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Barista Stories: Zhen Xuan He Liu of MASAMUNE, Madrid

When we first visited Xuan’s café – Masamune, after a few minutes of observing his work behind the bar and the way he approached every guest and preparation of each order, only one thing came to mind – Ikigai. The Japanese term defined as “a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living”.

Simply because we could see the happiness on Xuan’s face, the spark in his eyes when the espresso extraction meets his high standards and when he sees the enjoyment on the faces of his guests.

However, Zhen Xuan He Liu’s journey to finally find his zone and element in coffee wasn’t so straightforward and rather full of twists and new beginnings. In the course of his career, Xuan was a salesman in a wholesale food business, had a few e-commerce ventures and even advised on the restructuring of a hotel in Málaga.

Quoting the acclaimed educator Sir Ken Robinson “Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors”. And we are so happy that Xuan finally found his element in coffee and became a happy warrior himself!

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress. Photos by Miguel Chirinos.

Xuan, what is your first memory of coffee? 

Already when I was a child since my parents had a restaurant. Although they served commodity coffee back then. I loved the moment when they began to prepare beverages because of their aroma. And I guess in high school I started to finally drink coffee. 

​​​​​​What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?

Since I was young I helped in my parents’ restaurant and since they always had so much work and so little time for themselves, I decided that I would never enter the world of hospitality.

At the age of 21, I helped my father in the wholesale food business, where my duties were purchasing from suppliers, going out to visit clients as a salesperson, preparing orders and making deliveries with a van. Let’s say that my greatest achievement in that short time was getting the best price for canned Coca-Cola, being able to sell up to more than 30 pallets per day.

At the age of 23, a friend contacted me because he was going to start creating e-commerce with ornament products, accessories and costumes for all types of parties. We worked very hard, more than 12 hours a day every day of the week until we went to market after 6 months of preparation and construction of the website, designing every corner making everything super fast and optimized. 

At the age of 25, I wanted to try to open another e-commerce of sunglasses, but when an agreement was not reached between me and my partner, we finally did not manage to launch it. The base was created and we went to the market, but another factor that destabilized the project was the lack of time to work on it properly.

At the age of 28, I founded another company with other partners in which we distributed all types of products for bazaars through a mobile app that we designed and developed with our IT team. The idea was that all entrepreneurs could have on their mobile devices the necessary data transmitted by the system according to the movement between each purchase and sale.

At the age of 30, I dedicated myself to helping my cousin with real estate advisory work and with the management and restructuring of his hotel in Malaga. A year later, I was going to be in charge of creating a camping site in Granada, however, the pandemic arrived and at the end of February I returned to Murcia, my hometown.

During the pandemic we couldn’t go out, so I had a lot of time to read, learn and think…

I knew I had to take advantage of that time to do something, even if it was planning what to do next. So I decided to do something that I would like to do every day. So it could be a hobby for me in case it didn’t work out. While I was thinking I was having a cup of coffee…

… so I thought, why not do something with coffee?

At the age of 32, I started researching everything about coffee and came across specialty. I got curious and looked for courses, but there were very few and they conveyed very little credibility, perhaps because of the bad design and appearance of their websites… Finally, I found something quite complete that I could start with, and that would later help me continue moving forward, so I learnt.

I have to say that the world of coffee fascinated me, more than anything. I discovered something that I love and therefore I don’t feel the time is passing…

After working for ten months in a specialty café in Murcia, I came to Madrid to start a business while continuing to learn and train. I spent 1 year looking for a place to start this venture, and in the meantime, I made many friends and met many good people. I am very happy because despite it being hard to work in the world of hospitality, behind all of that there is a great community. People united by a product that helps us grow and create so many beautiful moments.

Finally, at the age of 34, I opened my own specialty café – MASAMUNE.

“Long story short” I can say that I have 100% enjoyed the process!

Tell us a bit about MASAMUNE. Did the legendary swordsmith inspire the name?

I was inspired by Gorō Nyūdō Masamune for several reasons. Masamune was an artisan in the medieval age when metals were a very valuable material due to wars happening frequently. I wanted to transcend the level of craftsmanship in this new venture because what we do here we do with love and with the best intentions in mind.

From the business side, I wanted to refer to the strength that Masamune represents: lethal and indestructible, taking into account that one of Masamune’s works was considered a national treasure of Japan.

And from the conceptual side, I was looking for something different and unique. The name Masamune has nothing to do with the world of coffee but it conveys quality and harmony.

In terms of craft, I look for the fusion of craftsmanship with our modern machines.

And last but not least, I personally love Japanese culture and art!

And which elements from Japanese culture have you incorporated in MASAMUNE?

We opened just a few weeks ago but we already have a mural on our largest wall done by our friend and local artist Jonny, where you can see Mount Fuji, the famous Chureito Pagoda, the famous rounded pine trees and the cherry trees in the background. Later I plan to implement more details.

What inspired the design and ambience of your café?

It was really easy, mainly because I had a clear vision for a clean, minimalist and practical design. I don’t like very stuffy and cluttered environments.

Are there specific lessons or insights you’ve gained through the process of establishing and running your own specialty cafe?

Every day I learn more about coffee, the people who make up our community and about our amazing guests. But about learning in the process of creating my café, I must say that they are more for legal and regulatory processes. For example, you learn what you can or cannot do with your establishment. Unfortunately, I must say that in Spain they don’t make it easy for you to start a business.

What is your favourite part of the day in your cafe, and why?

There are 3 moments:

1. The moment when I start the day in the café, there is no one there yet and I can drink my coffee calmly right after calibrating.

2. When the rush comes. It’s quite a challenge, I love this vibe and push myself to the limit.

3. When the guest smiles when the cup arrives or has enjoyed his/her drink.

How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills?

I have the ambition to learn more, want to grow and be better. Mainly because of my strong will. When I really want something, I will look for a way that makes it possible to happen But next to my will, I simply love what I do.

What do you think is the most important quality for a barista to have, and why?

The rule that we all know or should know is consistency. Consistency is key when you want to calibrate the coffees well, look for the profile or balance in a drink or even detect errors in preparation. Especially when you are in the initial stage, if you do not have consistency it will make your learning curve much, much longer.

What are your aspirations for the future of your cafe? Are there specific goals you have in mind?

I have many ideas in mind, but we don’t know exactly where this new path will take us.

However, I enjoy continuing to learn and grow during the process.

Quick Fire Questions for Zhen Xuan He Liu:

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?


Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?


Espresso or Filter coffee?


Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?


Milky or Black?


Slurp or spit?


Conical or flat-bottom brewer?


Favourite latte art pattern?

Winged Tulip.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee? And what type?


Favourite piece of barista equipment? 

My espresso machine.