Local Heroes #68 - Tokyo Coffee Entrepreneur Yuta 'Totz' Totsuka

Yuta Totsuka is an aspiring young entrepreneur in the field of coffee, aiming to create “the world where deliciousness fairly received what it deserves. Currently, he is a co-owner of a coffee stand named “Colored Life Coffee” also serving as a check-in counter for BnA Hotel in Koenji, Tokyo.

My first impression towards Totz (as everyone calls him) is cheerful when I met him at a coffee-cupping event 2 years ago. At that time, his title was CTO of a start-up app company at the age of 22. Since then, he showed me different faces of himself such as a barista (of course), a system engineer, and an innovator, which has made me think, “who the hell is Totz?” So through this interview, I wanted to explore his background, personality, and his ultimate goal. 

First of all, what is going on with your hair?

Oh...this is the color of coffee cherries, very nice ripe ones. Have you seen them ripe? They are truly adorable. I showed a photo of them to my hair stylist in a magazine and told them to dye my hair like this.

Very cool. So please tell me a little bit about your childhood. What kind of child were you?

I was a kid loving tech stuff like robots and computers. That was because of my Dad who was a computer programmer and kind of tech geek, I believe. I remember he often asked me “what type of game do you like, kid?”, making games as I ordered and let me play them. And they were awesome.

My teen-hood was about computer programming, studying by myself, and music. I started playing in a band at high school, which kept me crazily busy in practicing, recording, and visiting gigs on weekends.

Although I nearly attended all classes during college, I found out that I did not have a passion for music, as in to live from music. I then returned to the field of computer programming.

Do you consider yourself a person going deeply into something?

Yes, deep and narrow, every time. Right now, I'm obviously devoting myself to coffee, which is so interesting to me because it is to some extent different from computer or music. I am always trying to examine it from the perspective of science. 

Every time, we measure things like brewing time, water temperature, and the weight of beans. I strongly believe in the scientific approach towards coffee. This idea comes from my background in computer science which I majored from at college. However, I feel coffee stands closer to music, since how good people feel or taste depends per person.

So what is "deliciousness"?

When it comes to deliciousness, I always add double quotation marks when explaining our mission, creating the world where “deliciousness” fairly receives what it deserves.

Its concept is truly complex. There is no answer unlike the world of computer science, which is made of only 0s and 1s. There should be theories about chemical composition in coffee and extraction. However, as for “deliciousness”, it isn't that simple. When you drink coffee, you might like it because of its taste, flavor, atmosphere inside the cafe, and so on. Pursuing “deliciousness” is not only about taste.

I have a bit of doubt about the current trend in the specialty coffee industry, promoting coffee with photos of farmers, their farms and so on. For specialty coffee, it might be design around “deliciousness”. But regarding the fairness of trades, it is not about the value of coffee itself, which sometimes makes me wonder. For me, it is more natural to think of people who want to or happen to choose our coffee above everything else. 

I believe that people definitely prioritize the quality of experiences, meaning the “deliciousness”, to those background information enhancing empathy with people living far way. And ultimately, their choice would create returns to the original people and places. 

What is your next move in 2018?

Since last year, we have been working on a new project to launch a series of coffee products. Each product will focus on designing a scene in someone’s life besides “deliciousness”. We named our first product MATERIA because I want users to feel the raw material more directly. And the concept is “Grind, and Flash” targeting creators such as designers, programmers, etc.

We partnered with a talented designer to sophisticate the brand which includes packages, contents, and strategies. Hope this will be a trigger of people's sense of creativity and inspiration.

In order to concentrate our resources on this project, we will cut off all other channels. We already made a decision to close our shop, Colored Life Coffeeby the end of February after a year and 4 months since we opened up in 2016. It was truly amazing to have a place and to bring people together. We have been learning lots of things and also feeling beloved by many people. We truly appreciate that.

Now, it is time for us to move on. We hosted the last event at the shop named “Thanks Letter for New Journey.”, as an invitation for our followers to come alongside our further adventure. We will run through this year to accomplish our goal of creating “the world where deliciousness fairly receives what it deserves” in the fastest way. 

Thanks a lot 'Totz' for your time, we're a fan of your work and looking forward to seeing what's next. This interview was done in early 2018.

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- Taiga -