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  • Tomas Lee

Grass Mountain Coffee Roaster


Yang Ming Shan, also known as the "Grass Mountain", and once upon where was the US Military Camp.

Fresh air. Green grassland. Arcadia. These are the simple words I would use to describing this wonderful place. The highest point you can oversee the entire great Taipei region above the layer of smog. Or, on some rare days, you may see the blue sky and white clouds thru. The accessible transportation is either riding scooters, self-driving or taking buses. It usually takes at least an hour to reach the mountain peak driving from the Shilin or TianMu. In the mid-level where many American restaurants and cafes are, there are also three famous schools located - Chinese Culture University, Taipei Hwa Kang Arts School, and Taipei European School. Over the same section, on the Yangde Boulevard, the main access to the National Park, and literally across the Taipei City Police Department, we have the low-profile Grass Mountain Coffee Roaster, quietly serving hikers, students and residents. Maybe, some speculators - I am referring to those there for visiting the newly opened white-cottage Starbucks. Will briefly talk abt that and use that for comparison at the end.

Grass Mountain Coffee Roaster has been conducting business at the spot about 2 years now, but not that many people's awareness of this mountain roaster brand. Knowing them was totally an accident thru reading an old edition of a local Coffee Magazine distributed in a conference I previously attended, in which hosted by another south-side coffee roaster named Mango Coffee. And there was a small coverage abt how the passionate young founder started her own roaster business in the rural YangMingShan. That has triggered my curiosity to go for a peek, even though the location seems far reach to me. Therefore, I planned the trip and google mapped the commute route thru MRT and bus riding up to the mountain for the very first time in May this year. I was pretty excited abt my first Taiwan bus ride, and furthermore, visiting the famous Yang Ming Shan. Upon reaching the Taipei Police Department bus stop, I got off the bus and walked abt 100 ft further uphill reaching over their storefront. Without a sophisticated neon sign like other known roasters, you'll still see a squared green logo sign at the ceiling corner and a wooden signboard standing outside. Located by the main street, there isn't any spectacular sight view inside the roaster (as in photos) but contrarily provide you with intimacy and connection with people. I still clearly remember I was like a tourist kept taking photos of every corner in the store, including their menu and coffee bean retail bags, before sitting down on the bar to order a cup of Pour Over and Tiramisu - my favorite dessert for tasting. At first, I wasn't anticipating anything bc there wasn't any other customer inside. However, their own plating style by setting a tiny animal figure on the side of the drinks has captured my attention. This signature presentation of theirs is a perfect set up for social media fanatics like me. Since I am conducting a survey to understand the local market and searching for cofounders and future business partners, I began engaging a more in-depth conversation to ask for more details abt their operation. Surprisedly, the founder herself and her senior business partner generously and openly shared their challenges in operation and business development, and importantly, their personal perspectives abt Taiwan Coffee Market. Their operation is similar to millions of entrepreneurs out there, working in a lean and mean model. The founder herself is mainly focusing on beans roasting in the daily base, but also responsible for being as the cashier, barista, accountant, buyer, merchandiser, and even the role of janitor. So does her senior staff. From my first impression and observation, their store required to be more organized, and also, capturing traffic from near-by schools and drive-thru. In addition, well presenting their pastries to increase average spending per customer is needed. As well, strengthening brand awareness thru social media and customer loyalty. Their usual marketing channels to communicate outside were limited on Facebook and Instagram, and maybe, some minimal print media coverage like the one I read. But again, they are located right on the main to the peak of Yang Ming Shan and the heart of local Grass Mountain community, and there's no reason their business ain't busy. Besides those weak spots, their customer experience is too needed an upgrade, from providing customers directions and commute methods to parking locations. Moreover, references for other recreation activities over the Grass Mountain bc customers wouldn't drive or transfer a long way for one single reason to drink a cup of good coffee. Value proposition matters. After stayed for hours, I left before the sunset. But, my departure time also ran into the traffic after school time. A combustion of students waited at the only bus station rushing downhill back home. Interestingly, at the Taxi Station, a captain introduced me ride-sharing with other 4 junior students, which cost NT $65, 4X more comparing to NT $15 bus fare. Without other good option, I did hop on for the ride destination - Shilin MRT station.

Since then, I've been following them on social media to study and review their progress. Thru the 6 months before my 2nd visit, they made significant progression in all directions, included the founder herself has toured various roasters in a different part of the country to expand their commercial business thru partnering. Also, given a lecture at schools. Inside the store, they've also done many things to improve their customer experience, such as new coffee bean packaging, newly designed menu, reorganized their store for neatness and creating online campaigns to gain customer loyalty. Still, they didn't resolve the biggest pain point in their retail business - Parking. They once mentioned they'd discussed with the Police Station across the street for a solution to allow temporary parking in front of their store but didn't reach an agreement. To me, they have to elevate their request to the Town Council and City Councilman for help. And as well, creating a more meaningful visit to the Grass Mountain, like a tourist guide, for customers. This time, I'd another in-depth conversation exchanging ideas and sharing my suggestions to their senior member and new staff. Wishfully, they could make a leap to the success.

Other than visiting the Grass Mountain Coffee Roaster, I was there speculating the media widely broadcasted Starbuck Grass Mountain Store, located just about 1miles away but being much closest in distance to the Chinese Culture University. It's just grand opened for a month so, and there're many speculators for hype. Personally, nothing's spectacular. The only difference is their unique design store mug, nitro cold brew and selling coffee beers. Conversely, the Starbuck Store is full of customers bc of the packing lot literally located next door. Plus, the store was renovated from a historical building of US Military Camp. A good marketing story to average customers. Along with the strong branding of Starbuck, it did gain some traction from the housewives there for tea time even on the weekdays. Got to mention once more that Uni-President does manage the Starbuck brand more thoroughly than the Seattle-Headquarter, in term of service quality and product assortment like the delightful pastries I always enjoy.

I gonna end this blog here to let you visit both retail for comparison by yourself. Last but not least, the density of coffee shops and roasters in just Taipei is tedious. And it'll be the growth dilemma of the coffee industry locally.

First Visit on May 1, 2018

Latest Update on Oct 22, 2018

Starbucks Grass Mountain Store

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