Sounds of success: Coffee beans ‘ear-roasted’ by the visually impaired in Japan are a hit


A workshop user, right, judges the roasting of coffee beans by sound and raises his hand to indicate when to stop, at Ryoke Green Gables in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, in January 2022. (Mainichi/Mineichiro Yamakoshi )

AGEO, Saitama – Coffee beans roasted by the visually impaired at a wellness workshop in this eastern Japanese city are gaining popularity, and sales in December 2021 were 1.5 times higher than the month precedent, making it one of the mainstays of the establishment’s income.

When raw coffee beans are roasted in a machine, they begin to crackle and pop in about 10 minutes. Just as tempura chefs use sound to determine frying quality, blind people who come to the Ryoke Green Gables Wellness Workshop in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, use sound to judge the condition of beans. . The visually impaired divide their roles and engage in tasks such as keeping time. The time at which the beans are removed from the machine determines the flavor, and a difference of one second is said to affect the taste. The bran used as a standard for judging differs depending on the origin of the beans and the type of beans.

Recently, after roasting the beans, everyone tasted them and shared their impressions. Some said, “That’s exactly what it tastes like” and “It tastes like Guatemala”, while others suggested the beans “should be roasted a bit more”. Through these exchanges, they continued to make improvements, and the beans were even hailed as “tastier than those from imported grocery chains.”

The coffee bag named “Bokura wa Mimi de Baisen o suru” (We roast coffee by ear) is seen in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, on January 25, 2022. (Mainichi/Mineichiro Yamakoshi)

In December 2021, during the year-end gift season, they roasted about 30 kilograms at full speed and sales reached about 400,000 yen (about $3,260). Coffee bean products named “Bokura wa Mimi de Baisen o suru” (We roast coffee by ear) now account for 60-70% of the establishment’s total revenue.

Koji Katogi, 49, president of the non-profit organization Minori which runs the workshop, is a former teacher at a prefectural special school for visually impaired children. At the time, he was consulted by many parents and guardians regarding career paths. The number of universities accepting visually impaired students has increased and many of them have found employment in general contractors. However, according to Katogi, many companies were not sufficiently prepared to accept such people, and some of them quickly quit.

Katogi quit his job as a teacher to increase employment opportunities for people with visual impairments, and in April 2020 he opened a facility with a government grant. Initially, they were involved in jobs such as Braille on business cards, but in June 2020, an acquaintance in Katogi suggested roasting coffee beans. With the advice that visually impaired people with advanced hearing would be able to judge the roasting status by sound using an open flame roasting machine, he purchased a manual gas roaster. The product became so popular that they couldn’t keep up with demand, so they replaced it with a larger machine.

Roastery manager Kento Ikuta, 26, started visiting the workshop when he couldn’t pursue his desired career path, and later became a roastery manager. “At first I wasn’t sure I could do it. Now I’m happy because we get a lot of orders. I want to keep roasting so people say, ‘It’s delicious,'” he said. -he declares.

(Japanese original by Mineichiro Yamakoshi, Saitama Office)


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