Food & Drink | THE HIGH GROUNDS

At Glitch Coffee, a shared roast is a good roast

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

The first thing that draws the eye when you enter Glitch Coffee & Roasters — a third-wave coffee shop located in an unassuming pale pink building in Tokyo’s historic Jinbocho neighborhood — is its roaster.

It’s an imposing 5-kilogram, gold-and-black Probat roaster, emblazoned with the Glitch logo. The steady churning of the machinery hums constantly beneath the more convivial conversations of patrons. A pair of elongated golden scissors hangs on a hook near the roaster’s sensor, there for aesthetic purposes only.

As the roaster rumbles on, staff keep detailed records of the pre- and post-roast bean weight, the temperature inside the roaster’s rotating drum, the time until first crack (the audible cracking noise, not unlike popcorn, that coffee beans make when they release internally built-up steam) and the subsequent flavor “development time” on a digital spreadsheet. At Glitch, the roasting process is as much a science as it is an art.

Kiyokazu Suzuki founded Glitch in 2015, a year after he took home the title of Japanese Aeropress Champion, and has since opened two additional outposts — Counterpart Coffee Gallery in Nishishinjuku and Glitch Coffee Brewed @9h in Akasaka. While the ambience of each shop varies, they share a passion for spreading their love of quality coffee to their customers. But Glitch takes this one step further with its share roasting program, where staff from coffee shops without machines of their own can use Glitch’s Probat to roast their shop’s beans.

“There are a lot of very good baristas in Japan who can make good coffee and have excellent customer service,” Suzuki says. “When we started share roasting three years ago we were the first ones, but now there are more (share roasters) in Kyoto and elsewhere.” And, as different share roasters help foster specialty coffee culture, he explains, the links between different coffee shops increase, which helps to develop and widen Japan’s coffee community.

According to Suzuki, a crucial aspect of the share roasting program is the exchange of information. “If you roast by yourself, you are limited by your own abilities,” he says. Even with 13 years of roasting experience and several distinctions under his belt — Suzuki is a Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) licensed Q (quality) grader and a Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ) certified coffee cupping judge — there are still opportunities to build on his knowledge of coffee through share roasting.

There are several big topics that Glitch’s staff, drawing on their cumulative experience, cover when they first guide newly accepted coffee shops — the share roasting program’s application standards are stringent — through the roasting process.

First, they educate on the differences in various countries’ coffee production areas and the unique flavors of the different beans through coffee cuppings, the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting. Having a strong foundation in what coffee from different countries tastes like helps baristas understand what makes a coffee good or bad. It also helps them to understand how different beans work together in blends and so make better informed recommendations to customers.

Then, they teach the mechanics of roasting. Here the emphasis is on repetition and consistency, initially disregarding the external variables — such as weather — that a more experienced roaster might account for, instead bearing down on mastering the basics. Suzuki emphasizes that in order to improve, you need to maintain the same standards for each roast, like a “robot.” Only after you’ve achieved this level of consistency can you experiment.

Since its inception, Glitch has nurtured about six coffee shops in its share roasting program, three of which still participate. Some, like 4/4 Seasons Coffee (pronounced “All Seasons Coffee”) in Shinjuku and Life Size Cribe in Kokubunji — shops with strong reputations of their own for the quality of their coffee — have since acquired their own roasters and, so to speak, left the nest.

And for those who want to take the first step into roasting? Stovetop-roasting your own coffee beans at home, which is how Suzuki started, is a good place to begin.

“Ultimately you have to continuously think about how to bring out the greatest potential of the beans,” he says.

Kanda-Nishikicho 3-16 , Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-5244-5458; open Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; nearest station: Jinbocho. For more information, visit www.glitchcoffee.com.