Roasting, perhaps it is all of the above. What I do know is that the coffee at Lilo is always great and the thing that stands out is the perpetual smile of Keita Nakamura. If you take a look at the social media outlet of Lilo Coffee Roasters, you’ll always see Keita smiling. A broad ear-to-ear-smile that is ever present. During this interview it was no different and so I asked him how come he always smiles, be it on camera or in real life.
It’s been a long while ago that I made an important decision in my life. That decision is to live my life as a happy person. There are so many opportunities to be sad or angry in life. Being happy is a choice and so that is why I am always smiling. It is a choice that I wish for my customers and my staff as well. To be happy in life.
It is with that life lesson that I say goodbye to Keita, the staff and Lilo Coffee Roasters for now. I know that whenever I’m back in Osaka, this is my go-to coffee place. Not just because of the coffee, but also because once in a while I need to be reminded that life is good and that smiling is a choice!