Coffee With Culture: An Interview with Yuki Izumi from Hi-Collar

MS: Tell me a little about yourself, and how you first got into coffee.

YI: I was born in Osaka, Japan. I started working at a Kissaten when I was in high school because I wanted to get a nice bike. This was my first job.  

Tell me a little about Hi-Collar. Where did the idea come from? What is your mission with the cafe?

Hi-Collar is a Kissaten style cafe by day, Japanese bar at night. The idea came from our owner Bon Yagi. He wanted to create a Jazz Age (early 1900s) cafe/bar .

My original mission for coffee was, “Hey, New Yorkers, chill out and slow down. If you don’t have time for a cup of coffee, your life sucks.” (Now that I’ve become a New Yorker, I need to chill out. Hahaha.)

What do you love about coffee?

Every morning when I wake up and brew a pour-over coffee (when I have time), it is like a meditation. To think about the day, or what happened yesterday, or nothing. It makes me calm.

I always think coffee’s character is like people. Each coffee from a different origin has a different profile. For example, if you do a blind tasting, most of the time you know which beans are from Ethiopia or Central America. They have different characters. But some of the beans have unexpected character because of circumstances … could be because of the elevation, soil, farmer’s technique, or the way it’s roasted, or something else. With people, somehow you can tell the person is from New York because of the person’s character, behavior, or accent. And when an American speaks perfect Japanese, we get surprised. So I like to imagine how these beans grow up and how they came here.

And coffee culture. Through the coffee, you can meet people from different backgrounds. That is a big plus.

In your experience, what are the differences between US coffee culture and Japanese coffee culture? What are the similarities?

In New York, I don’t see much difference these days. Of course, Japan has many coffee vending machines, varieties of canned coffee & instant coffee. Most of the convenience stores are 24/7 and have self-service, fresh brew coffee machines. More access to coffee anytime.

At Hi-Collar, American people like to drink coffee before their meal. People from East Asia like to drink coffee after their meal.

Why do you think Hi-Collar has been successful in New York City?

I’m not sure we are successful but we are more authentic, I guess. We offer coffee with culture. 

Hi-Collar offers a few different methods of coffee preparation. Do you have a favorite way to prepare coffee?

I do like to prepare with Aeropress. Aeropress has many ways to brew. Easy to customize.

I like pour-over to get to know the new beans. For me, siphon coffee is like afternoon coffee, but so annoying to prepare and wash!

Your food offerings are also exceptional. How do coffee and food work together on your menu?

Our food menu is a typical Kissaten menu in Japan. We call it “Keishoku”. “Kei” means light, and “Shoku” means “to eat” or “food”. Direct translation is “a light meal”. Something easy to prepare and easy to eat, a quick bite.

Customers order only coffee or only food, or both. So we meet a variety of customers’ needs.   

What are the biggest challenges you face as a cafe operator? How do you deal with these challenges?

We make each cup one at a time by hand, so it takes longer than usual. In our old location, our customers could see what was going on behind the bar and we could explain. But now we have a much bigger space and we are a mess! I’m still trying to figure it out… 

What issues do you care most about in coffee?

Climate change will affect coffee farms. Without them, we can’t exist. We are much smaller than our Earth. I’m aging and the earth is aging too. We have to accept these changes, and also do what we can do to lessen the negative impact on the farmers' lives. New technology or new research might help. That’s why we need to keep educating ourselves. 

I was so into when Jay was talking about biodynamics at our coffee tasting. We have to keep learning and keep experimenting and keep trying and failing and keep going.  

What is the future of the coffee industry? 

I wish I knew! It seems like history is repeating in a fashion, and coffee is trending in a new way.  

If you had one message to share with other people in the coffee industry, what would it be?

I want to share a quote from Konosuke Matsushita (founder of Panasonic, he is also from Osaka, Japan):

“The business is to move the emotions.” 

 

Hi-Collar is located at 231 E 9th St. in the East Village. You can try our select single origin offerings there on pour-over, Aeropress, or siphon while supplies last.

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