Issue 36 | 5 Minutes With


What’s On Niseko sits down with Yoshitaka Toge – owner, roaster and barista of local coffee institution, Sprout Outdoor Espresso – at his coffee shop in front of Kutchan Station on Kutchan Ekimae Dori and chats about Sprout’s journey, his love for roasting coffee, and his tips for the best way to enjoy a good cup of espresso.

Photo by Jacinta Sonja

Photo by Jacinta Sonja

Tell us a little about how your coffee journey at Sprout began.

My wife, Yukiko, and I both love coffee and outdoor sports, and we decided to combine our two loves with Sprout Outdoor Espresso. Sprout is essentially a coffee shop, and a space for the community to come together. I was previously a roaster at Yokoi Coffee in Sapporo (and my wife Yukiko, a barista there) before we moved to Niseko 15 years ago in 2004. We started Sprout in 2009 under the guidance of Chikara Yokoi, the owner of Yokoi Coffee, who has been our inspiration and mentor till this day.

How has this winter been for you at Sprout?

We started roasting our own beans in 2017, we took a year to perfect our roasts. We started to supply our beans to Jojo’s cafe, and Owashi Lodge this season. We also produced a special collaborative First Cabin [Hotel] X Sprout coffee bags for guests at First Cabin. This September, we will be representing Hokkaido in the Roast Masters Team Challenge in Tokyo, where leading roasters come together to compete and share their experiences.

What is it about roasting that you enjoy?

I had to first learn how to ‘taste’ coffee – how the roast affects the taste of coffee. I find roasting coffee beans similar as skiing and snowboarding. Like skiing/ snowboarding, every ride is different depending on the weather and snow conditions – the speed in which you turn, the moves you make could vary from day to day. I learnt to make small adjustments to the roast according to the daily temperature. Roasting techniques in winter and summer are different because of the temperature and humidity. These subtle changes make roasting very interesting for me.

Is it more difficult to roast coffee beans in winter because of the cold?

I wouldn’t say it is more difficult, it just requires different timing and temperature. Just like the different conditions when it comes to skiing, you adjust your riding style in powder snow in winter, or wet snow in spring.

What is your favourite cup of coffee?

For me, the best way to taste good coffee is by having it as an espresso, as you taste the coffee in its entirety, in its purest form. Though drip/filtered coffee has its own special characteristics, the filter paper traps the oils and micro-fines, which contain much of its aroma and flavour. It’s good for those who appreciate clearer and lighter coffee.

What is the best way to drink espresso?

The crema (the froth that rests on top of a shot of espresso) traps the aroma of the espresso, so to release the aroma, use a spoon to mix the crema into the coffee to give it a fuller flavor and longer aftertaste, and drink it at one go – as a single shot.

What beans do you serve at Sprout?

We serve about 10 types of beans. Sprout’s House Blend is a mix of beans from Columbia, Ethiopia and Honduras. We feature different single origin beans monthly. For example, this month we are serving Guatemalan beans, last month we served beans from the Southern regions of India, which had a sweet fruity flavour.

From being a barista to roaster, what’s your favourite part of the process?

I like the entire process from roasting to making the coffee, though I find roasting especially interesting. I hope our customers enjoy our coffee and our space at Sprout.

What’s the secret to making a good cup of coffee?

The most important thing for me is to be precise, careful and attentive at every step of the process.

What’s next for Sprout?

We are working on a new project at the old Kutchan Sakaba site. It will be a camping/outdoor shop designed as an indoor & outdoor park, with a shop and community space, which it’s called ‘Camp & Go’ (at the moment). We hope to open in Autumn 2019.

Interview by Jacinta Sonja.