BeanScene Magazine

Hidetaka Hayashi’s Japanese journey

From the December 2016 issue.
Hidetaka Hayashi’s Japanese journey

Hidetaka Hayashi is credited with helping introduce specialty coffee to Japan. He speaks about the liberalisation of Japanese imports, the dominance of commodity coffee, and the country’s outlook.

When Hidetaka Hayashi was 14 years he had the opportunity to brew coffee for a guest of his father’s. He had no knowledge about brewing, let alone what that “hot, brown liquid” really was. To this day, he still doesn’t know if the coffee he prepared was bad or not, but something about that experience intrigued him.

Now aged in his 70s, when BeanScene asks Hidetaka if he was still intrigued by that “hot, brown liquid”, he says, “now more than ever”.

After studying at Tokyo University, Hidetaka was offered a job at a large trading and investment firm in Japan called Marubeni Corporation in 1962. He was assigned to the food product department, and as luck would have it, was put in charge of the importation and distribution of green beans, or “coffee hunting” as he describes it, throughout Japan.

In those days, Hidetaka says the total importation of coffee to Japan was about 270,000 bags and New York C-Market prices were below US$0.40 per pound.

“It was a significant role for me considering the importation of green beans into Japan had only been liberalised in 1960 following World War II, and the importation of soluble coffee had became free in 1962,” Hidetaka says.

Hidetaka had tried purchasing high quality coffee from Yemen and Indonesia, but it wasn’t until the International Coffee Organisation was established in 1962 and the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) was introduced that Japan’s coffee market experienced a shift.

The ICA contained provisions for the application of a global export quota system whereby supplies of coffee in excess of consumer requirements were withheld from the market. While the operation of this agreement helped prices to remain relatively stable throughout 1963 to 1972, under the ICA Japan was considered “a country of Annex-B, a new market”, meaning Japan’s coffee importation was restricted.

“Japan was considered a new market, therefore we were given very low quality coffee at very low prices, far lower than what traditional markets or Annex-A countries paid, and with no guarantee of quality,” Hidetaka says.

Low altitude and therefore lower quality commodity coffee meant there was “no desirable flavour profile” in the coffee Japan received. As such, Hidetaka says the Japanese used paper filters for siphon or kone to try to get the best out of their coffee. This became Japan’s most trusted brewing method.

“Japanese importers could not purchase similar quality coffees to those from traditional markets except for coffee from Colombia, Ethiopia, and Brazil where new market prices and processes didn’t apply. Their prices were also relatively lower under a barter trade system with Japan,” Hidetaka says.

In those days, the majority of Brazilian coffee came from the port of Santos: “very low quality blended with normal coffee.”

“The Instituto Brasileiro do Café had a stock point in Hong Kong, which allotted stock lot coffee at very low prices to Japanese importers,” Hidetaka says.

By 1963, frost damage had hit Parana in Brazil, New York Prices exceeded US$0.42 per pound, and all coffee imported into Japan up until 1985 was still considered “genuine low-grade commercial coffee”.

In 1997 Hidetaka was nominated as a market consultant under the International Trade Centre (ITC) Gourmet Coffee Potential Project.

It was one year later, under the trial importation of the ITC United Nations Conference on Trade and Development/World Trade Organisation project of Gourmet Coffee Potential, that Hidetaka says “real specialty coffee” was introduced to Japan for the first time.

It was under this project that George Howell of the United States invited Hidetaka to become one of the cuppers for the first cupping competition in Brazil, held at the Federal University of Lavras in 1999. There were just 14 cuppers who assessed the coffee over three days and selected the best 10 lots.

“It was a start,” Hidetaka says. “Brazil’s cup quality had been traditionally controlled through the Santos Cupping System, meaning only negative factors such as defects were checked and controlled, but no positive factors such as attractiveness and distinct flavour profiles were recognised.”

Hidetaka saw the potential in Brazil’s coffee. He was determined to uncover its best characteristics. Along with Susie Spindler, George Howell, Marcelo Vieira, and Alf Kramer, Hidetaka became one of the founding members of the Cup Of Excellence (COE) program, which sold selected lots through internet auction. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) and establishing an entity and identity of international competitions.

The full article features in the December 2016 edition of BeanScene Magazine.

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