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Bean business: Coffee shop in north Japan props up sales with bright vending machine

"Coffee-sha Miyabi" owner Masatoshi Yamaguchi is seen beside the coffee bean vending machine in the city of Fukushima on Jan. 30. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

FUKUSHIMA -- A coffee shop in this northern Japan city has started selling coffee beans through a vending machine amid a decline of customers due to the new coronavirus pandemic, and with its chic yellow appearance, it is attracting public attention.

    The rare vending machine is installed beside the "Coffee-sha Miyabi" cafe in the Hanazonocho district of the city, and the beans are apparently selling well. As the number of customers declines amid the pandemic, cafe owner Masatoshi Yamaguchi, 51, says he is eager test new methods to get business brewing.

    Yamaguchi started selling beans through the vending machine at the end of last year by converting a beverage vending machine. Eight kinds of coffee beans, which he has blended, are on sale.

    A message card is attached to each bag of coffee beans sold through the vending machine. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

    "The taste of blended coffee stands out more compared to coffee brewed from a single variety," Yamaguchi says. The 100-gram bags are priced at 650 to 700 yen ($6.20 to $6.68) each, while 200-gram bags are sold for 1,300 to 1,400 yen ($12.40 to $13.35) apiece. To keep the beans as fresh as the ones sold at his cafe, only those roasted within the previous week are placed in the vending machines. They are sealed in special bags to prevent oxidation, and are wrapped in film to prevent the beans from acquiring a metallic smell inside the vending machine.

    While the cafe remains open, the number of seats has been reduced from 10 to four to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections. The number of customers has dropped to less than half the figure seen in usual years, and sales have plunged as a result. In contrast, the number of customers who buy beans at the shop has not decreased, likely due to demands from people who are staying at home amid the pandemic. In a bid to boost sales, Yamaguchi consulted an acquaintance in the city of Yamagata who had introduced a vending machine, then installed the coffee-bean machine with his advice.

    To make the machine more familiar to people, Yamaguchi had his likeness depicted on one side of the machine, and he attaches a message card to each bag of beans. In the first week after its installation, the machine sold 5 to 6 kilograms of beans, and it has been selling 2 to 3 kg weekly since. A 46-year-old regular customer from the city of Date in Fukushima Prefecture commented happily, "As I do a lot of overtime, I'm glad to have a place to buy them (coffee beans) at night."

    At present, coffee powders are not sold because they lose freshness quickly. One regular customer apparently bought a coffee grinder after the vending machine was installed.

    Yamaguchi said, "Coffee tastes great right after grinding. I want many people to enjoy the taste, using this as an opportunity."

    (Japanese original by Naoki Watanabe, Fukushima Bureau)

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