World Brewers Cup Champion 2016 – Kasuya Tetsu brewing Ninety Plus Geisha Coffee — Photo by Athena Lam
Recap of the SCAJ Tokyo Coffee Convention (SCAJ 2016) in October, which had over 200,000 attendees over 3 days at the Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba. With an entry fee of a mere ¥1000 with a pre-registration, visitors had access to unlimited tastings of Japan’s, and the world’s, best coffee suppliers. Check out the photos below on what to expect. Even though this event seems like a “trade show”, coffee fans will be delighted by the variety of quality beans, drinks, and equipment to try.
Tokyo Big Sight at Odaiba hosts many conventions — Photo by Athena Lam
Over 100 exhibitors.
Even though this classifies as a trade show, the admission fee is a mere ¥1000 if you pre-register and ¥1500 at the door. The ticket is valid for the entire 3 days.
I went with another coffee loving friend, so our mission was to try as many quality samples as possible. We didn’t have an agenda and just wandered around with the map.
Many stalls had pour-yourself samples — Photo by Athena Lam
The vendors come from every part of the coffee industry. One can find growers and co-ops from places in SE Asia or bean distributors. These, along with commercial roasters, will have coffee samples.
Coffee growers and distributors from around the world — Photo by Athena Lam
I went with a fellow foodie and coffee lover, Simone Chen, writer for Curiously Ravenous and Japan Times. Our mission was to try as much coffee as we could within an afternoon. For future visitors, I suggest you go all 3 days for a 1/2 day so that you can enjoy all the sample coffees.
SCAJ 2016 only costed ¥1000 for 3 days entry — Photo by Athena Lam
Trade shows like these are great places to learn about the myriad of ways that coffee can be made, beginning with growing, picking, washing, and drying. As consumers become more educated about quality coffee, roasters have also become increasingly detailed about documenting their processes.
Personally, I always prefer roasters that document the exact farm the beans came from and their process methods (e.g. natural, honey, washed, full-washed).
Natural processed beans — Photo by Athena Lam
Natural or Dried in the Fruit Process have no layers removed.
Honey Process removes the skin and pulp, but some or all of the mucilage (Honey) remains.
Honey-processed beans — Photo by Athena Lam
Washed Process – skin, pulp, and mucilage are removed using water and fermentation. Also called Fully Washed. This is the conventional form of Arabica coffee processing used in most parts of the world. It is possible to skip the fermentation step by using a high-tech pressure washing machine to remove the skin, pulp and some or all of the mucilage. This process is called Pulped Natural.
Distributor from Vietnam — Photo by Athena Lam
Bringing a little bit of culture — Photo by Athena Lam
Vendors included cooperatives and producers from around the world, such as Vietnam. We came across distributors from various African and Latin American countries as well.
Kasuya Tetsu, World Brewers Cup 2016 Champion, was one of several award-winning baristas serving coffee — Photo by Athena Lam
My best surprise discovery was Ninety Plus Coffee being served by the legendary Arabica Kyoto baristas serving coffee beans they had hand picked at the estates. Words cannot describe how fruity, aromatic, full-bodied and layered the small samples were. Some people might liken it to “tea” because it begins light, but if you let it wash over your tongue, one sip will reveal much more than a flat comparison.
Simone and I so loved the beans we had a small sample batch roasted on location in Kyoto weeks later.
A surprise to some, Arabica is actually headquartered in Hong Kong there and has just opened a new shop in the UAE. They are opening a host of places around the world in 2017, so you can check the cafe list here.
My most savoured discovery at the SCAJ 2016 Ninety Plus — Photo by Athena Lam
Maruyama Coffee‘s Nakayama-sensei is a Syphon Champion is in Karuizawa — Photo by Athena Lam
We were also equally delighted to see another Japanese cafe recognised for its consistent quality (and gorgeous cafe concepts): Maruyama Coffee. Originally from Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, I would recommend any visitor to check out how serenely the cafe integrates into its natural surroundings.
Maruyama Coffee has a long-term view in supporting its baristas — Photo by Athena Lam
Maruyama Coffee came with a full fleet of celebrated baristas, each with their own speciality. Tomoya Egashira represented Adachi Coffee and Miyuki Oguma from Itoya Coffee Factory served their sample piccolo lattes while the syphon masters focused on their single origin brews.
In Japan, service and passion are part of the coffee package — Photo by Athena Lam
Coffee, coffee everywhere — Photo by Athena Lam
As we cruised through the convention, we noted how many vendors had unique approaches to how they presented their goods. Some showed displays of brews. Others left samples out, while still others were holding workshops and tours.
DCS also had samples — Photo by Athena Lam
We also stumbled on another treat: the Japan Barista Championships. The presentation was in a corner that attracted a crowd but had plenty of space for latecomers like us to find a comfortable spot to stand. The volume was perfect for us to hear the baristas explaining their drinks, without disrupting the rest of the event.
Miki Suzuki from Maruyama Coffee won 1st place — Photo by Athena Lam
Judges tasting Suzuki-sensei’s drinks — Photo by Athena Lam
Playing with the professional equipment like Simonelli — Photo by Athena Lam
At the back of the hall, we found most of the equipment vendors. Virtually every model of espresso machine from most of the major companies like Simonelli, Vittoria, and La Marzocco were on display and usable. Each brand either had a barista serving or testing machines for visitors to make their own customised drink (with professionals on the side to offer a hand if desired).
One of the machines we could use — Photo by Athena Lam
By then, we had drunken about 4-6 (small sample) cups and were rationing our last cups, so we just watched other people try demos.
Coffee tampers — Photo by Athena Lam
Stock up on your coffee equipment here — Photo by Athena Lam
Simone also introduced me to one of my new favourite chocolate makers, Minimal Chocolate. Minimal Chocolate is handmade in Tokyo and has meticulous documentation of the cocoa beans they source. Each source bean has its own flavour recipe and profile and when sampled together, the distinct characters of the cocoa beans (from fruity and wine-like, to savoury, to spiced, to fragrant and smooth) becomes apparent.
Roasters on demo — Photo by Athena Lam
Green bean distributors — Photo by Athena Lam
Where coffee meets sci fi & robotics — Photo by Athena Lam
Hario‘s classic coffee brewing equipment — Photo by Athena Lam
Needless to say, some of Japan’s best known coffee equipment companies were there as well. Hario is known for its V60 drip and syphon glass. If you would like to stock up on coffee equipment, I suggest going to Union Coffee in Kappabashi (Tokyo’s kitchen town), near Asakusa.
The convention also showcased some of the latest gadgets in coffee making. Stationary robots would swing their arms to brew the perfectly standardised cup. Or, if you would like to customise your own in the comfort of your home, you could consider an IoT solution by using your iPad to control an automated coffee brewing counter machine with your own brewing formula.
Coffee ceremony anyone? — Photo by Athena Lam
We also saw the cultural fusion of a tea-turned-coffee-brewing ceremony. You could wait your turn to be served on a traditional tatami mat.
As usual, tradition is usually contrasted with innovation. One of the latest trends in the US is nitro coffee, which is served from a tap like draft beer would be. I would say give Japan a few more years before they manage to catch up in flavour to the US.
If possible, try nitro in the US instead — Photo by Athena Lam
To top off our day, we circled back to Ninety Plus Coffee and chatted with the founder, Naoki-san from Arabica, and watched another barista champion, Jeremy Zhang, brew his beans.
Ninety Plus Coffee’s Master baristas pick their own beans — Photo by Athena Lam
Jeremy Zhang is one of Ninety Plus Coffee’s Taste Makers — Photo by Athena Lam
If you want to try some local Tokyo cafes here: