Emi Fukahori (33) didn’t drink coffee until she was in her twenties. Then it became her life: today she is among the best baristas in the world, co-owns two coffee shops in Zürich, and spends her days finding flavours in coffee that most of us didn’t know existed. We talked with the Japanese innovator about how her curiosity first turned into a passion and then into a business.
Ms. Fukahori, most people consider coffee a commodity. Why is this beverage so fascinating to you?
That’s true, a lot of people drink coffee without thinking about it. But there is a whole world of flavours hidden in a coffee. It can, for example, be fruity, chocolatey, or spicy – and it is the job of a barista to bring out these nuances. When done properly coffee can taste like almost anything.
What distinguishes a good coffee from a great coffee?
“The best coffee is the coffee you like” – that’s the motto we have in our coffee shops. Baristas can’t serve you a perfect coffee, but they can help you discover one you like. This is often difficult since most people have never been exposed to the depths of specialty coffee. I thus try to get to know my customers, learn what they like, and then assist them in finding a coffee they consider great.
Has coffee always played an important role in your life?
Not at all. I only started drinking coffee when I moved to Zürich a decade ago. It was a nice social activity, but I didn’t know anything about the processes involved. A few years later I went to a social gathering at a roastery, where I was introduced to a barista champion and to the fascinating world of specialty coffee. I still remember being served a coffee that tasted like strawberries. It was so different from any coffee that I had drunk before and made me curious: Where did this flavour come from? How does the barista get it out of the beans? For the next six months, I went to the roastery every day after work as I wanted to learn more. The owners taught me what they knew about coffee and it has been an important part of my life ever since.