Meet Ulala – NZRG member

Ulala Nakama got into coffee by accident only six years ago, since then she’s competed in Barista Championship events in Japan and been a international juror for Cup of Excellence. This month she and her sister will open Ark Coffee in Takapuna.
What is your earliest coffee related experience?
A : I got into the coffee industry by accident really. I moved to live in Kagoshima/Japan 6 years for a different purpose. One day a good friend of mine took me to a small coffee roastery in the town called Kokubu, drank a shot of espresso,which ended up being the best ever tasting espresso I ever had to that day. I found out afterwards that the barista Shunichi Takemoto who made me that shot of espresso ( who is now one of my closest friends ) happened to be the barista champion of that year.No wonder it tasted good.
When / why did you first get working in coffee?
A : At the same time the owner of the roastery Tatsuya Inoue, who has been and still is one of the international judges for the COE kindly shared his many coffee experience stories and before you know it I was hooked and in there working under one the two great coffee men in Japan.
What led you to becoming a roaster?
I entered this industry at a coffee roastery where the craft of coffee roasting took place. However I started off working as a barista and retail staff and first focused on becoming a good barista and started competing in the Japan Barista Championships gaining second place in my last competing year. But the more I worked under these inspiring people I realised that to become a good barista or person in any position in this chain of specialty coffee, you had to understand coffee, not just how it tastes but the reason behind it from all aspects. Cupping of coarse as we all know is the key to understanding coffee, it’s the language in the coffee industry, it’s how we communicate. It was only a matter time before I realised that roasting was a the big key to creating great coffee. You can’t make one coffee better than it is by roasting but you can try to bring out 100% of it’s quality, it’s more difficult that it sounds and that’s what’s so fascinating about specialty coffee, it is so diverse. It’s never perfect but that’s whats so fun about it.
What do you roast on, anything unique about your set up?
A : At my new roastery I am opening soon here in Auckland is a Probat L25.
It’s a lot different to what I have used in the past ( I’ve been roasting on the high tech Loring Smartroast from the U.S ) so I’m a little nervous but Probat really makes elegant taste when roasted well so I’m really excited about roasting on my new roaster.
Apart from your roasting machine (in its factory floor form), what’s your favourite “tool” you use in your role?
A : Espresso machine. I have a new Simonelli T3 ( competition model ) coming in soon. Can’t wait to play with it!
What do you find most rewarding about roasting?
A : The consumer is always my first priority. It’s the reason behind trying to make good coffee, seeing customers enjoying and getting to know more about specialty coffee and coffee being a part of their lifestyle makes me happy.
Talk us through a typical work day
A : Roasting required for that day would take place in the morning, get that finished first then work the rest of the day as a barista and retail staff. Of coarse many bits and pieces would come in between. …
What are your roles outside of roasting?
A : Now that I am running my own company alongside my sister that basically sets my position as being the quality control person for everything relating my shop really….
Have you visited Origin? Any interesting harvest trip experiences or story?
A : Yes I have, mainly been to Central America ( Nicaragua was my first ever trip 5 years ago ) I have gone as an international judge for the COE as well so with different purposes I have travelled a few but more hopefully.
I would love to go anywhere ! It’s all different and great in it’s own ways.
Any fire stories?
A : Definitely not! I hope I never experience any fire stories!.