Unfolding Origami: How The Company Is Overcoming New Challenges While Expanding For Global Demand
In April of 2019, Jia Ning Du won the World Brewers Championship at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. The win was historic for 2 reasons: first, Ning Du was the first Chinese entrant to ever win the championship. And second, while other competitors had historically used a V60 or Kalita Wave during competition, Ning Du used a relatively unknown brewer—the Origami Dripper.
Almost overnight, with Ning Du's win, the coffee brewer went from a limited-production item used almost exclusively in Japan, to a globally in-demand brewing device coveted for its quality and design.
But the sudden clamor for the dripper has also brought growing pains for Origami. To complicate things, a once-in-a-century pandemic has significantly altered the company's manufacturing and shipping supply chains just as it adjusts to its newfound regard.
"After winning the WBrC 2019, we have gotten a lot of inquiries from all over the world," begins Origami's Yosuke Furuhata. The biggest challenge, he explains, has been meeting customer demand with Origami's limited capacity. "We're based on traditional technique," Furuhata says, noting Origami's use of Minoware, "but on the other hand, we need to innovate and switch to mass production."
That switch can be exceedingly difficult, however. Minoware itself is a ceramic-making technique some 400-500 years old, but only a few dozen artisans left in Japan still know the craft. "It's the problem our industry faces," Furuhata explains. "At this moment, we rely on people who already have the skills, but they are getting old." Origami has been struggling to find and train a new generation of artisans, but "young people are not interested in traditional artisanal industries," Furuhata continues. "So, this is not only a problem for Origami, but also for the whole industry."
To help modernize Origami's production, the company has automated some steps of manufacturing, but fully automating the dripper's assembly is tricky given the ceramic's sensitivity. For example, during the casting stage of production, a caster pours specialized hakuji soil into a very thin layer that forms the dripper's bottom opening, which is itself only a few millimeters wide. Deburring (or polishing after casting), is also done by hand as the ceramic is extremely fragile in this stage. Furuhata explains that the company is "looking for new opportunities to continue stable production, but, right now, we cannot find a consistent way to do this."
As Origami was looking to modernize, they suddenly faced a new issue: a global pandemic that further complicated manufacturing and shipping pipelines.
"All over the world, people started brewing and enjoying coffee at home," Furuhata says, which led to a further increase in demand for the company's products. "Our main business, plates and cups for restaurants and hotels, was affected by the pandemic's impact." Production was forced to stop, at one point. The pandemic also impacted the global transportation network, causing shipping fees to spike and making it harder to book a ship or air freight. As Furuhata explains, for orders to North America, it could be 4 to 6 weeks before a ship even becomes available for Origami to book.
Yet, even with delays, the Origami dripper is as popular as ever. "We are seeing Instagram posts from all over the world," says Furuhata. The hashtag #OrigamiDripper itself has over 23,000 posts. A novel distinction for a coffee dripper, but unsurprising given how photogenic it is.
If the Origami Dripper became a global sensation seemingly overnight, it wasn't without the skilled artisans spending hours crafting each brewer by hand and ensuring its quality. And as Origami faces the challenges of adapting to the new international market—delays and all—it's this very commitment to quality and tradition that they refuse to compromise.
Since 2020, Origami has partnered with Slow Pour Supply as its official distributor for the specialty coffee market in the United States. Slow Pour is proud to offer a wide range of Origami's products, including the Dripper and drinkware in various sizes and colors.
Photos illustrating the production of ORIGAMI products, courtesy of ORIGAMI JAPAN
Technician carefully examine a dripper when removing the upper mold
Technician manually checking the ridges of a Medium Dripper
The glazing process of a pink ORIGAMI dripper
Products are fired in the kiln for 12 hours at 2750F
The same detailed care is also applied to all other ORIGAMI products, including the drinkware line. Here is a photo of an Aroma Mug during the glazing process.
To order the ORIGAMI Products, click here
Article by Oren Peleg for Slow Pour Supply