I wasn't expecting much when we turned off the main street. My thoughts seemed to be justified when the unpaved road appeared as if it was leading to nowhere. Finally, we spotted a crooked sign pointing the way to our destination, “Cafe de Miya.”
“We have an hour to kill…Why don’t we get a coffee,” I had said to Komaki just a little while ago. Having a coffee to pass the time seemed like a natural choice, but we were up in Yanbaru, so there weren’t many options. In fact, Cafe de Miya seemed like the only choice! And now, after having reached the end of the gravel road, where a nondescript white concrete structure stood, we were actually wondering if the cafe was still in business.
But disappointment was quickly replaced by excitement when I saw baskets of coffee cherries drying in the yard. The baskets were randomly placed here and there, but they were definitely a sign that the cafe was most likely in operation. The baskets also told me something else. It was clear that the owner was growing his own coffee.
Upon opening the front door, we were immediately greeted with a warm hello and sat down at a table in front of a large window that overlooked the green mountains of Yanbaru and the blue sea beyond. As opposed to the typical atmosphere of a cafe, it felt more like we were in the living room of someone’s house, but this only made the situation more intriguing.
I picked up the menu and saw there were only two kinds of coffee. There was a blend coffee priced at 500 yen and the cafe’s 100% locally grown Okinawa coffee for 1,200 yen. The owner, Mr. Miyazato, came to our table and explained that he grew his coffee organically using sustainable farming methods and roasted all the coffee beans himself. He also told us that we could choose the brewing method to match our tastes. He even used names of famous classical music composers for the type of brewing. “Would you like to try a cup of Bach?” Normally, it would seem crazy to pay 1,200 yen for a cup of coffee, but after hearing his explanation, I felt compelled to try a cup.
Mr. Miyazato began brewing and continued with more conversation like a maestro in front of an audience. As the pleasant aroma of coffee began to fill the room, Komaki decided to read some newspaper articles hanging on the cafe wall. The stories explained that Mr. Miyazato is basically considered nothing short of a legend when it comes to growing coffee in Okinawa. His reputation even extends to faraway places in mainland Japan, where coffee maniacs make the journey to Okinawa to learn about the art of growing and producing coffee from Mr. Miyazato.
Another customer, who was sitting a few tables away from us was also bantering back and forth with Mr. Miyazato as if he knew him well. I couldn’t resist talking to him, and so I asked him if he was also a coffee farmer. His reply was that he had moved from mainland Japan and was growing coffee in Onna-son! This, of course, made me even more excited…I thought to myself, “What are the chances of meeting another coffee farmer from the same area where we also live at this small out-of-the-way cafe in Yambaru!” I now knew for sure that fate had played a role in getting us to this hidden place in the jungle mountains of Okinawa.
Just a few weeks ago, I had actually harvested my own coffee cherries for the first time from our Akachichi mini farm. We had planted about five coffee plants and this was the first year the plants produced some fruit. It wasn’t a lot, but I thought we might get enough cherries to produce at least one cup of coffee. Unfortunately, I was not drying the cherries properly and had made a few mistakes, leaving me disappointed and wondering if it was even worth the effort to grow coffee. But here in front of me was Mr. Miyazato, the king of Okinawa coffee, explaining some basic but important tips on growing, harvesting, and bean preparation. And sitting across from me was another coffee farmer from Onna Village. I thought there had to be some divine coffee intervention going on for all this to be happening!
As my interest and curiosity grew, I asked more questions. We learned that Mr. Miyazato had been working as a civil servant in Okinawa City for 30 years, but the stress from his job caused him to become seriously ill several years ago. He knew he had to change his lifestyle, so he started spending more time with his hobby of growing coffee and then opened his cafe. He also began making his own kouso (a fermented drink). He told us it was his decision to spend more time in the nature of Yanbaru, combined with drinking coffee and kouso everyday, that saved his life. Mr. Miyazato had cured himself.
After all the interesting stories and information, it felt as if we had already consumed a full course menu. This alone was enough to make me feel completely satisfied about our decision to come to Cafe de Miya, so I was not even thinking about our coffee by the time two Okinawa pottery cups arrived at our table.
I have had Okinawa-grown coffee before at other places, but the taste was often a bit less than desirable with the coffee tending to be on the weak side, so I drank my first sip without any high expectations. To my surprise, though, Mr. Miyazato’s organically grown Okinawa coffee was aromatic, dark, and robust. This coffee was excellent! I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending, and I couldn’t help but think that many other customers over the years must have felt as if coming to Cafe de Miya and meeting Mr. Miyazato was part destiny because that was exactly how I was feeling.
Besides finding a delicious cup of coffee with a wonderful view, Mr. Miyazato gave me the inspiration and energy to persevere, not only for growing my own coffee, but for living life to the fullest.
Before I took my last sip, Komaki and I were already talking about coming back, but we definitely wouldn’t be returning to “just kill some time.” Our next visit would be for the simple purpose of drinking some amazing coffee and having some more amazing conversations with an equally amazing man. Thank you Mr. Miyazato!