Words by Kate Kuligovskaia
Photos by Olga Franco
Another busy day in Takapuna beach, Auckland. Narrow path between the business centers led us to the little yard hidden from the noisy main road. Our ears caught the distant sounds of coffee grinder. Soon we detected the smell of freshly roasted coffee. It was intriguing; one more step and Papaya Stories’ adventurers found themselves at the small art-laboratory. Contemporary paintings on the walls, giant roasters, that became professional elements of the interior and little pieces of craft, that made this place cozy and heartwarming. Two lovely smiles greeted us from behind the coffee machine.
The people were coming in and out, warmly smiling and sharing cheerful laughs with the hosts. Today Papaya Stories kidnapped Ulala Nakamura, the host, for a little while. We asked her about creative spirit of “The ARK Coffee” and that secret ingredient of perfect Espresso.
Hospitality is my passion but wasn’t my major for a long time as I chose career of a dancer. I studied at a performing Arts school in London and got a diploma in the performing arts. Prior to graduation I had an accident during rehearsal and soon after I graduated I had to quit my career due to the injury. It was one of the most challenging and life changing times in my life. It took me two years before I could to step out again. One day a friend gave me a chance to try something new and gave me the opportunity to step forward.
Whilst training to become a dancer it was a challenging world to be strong on your own. Most of the time you are challenged with the competition within your class. Everyone is in it for the same goal and often you are felt alone, that wasn’t always an easy environment to be in. I was dreaming to be in an environment where, people are more open-minded, friendly and feeling united. My career in the coffee industry started with one cup of espresso at a then small coffee roastery in my home town Kagoshima, Japan, a friend took me to. I still remember that day when I walked in, there was a bunch of people working busy with full of energy, passion, enthusiasm and great welcoming smile. The espresso served was the best tasting espresso I had ever experienced. I was instantly drawn to the place. As I began to visit just as an ordinary customer I was lucky to get to know the owner and staff and one thing lead to another and the boss offered me a position. It was just the perfect opportunity I was searching for.
Coffee is similar to wine. Coffee is slowly becoming acknowledged for being an artisan beverage, just like wine. And just like wine it requires an ideal micro-climate to produce great coffee cherries. It is produced in the natural environment and some years are not so easy to control and keep the quality. For example, few years ago Central America had a devastating news where the coffee trees were affected by a rust disease which destroyed the trees, leaving farmers with a large decrease in the production. It is a problem to this day because it takes a few years before the trees are ready to produce cherries.
My manager was an awarded champion, so I had a good company. That was an amazing chance to learn, so I did. Soon I started participating in championships too. The more you learn the more you need to know. I took my job to the next level – to make a perfect cup you need to have a full understanding of the whole process. I became a head roaster of that company and was working with them for 6,5 years. During that time I got to travel to the producing countries which was an incredible eye opening experiences.
I used to work 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week, my body was rebelling. After a few years I began to think more about my future and where I would like to be in 10 years, I wanted a new challenge and also to find a work-life balance. This is how I ended here in New Zealand together with my parents and sister.
My sister and I always wanted to do something together. Time passed, we went separate ways, I tried to become a dancer, and she aimed for the career in art. Once I asked her, “Do you remember we wanted to do something mutual?” Having the concept of 5 senses in mind we combined coffee and art. Though both things are creative, making coffee is also an art. As I focused on the coffee side my sister Naomi was working on the visual side, designing.
I wanted to have a retail shop to sell specialty Coffee. It’s common to have retail store for coffee beans in Japan but not so common here. Together with my sister who is an artist, I want to open up a shop where we could introduce and sell better quality coffee for people to take home and enjoy at their homes and also have a gallery space for my sister’s art work to be seen. In the beginning we had only the coffee roaster and coffee machine to sever take out coffees. However, as we progressed we had to be open-minded and adapt our shop to reach our needs and also reach our customers satisfaction. Which is why there are much more diversity in which we provide to our customers.
My customers are the greatest source of inspiration. Every day I try to make them feel happy by creating an enjoyable atmosphere and great coffee. Just a few minutes and I put my spirit into a little cup of coffee.
We do what we feel comfortable with. We want our customers to be spoiled with good coffee, and pleasant atmosphere. You may get our pure Arabica home and enjoy the amazing aroma, instead of plain instant from the can. This is our message – great coffee is not only from professional machine – you may enjoy it at home, as you like.
We are not trying to beat competitors and become number 1. Neither we tend to assimilate. We are not kiwis, though we love this country. We try to stick to our origins and let others get acquainted with us.
We do not see neighbour coffee shops as competitors. We all have own way to do the same job. No one can roast like I do, and I cannot brew the same coffee as my neighbours. As for me, my goal is to create that aftertaste, when customer tries my coffee for the first time and comes back the next day, and the next, and the next…
Mass distribution? Wholesale is a major part of coffee companies. We are not focused on this at the moment. Purely because we cannot compete with large companies. Another reason – I do not want to drop my quality to meet the number. But we sell a bit to the fine dining restaurants. They normally do not require great amounts, but what they do need is coffee of greatest quality.
Life is enormous source of inspiration. Nice movies, travels, enthralling hobbies appeal to us and tune on for productive work. I love Johnny Depp’s movie “Chocolat”. The story of Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) is similar to me in some instant.
I remember that sunny summer weekend when we got away to the North. We stopped at Henderson bay, next to beautiful Cape Reinga and watched this incredible sea dancing in the edge of the world. Unfortunately my work does not allow me to travel much but I found myself home here, in New Zealand since we opened the cafe.
Life is full of unexpected surprises. It may not go as you imagine, just take it as it goes and be grateful for the opportunity. Be ready to let your expectation go away. I am so glad that I have met some people who left the trace in my life and changed it.