Interview with Our Roaster MACHI KODAMA
Aiming the most colorful and gentle world.
"No matter how difficult it is, I want to roast with originality." The effort and devotion of a roaster who seeks the art of light roasting."
Machi Kodama solely roasts the coffee beans for the online sales of ou.bai.tou.ri.
Until she graduated from college, she grew up in California, the United States, where there is a rich food culture. She has her own unique world of colorful flavors that she is able to bring out only because of her background.
We interviewed Ms. Kodama about the behind-the-scenes of roasting and her enthusiasm for her work. We got to hear from one of the few young female roasters in the coffee industry.
-I love "delicious" more than anything else. My roots are in the taste sensibility I developed growing up in the American food culture.
Machi: I have loved to eat since I was a little girl. Looking back, my food experience in the United States is where it all began for me. As you may know, American food is truly a food rich with the multicolored culture. Starting with Greek food, Southern food, Mexican food, and so much more. For example, in Japan, you would never eat a salad by itself, but in America, it could be a main dish. People eat salads with a variety of ingredients as they like! Because of the variation of food culture, many different vegetables and fruits are offered, such as artichokes. Blackberries, which are expensive in Japan, are always available. Everything is there all year round in a super market. For a food fanatic like me, it was truly a food heaven!
My family also had a big influence on me. My family was a bit unique to begin with especially in Japan, as my mother is Korean and my father is Japanese. I guess it is one of the Korean culture that we enjoy having good food together as a family. Growing up in such an environment, I loved eating and was more interested in it than most people. That made me want to learn more about and explore food since I as young. So, I obtained a food coordinator certification for my learning and joined a gastronomy club during my time in Washington, DC as a student. There is this thing called Restaurant Week in the United States. Did you know that? Oh my gosh, during that week, even students get to eat at fine restaurants at a discount! At that time, club members and I would go to all the hottest and best restaurants until we couldn't walk anymore.
-From the phase "I don't like coffee" to "It tastes good", the excitement from drinking a cup of speciality coffee became the trigger for roasting.
Machi: Actually, I used to not like coffee that much. I used to get a stomach ache easily when it was deep roasted, lol. What got me hooked on coffee was a cup of coffee that was served when I stayed at a college friend's house. It had been a while since I had had a good cup of coffee, and I suddenly thought, "Coffee is interesting. I want to know more about it. After returning to Japan, I found time to visit many coffee shops as possible. Specialty coffee was just starting to become popular, and I was captivated by the fruity, not bitter, taste of coffee. Drinking coffee every morning became my daily routine, and I started having pour-over coffee at home. As an extension of that, I tried roasting out of curiosity at home and got captivated by it because it was so much fun. It was truly a fateful encounter for me.
-Meeting the perfect roasting machine, which was not necessarily the easiest to roast.
Then I would like to think more about roasting, so I decided to purchase my own roaster and develop my techniques, instead of spending time learning at a seminar or asking someone how to roast. There were several roasting machines in my mind, but finally, I made my mind on a roasted machine of Fuji, the Discovery, which is a direct-fire roasting type.
I chose a direct-fire type, because my favorite shop such as Obscula (at that time) uses the same type, and I thought that the taste was close to my image. Holes punched on the drum, the roaster draws out more characteristics of coffee, like fragrant aroma by direct fire. Also, the firepower control is easy to put calories in the timing for when I aim.
However, with this type of roasted roasting is very difficult to handle. The reproducibility was handful. How I learned the roasting skill was by reading books from foreign sources or watching youtube videos from Mill City Roasters / Cafe Import. It is unfortunately not so many Japanese books and contents for roasting are available. After purchasing the roasting machine, there were many encounters with people in SCAJ and the opportunities to be taught or discussed. The roasting style was naturally developed. Usually, roasting styles has various ideas and approaches and there is no correct answer. So a purpose of roasting is the process to shape what emerges from creativity, and it may be one of the reasons why I like roasting.
-The word "delicious" from friends motivated me to pursue the roasting work.
Machi: I decided to give away some beans I roasted that cannot be consumed by myself, and my friends were astounded by saying "coffee has differences in taste. It is easy to drink and delicious." That was really an unforgettable comment that motivates me until today. From there, the word of mouth spread little by little, and some acquaintances requested to purchase. I wanted to roast more to share what I thought was delicious. I want to work for what I love. The thought was strong, and there was also the support of my business partner (Takanaka), and decided to open a coffee online shop.
I want to change the status quo of the roasted industry. Roasting machine could actually be cute.
Machi: As we began our business, we installed a dream roaster from Giesen. The reason why we chose was, of course, capability (described later), but the deciding factor was 'cuteness'. Lol. Not to insult but the roasting industry is heavily male-dominating; I want to lessen the manly, mechanical image and intertwine some female-like imagery in roasting. In that sense, Giesen allowed me to choose the design and coloring freely, which fitted me well. So, I chose one of the girliest color, Pastel Green(Japan's first!). We also changed the flower wallpapers to match the roaster. My cute workplace has been completed!
Giesen is the official sponsor of the World Coffee Roasting Chamionship and is recognized by many top offers as a world tournament roaster. The heat retention is high, and it is characterized by its stability and reproductivity of roasting without underroasting. Having the digital control is an advanced function for roasting machines, it allows a roaster to adjust roasting with a wide range. It is the reason why it is so popular. I prefer a style of "roasting while consulting with beans", so I actively pull out the test spoon often to confirm the condition of the beans, and the machine can respond well to that.
-I want to draw out a soft and delicate flavor. I want people who are not good at coffee to drink my coffee.
Machi: Especially for people who like new gourmet experiences and for those who do not like bitter coffee or who like flavor and fragrant experiences from tea, I want you to try my coffee.
There is a clear vision for our desired taste. Specifically, it should be rich in flavor, with a balanced basis, taste, and sweetness. Of course, we emphasize cleanness (transparency) as a trend goes, but I also want to pull out the taste that suits the beans best. I did not intend to stick to light roasting from the beginning but as ou.bai.tou.ri's expertise, I want to convey the fun of the maximum flavor. As a result, we have many light to medium roast lineups.
Not only that, I want to deliver fresh and delicious things to customers quickly, offering with varieties and from small amounts and caring out the quality of coffee beans the most. Especially, the fruity flavor emerges only from fresh coffee beans. We are evaluating samples from various trading companies every week. Because it is a small shop, I would like to respond well with speed and release the new beans weekly.
- I think that there are many possibilities as the number of roasters. So I want to be me.
Machi: I feel the best when I am able to roast to the level I am satisfied when drinking. Even with beans from the same farm, it will vary every year. There are many possibilities waiting to be discovered during a roasting process. Roasting is different for each person, and I think it is one of the forms of expression because it cannot be the same. There are a lot of great coffee shops in medium or dark roast. We sincerely respect that and since it is not our area of expertise, we are not pursuing them. Rather, we want to work with light roasted coffee. We'd be truly happy if you could enjoy the flavors, texture, and elegance that only we could express.
Currently, we roast when receiving an order and ship it fresh. Because the supply is not large, we carefully roast while thinking of each customer. Since we are doing the shop with two people, we are proceeding little by little at our own pace, but we want to value communication with each customer as we don't own a storefront. Every order is not from stocks, and we prepare it after we receive an order. Sometimes I handle orders until after 2:00 a.m. lol.
(Some facts are changed in 2023.)
- Roasting as a team has given me great growth. Here is what I learned from the Roast Masters Team Challenge 2019.
Machi: In 2019, I decided to have some time for active learning. In May, I participated in the Q Arabica Grader training camp and in June I participated in a retreat (roasting camp), and the Roast Masters Team Challenge. Particularly, I learned a lot from the team challenges. Roasting tends to be a work alone. But by sharing roasting information with others, you can see unknown discoveries and ways of thinking. The Kanto A team was blessed with really good members, and we had a sense of achievement as we discussed many times on the final product, which normally has to be done by my sole decision. Above all, we were able to have it in the best result, the first place! We are dismissed as a team, but we are still good friends.
- One cup of coffee even comes from a package. Enjoy some discoveries!
Machi: Thanks to many people saying "Cute!" to our packages. They have been well received lol. The most popular ou.bai.tou.ri Selection began with the hope that our customers can easily enjoy high-quality specialty coffee. There are 6 kinds of coffee to enjoy.
The inspiration came from my friends' souvenir beans, and when coffee lovers gather, they sometimes bring only an amount of one cup of coffee as a souvenir. It's like a coffee party. It all started from the thought "I hope I can easily carry around one package."
The other is to increase the number of chances to offer discoveries for customers as much as possible. The more you like coffee, the narrower your options tend to be. I would be happy if the impression of each experience changes even a little, like "I have such an interesting coffee!"
Recently, we have started selling even for an amount of one cup of coffee. This is to make it easier to buy expensive coffee beans. The better the quality, the higher the price. We want the 20g style to be an approach to lower the purchasing hurdle.
In addition, we will provide seasonal, various combinations, and other lineups to deliver "new discovery opportunities" to everyone. Of course, there is no argument that delicious beans should be delicious lol. I would like to make it a familiar brand that can provide feelings like "coffee is fun!" We want coffee select shops or small designer hotels to use our coffee, as we offer a phenomenal experience where you can drink delicious coffee in everyday life.
- A message to the customers who support us.
Machi: Thank you always for your orders! We are a small roastery in Sumida-ku, Tokyo, and we want to be as close to you all as possible. In the future, we are planning to keep ou.bai.tou.ri fun and interesting through social media and videos, so please continue to support!
Thank you for reading!
Machi Kodama Profile
Born in Tokyo and raised in Los Angeles, USA, Machi Kodama has graduated college in Washington, D.C. and returned to Japan. Alongside with her work experience in the apparel industry, consulting and English education, she became interested in coffee and started home roasting using a sample roaster in 2019. In 2020, she studied barista skills at a café in Harajuku, Dotcom Space Tokyo. Additionally, she acquired her international qualification, the Q arabica grader, to horn her quality control skill.
After participating and winning the first place in the RMTC 2019 Team A, she launched her personal project Lily& Coffee, having a pop-up store at an event in Yamagata.
She has been the owner of the Emerald Green 1WA roaster from Giesen since 2020, which is the World Roasting Champion official roasting machine. Based on her brightness and curiosity, she continues to learn more about roasting techniques on a daily basis in search of a new generation of specialty coffee.
In September 2023, she was named as the second champion of the First Crack Coffee Challenge.