Miki Suzuki

Discover Coffee

Miki Suzuki



Barista Message Miki Suzuki

Innovation Department / Barista

From Kanagawa Prefecture



Competition results

  • 2009

    Japan Latte Art Championship: 6th Place

  • 2009

    Japan Barista Championship: 9th Place

  • 2010

    Japan Latte Art Championship: 6th Place

  • 2010

    Japan Barista Championship: Champion

  • 2011

    World Barista Championship: 5th Place

  • 2011

    Japan Barista Championship: Champion

  • 2012

    World Barista Championship: 4th Place

  • 2013

    Japan Barista Championship: 2nd Place

  • 2014

    Japan Barista Championship 2014: 3rd place

  • 2015

    Japan Barista Championship: 4th Place

  • 2016

    Japan Barista Championship: Champion

  • 2017

    World Barista championship: 2nd Place


  • 2009年

    ジャパン ラテアート チャンピオンシップ 第6位

  • 2009年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 第9位

  • 2010年

    ジャパン ラテアート チャンピオンシップ 第6位

  • 2010年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 優勝

  • 2011年

    ワールド バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 第5位

  • 2011年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 優勝

  • 2012年

    ワールド バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 第4位

  • 2013年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 準優勝

  • 2014年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 第3位

  • 2015年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 第4位

  • 2016年

    ジャパン バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 優勝

  • 2017年

    ワールド バリスタ チャンピオンシップ 準優勝

I wanted to be a pastry chef

My childhood dream was to be a pastry chef. My mom would bake cookies, brownies and other baked treats every weekend. Helping her in the kitchen was my older sister's and my favorite form of play. After that I gradually learned to make sweets by myself. I'd save up my allowance and buy books and ingredients. I spent my sensitive teenage years absorbed in pursuing my hobby. I decided I wanted to get a job that made people happy and also improve my baking skills, so after graduating from high school I enrolled in a school for pastry chefs. Then I got a job at a pastry shop. I was very excited—I'd realized my childhood dream and was looking forward to a happy and fulfilling career. But it turned out that the work was extremely demanding, in terms of both stamina and ability. I worked from morning to night with few days off, and I came to envy friends who sang the praises of university life. What's more, very few of the techniques that I'd learned in school could be applied in my job, so I was spending most of my time learning and practicing. I couldn't seem to fully master the skills that my boss and older co-workers expected me to, and I was frustrated and unhappy with myself. I was also taking a serious look at my life and wondering if I'd be able to live this way in ten years. In the same period a family member became ill, so I decided to let go of my childhood dream in order to help with their care. I took some time to rest and think, and I decided that when I found an occupation that I thought I could love, I'd commit myself to it and make it my life's work. In the period when I was helping with the care of my family member, I also went to Okinawa three times and got my scuba diving license—I had a lot of fun, which I hadn't been able to do when I was working at the pastry shop.

Discovering the occupation "barista"

After leaving the pastry shop and spending three months doing things I wanted to do and enjoying myself, I was thinking anxiously that I might become a social misfit if I didn't work, so I started looking for a job. That was when I discovered the occupation called barista. At the time, barista was a job that few people even knew about—the word itself was hardly used. But when I was working at the pastry shop, I'd buy or borrow specialized magazines and read them for study purposes, and several times I came across special features about coffee. I started taking an interest in coffee and went to some coffee shops. Actually, I'd never liked coffee. My parents liked it and made it every morning, but I'd never taken a liking to the smell or the taste. While I was going to various coffee shops, I discovered the flavor of coffee. It also occurred to me that it might be convenient to work at a coffee shop since they open early in the morning, so I applied for a part-time job. That was my entree into the world of coffee. Since I had never been a coffee drinker, I really didn't know anything. Everything I saw and learned in the job was new, and every day was filled with discoveries and new knowledge. I immediately became absorbed in it. I've always been like that—when I get interested in something I become engrossed in it immediately and put all my time and energy into it. I recall that I studied frantically because I wanted so much to become a real barista and make good coffee for customers. I began my career as a barista at Zoka Coffee, a coffee shop that started in Seattle. At Zoka I made a lot of irreplaceable encounters that brought me to a turning point in my life. There were the more experienced baristas who talked passionately about coffee, sometimes to the point of shedding tears of emotion, and friends who spoke candidly, in a spirit of friendly competition, about wanting to improve their coffee making skill. The days were filled with laughter and tears. Looking back now, it was a really enjoyable and fulfilling time in my life. And that was when something amazing happened that expanded the possibilities of coffee for me. It was at a company workshop about the seasonal drinks we were going to make for that time of year. The instructor was Yoshiharu Sakamoto, who then worked for Zoka Coffee. At the time, flavors like caramel pudding latte and tiramisu latte were the mainstream trend in coffee drinks. Nevertheless, the drinks that Mr. Sakamoto presented to us were "cappuccino" and "caffe latte." At a time when most of the recommended seasonal drinks were mixtures with sweet flavors, he declared, "Our strength is our coffee's quality. That's why we're going to show people once again what's so great about high-quality cappuccino and caffe latte." I thought, how radical and cool—he's amazing. I felt lucky to be working at the company where he worked. I was filled with admiration.





The phone call that cleared the haze

I was very lucky. I'd gotten a job at Zoka and learned about coffee and about serving customers, I had wonderful co-workers, and I'd been trained so that I was able to make and serve coffee for people as a barista. But it wasn't all smooth sailing. Unfortunately, the shop where I'd started working closed, and my teacher, Mr. Sakamoto, had left the company. I was feeling unsatisfied; something was lacking. I was also starting to have a sense of identity as a barista, and I wanted a chance to make coffee in a way that was more my own, to work with products with more diverse qualities and to make coffee in more diverse settings. I decided to leave the company. Through a connection, I started working at a cafe in Kamakura. There I made coffee with beans from a famous roaster in Japan, and also had the opportunity to do other types of work including creating menus. It was a great experience. The drawback was that it wasn't a specialty coffee shop and there weren't many orders for coffee. The working environment was very good, but I felt an indescribable anxiety: I wasn't sure if I was really growing as a barista. Around that time I received a fateful phone call that cleared the haze. Mr. Sakamoto, my former barista mentor at Zoka, invited me to join Maruyama Coffee. He asked me just what I'd been asking myself: "What do you want your future to be like?" Seeking his advice, I stammered out, "I want to keep working in the coffee business for a long time, but I don't know how to go about it." In reply, he told me they were going to open a new store in Komoro (a city in Nagano prefecture) and invited me to go there. I'd never even heard of Komoro before. I told Mr. Sakamoto I couldn't make the decision completely on my own as it would involve moving to a different prefecture, and I asked him to give me a little time. The phone call ended there. But the instant I hung up, my mind was made up. I told my parents and they agreed—probably because they knew it would be pointless to object. So the next day I was on my mobile phone, telling Mr. Sakamoto I'd like to work there. We quickly arranged an interview. When I got off the train at Sakudaira Station, Mr. Sakamoto came to meet me together with Mr. Maruyama, the president of Maruyama Coffee. Mr. Maruyama drove us to the Komoro store, which was still under construction, and gave us a tour of the site. The president of Maruyama Coffee, a famous figure in the coffee world, was extremely nice despite the fact that we were meeting for the first time. I was nervous and excited, wondering when the interview was going to start, but before I knew it the day was over and I was hired.

The impact of Maruyama Coffee

I'd taken the plunge into the barista life at Maruyama Coffee, and it turned out to be completely different from what I'd imagined. At the shops where I'd worked before, the instructions were set down in detail in a manual: pull the lever three times when you grind the coffee, use the button of the preset extraction program, make an adjustment so that the coffee comes out in a certain number of seconds, and so on. At Maruyama Coffee, there was no manual-like manual at the time; the philosophy was that if everyone shared the same goal, the individual approach could be left up to each barista. Something I remember well is that my trainer, Watanabe-san, taught me how to fold the dustcloths. I'd always thought it didn't really matter how I folded them, but Watanabe-san explained why it was important to fold them in a neat and functional way. As a result, I realized that everything had a reason—that something as simple as folding dustcloths changes the way you work and, ultimately, your approach to coffee. I wondered about the lack of a manual, so I asked Mr. Sakamoto. He told me that espresso and barista techniques were always evolving; therefore, instead of making a manual, Maruyama Coffee based its guidelines on the rules and regulations of the Japan Barista Championship. The reason, he explained, was that they reflected a worldwide standard and were updated each year; thus, they were the ideal manual for Maruyama Coffee, which was continually improving its raw ingredients and extraction methods. As someone who was accustomed to using manuals, I found this really fresh and exciting, and realized once again how little I knew about coffee and what an amazing place I'd ended up in. This gave me a sense of urgency—a feeling that I really needed to apply myself in order to reach that level.

I have to make a place for myself!

I'd always thought it would be fun to be able to make coffee every day, so everything about life at Maruyama Coffee was really exciting. At the time, the only people who used the title "barista" were distinguished national competition finalists, including baristas Watanabe, Miyagawa, Nakahara, and Sekiguchi. I thought that in order to survive as a barista at Maruyama Coffee, I would have to become at least a finalist and make a place for myself in the company, so I felt a great sense of anxiety. I'd never been good at speaking in front of people, and I'd thought of competitions as a world apart. But when I saw the way Mr. Sakamoto and my more experienced colleagues looked seriously at each coffee bean and worked so hard, when I saw how they shone as they went about their work, I finally decided to take on the challenge of a competition myself. The actual competition was an even tougher world than I'd imagined. At the time, Maruyama Coffee had not yet won a competition, so President Maruyama and Mr. Sakamoto, in addition to the baristas, were putting in a tremendous amount of time and energy in order to win. It was really a do-or-die kind of effort. Seeing them under this fierce pressure, laughing and crying and working hard as a team to move even one step forward, I was really dazzled; I wanted to be a barista like them. In an article at the time, President Maruyama described baristas using the phrase "baristas who put their heart into it." Witnessing that do-or-die spirit just after reading the article, I understood that Mr. Maruyama was that serious because he believed in baristas' potential more strongly than anyone. That's why I felt in my heart that I wanted to reach a point where I would be recognized as a full-fledged barista.







The example and encouraging words of senior baristas

The first time I entered a barista championship, I came in ninth. I didn't even reach my minimum goal of becoming a finalist. What's more, in engaging in the competition I became acutely aware that there was a huge gap between the finalists and me, even though we shared the title barista. The winner of the first barista championship in which I competed was my senior colleague, barista Nakahara. Even under tremendous pressure he was always positive and cheerful; and despite the fact that he was extremely busy with his own work, he took the time to help me, since it was my first competition. I really can't express my admiration and gratitude enough. It was Nakahara-san who taught me about the fun of a competition and the fun of engaging with a cup of coffee. I was also aware that it wasn't because of my ability that I'd attained ninth place—that I'd depended on the support of my team. I was extremely disappointed by my own weakness. I was determined that one day I'd be able to make more delicious espresso than anyone, and I decided to compete again. I'd aspired to become an independent barista rather than depend on my team, but in fact I'd put everyone to a lot of trouble and they'd spent a lot time helping me. Thinking I wouldn't have another chance to compete if my ranking fell, I entered the Japan Barista Championship with the idea that it was my final challenge; and thanks to Nakahara-san and my coach, Mr. Sakamoto, I received recognition that exceeded my actual ability and captured a victory. I was the only barista from Maruyama Coffee who advanced to the final and I thought I might be defeated by my own anxiety and tension; but Nakahara-san said, "Your espresso has the best flavor, so just relax and give your best performance." With that encouragement I was in fact able to relax and make my best effort, and I had such a happy time that I almost felt disappointed when my 15 minutes were over. I'd experienced the joy you feel when people understand what you want to do and express.

I want to stand on the stage of the World Championship again

I was often asked, "Why do you keep at it?" People in a variety of positions said to me, "You've been a finalist in the World Championship twice, and there's nothing but risk in competing in the Japan Championship now, since you'll be told that your standing has fallen if you finish in anything other than first place—so why do you keep competing?" For me, the reason is simple: I want to compete in the final round of the World Barista Championship again. It's very hard to put into words, but competing in the World Championship is much, much more enjoyable than competing in the Japan Championship. I feel as though the World Championship is a place where I can experience the joy of preparing and serving coffee, and connecting with people through coffee, in a really concentrated and vivid way. I can experience the barista's instinctive joy to the maximum extent. In 2014, Barista Izaki became World Champion, and I was truly saved. To me, he's a benefactor and a hero. The World Championship is Maruyama Coffee's long-cherished hope and the dream of Asian baristas. With Mr. Izaki's win, I was liberated from the pressure of aiming for the title of World Champion, and I felt a sense of relief and satisfaction. Nevertheless, with the strong encouragement and support of my coach Mr. Sakamoto, Izaki-san, Nakahara-san and President Maruyama, I decided to compete in the World Championship again and try to win. Things didn't go well after that, however: my ranking in the Japan Championship gradually fell—I finished second, then third, then fourth. It was a very tough time. When I think about it now, I realize I was hampered by my past experiences of success and I wasn't taking real risks or making my best effort in the truest sense. The reason I couldn't give up even then was that I wanted to compete in the final round of the World Barista Championship again. That was it, pure and simple.

The best team and my best performance

The happiest time in my life as a barista happened in November 2017. It was in the final round of the World Barista Championship in Seoul, when I made my best-ever showing and earned second place in the competition. When people hear I came in second, they might not know what to say. But to me, the result was an acknowledgement of the fact that I'd succeeded in giving the best performance of my life and that I gave it everything I had. It had been about 14 months since I won the Japan Championship in 2016, and about five years since I competed in the World Championship in Vienna. I'd been looking forward to that day for a very long time. It had finally become a reality, and nothing could have made me happier. A barista competition is 70 percent preparation. It hinges on how detailed and complex a program you can create, and whether you can produce coffee with flavor that meets international standards. And that's a team effort. Building a good team is essential. I asked Izaki-san to be my coach, not only because he was World Champion and had a wealth of coffee knowledge and experience, but because I have the greatest trust and respect for him as a person and as a barista. And, with the support of many people from inside and outside Maruyama Coffee behind "Team Miki"—in particular President Maruyama, barista Nakahara, head roaster Miyagawa and Yamashiro-san, who have always believed in my potential as a barista even more than I have—as well as others too numerous to name—I had the best possible team with me for the competition







Message to customers


What is "single origin," anyway? I often think about this in my work at the Omote-sando store. Literally, it means "from only one origin or starting point," but I feel as though single origin coffee often ends up being compared to blends and treated as "non-blended coffee." That is true, but it isn't that simple. I always hope to be able to change our customers' view that "single origin equals non-blended coffee." Naturally, blends have their own unique complexity and wonderful qualities reflecting the artisan's intentions. In addition, some of the coffees that we treat as single origin are actually single lots consisting of blends of two or more types of coffee cultivated on the same coffee farm, and some are blends of coffees gathered from two or more small farms. What I mean by single origin is the endeavor to deal with coffee in the smallest traceable units possible, by grower and by farm, as opposed to handling coffee in terms of large units like country and region of production, as has been the case until recently. With single origin, your thoughts as you enjoy the coffee may turn to the people who cultivated it, and where and how they grew it. And to me, "single origin" is also a history of discovery. Since Maruyama Coffee began purchasing coffee directly, "single origins" have been developing year by year. We have offered a wide range of coffees since I joined the company in 2008. Among them, the "single origins" have evolved in various ways. Under the name "Cangual village," we had long been using coffees from that village as ingredients in blends; but we came to know which growers' coffees were especially delicious, and thus Maria Arcadia's coffee, as well as the outstanding producer Solomon Benitez, have been discovered and we have been able to introduce the coffees under their names. In Costa Rica, there have been discoveries not only of differences among growers resulting from superior cultivation and production-processing techniques, but also of diverse flavors and infinite flavor possibilities created through the combination of farm/coffee type/production-processing. These discoveries have raised the "single origin" world to even greater heights. As long as we continue, the discoveries will continue as well; each year something new and exciting is discovered. That's why, at the Omote-sando single origin store, I hope to bring our excitement and amazement to our customers in the form of a coffee experience. Each day we work hard and aim to convey the excitement of coffee to our customers at all times, so that when you come to our store we can offer you, in one cup of coffee, an experience that is much more than simply drinking a cup of coffee.