Sprout Outdoor Espresso is taking Niseko’s burgeoning espresso coffee scene to the next level.
Owner operators Yoshi and Yukiko Toge have installed one of Kutchan town’s first coffee roasters, in a showcase window facing the streetfront. You can catch Yoshi roasting his beans and painstakingly logging the process in the shop around 9-10ish every morning. They join Takano Coffee Roasters (in Niseko Town, 14km away) as the first roasters in the area, but likely won’t be the last.
Kutchan town is the nearest thing that Niseko’s resorts have to civilisation. The administrative center of the Shiribeshi region, this farming town is where the locals go for supermarkets, post offices, banks, hospitals and train connections to Sapporo city.
After opening their café on the main street, it took eight years pouring coffees at Sprout before Yoshi and Yukiko felt ready to tackle roasting their own beans. “There was a lot of trial and error to start with but I feel I have the hang of it now,” Yoshi says, weighing out scoops of green coffee beans from sacks lined up along the cafe wall. “Even today I still wonder if I understand everything about the coffee I taste.”
Once the machine is at a perfect 118C, 2kg of beans are poured in. It’s a clear sunny morning in June, so Yoshi throws open the glass panels around the roaster and the smell of roasting coffee beans — first grassy, then sharp — drifts down the road. Kutchan station is a mere 50 metres away, with trains stopping every hour and a half at their most frequent. Sprout Outdoor Espresso is where waiting commuters and travellers to Niseko often find themselves whiling the time away until the next service.
It’s not just the location, not just the coffee, not the collection of well-worn outdoor books free for you to read, nor the vintage furniture and stay-as-long-as-you-like atmosphere that keeps guests coming back. Sprout is all about the outdoors (it’s in the name for a reason!) and Niseko, the community.
A coffee cart named “Sprout Mini” can be found brightening up local festivals, trail meets, marathons and movie launches around Niseko and beyond — anything about the outdoors is sure to get Yoshi’s team on board. After closing at 7pm, the Kutchan store will also host various meetups, classes, workshops and the occasional live musician.
Yoshi chose Niseko 15 years ago because he could kayak, ski and trail run all in the one place. Joining and hosting events is a way to foster the best of what Niseko has to offer and to celebrate the region. Sometimes the side projects make money and sometimes they don’t, but he says that’s not the point. “If my staff, Yukiko or I find it interesting then we’ll join in or host it.”
A buzzer sounds, and Yoshi hits a lever – beans pour out of the machine to cool. They smell fantastic, but Yoshi explains they won’t be ground and drunk just yet. “You need to let the beans rest and let all the gases escape. What we’re drinking now was roasted seven days ago.”
This current batch is destined for something special:
“We’re working on a coffee teabag system to sell here in Sprout. Just boil some water and put this in your thermos and have a great cup of coffee while you’re out camping or kayaking or out there enjoying nature.”
I ask if Yoshi is glad to be one step ahead of the competition, and he laughs. “It’s not like that at all. All the coffee makers, the cafés in Niseko are good friends. We like to help each other and share our knowledge.”
When asked about his ideal roast, Yoshi grows philosophical. “Each bean from each batch from each country will have its own strengths and weaknesses, just like people – you can’t force them to be one way or another. So I don’t really aim for one flavour when I roast coffee. I try to let the best of that bean speak.”
If you don’t get a chance to visit Sprout Outdoor Espresso in Kutchan, look out for Sprout Mini in and about in Hirafu Village during the winter season. Check out their website to see where they’re due to pop up. Make sure you pick up some coffee teabags on your next visit!