Q&A with Shimon Masaki, owner of Upright Tree

Meet Shimon Masaki, owner of Upright Tree Coffee and graduate of the University of Hawai’i College of Languages, Linguistics, & Literature BA ʻ14. Shimon is currently situated in Seattle where he owns and operates a coffee roastery. He shares with us his love for what he does, the importance of internships and experience in the field, and what he gained from attending UH.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what are you doing now?

I'm originally from Tokyo, Japan, but moved to Hawaii when I was five because my family opened a restaurant in Honolulu. Although the restaurant has since closed, it was a big part of my upbringing. I finished high school at Mid-Pacific Institute and got my degree in Japanese Language and Literature from UH Manoa in 2014. After college, I worked in hospitality, including roles at Sheraton Waikiki and Halekulani Hotel. In 2018, I moved to Seattle to explore new opportunities and eventually found my passion in coffee roasting. I've earned several coffee certifications and launched my own online coffee store in 2023.

What motivated you to start your own business?

I launched my own coffee roasting business driven by my love for coffee, inspired by my wife’s dedication to her nail salon business, and influenced by the growing specialty coffee scene. Growing up in Hawaii, my interest in specialty coffee began with visits to Kona coffee farms. Seeing the coffee culture thrive in my home country, Japan, also inspired me. The pandemic allowed me to dive deeper into this passion, leading me to start home-roasting, obtain certifications, and turn my passion into my career.

Why did you choose to attend UH?

I decided to attend the UH due to its excellent reputation and global recognition. The campus's proximity to my high school, just across the road, allowed me to become well-acquainted with the university's culture early on. Additionally, having had the chance to interact with UH students and alumni during my high school years made the decision to enroll there quite straightforward for me.

What do you value most about your time at UH?

What I appreciate most about my experience at the UH is the incredible support from the advisors and counselors. In the initial stages of my tenure at UH, I was uncertain about my academic direction and struggled to choose a major. The advisors at UH were exceptionally accommodating, taking the time to understand my aspirations and guiding me through the selection process based on my existing credits and the requirements I needed to fulfill. Their guidance played a major role in my decision to pursue a degree in Japanese Language and Literature, a journey that also enabled me to build valuable connections.

What advice would you give to an incoming UH student?

Before committing to a major, I recommend conducting thorough research. The sooner you settle on a major, the more opportunities you'll have to explore your interests, acquire knowledge, and build significant connections. Additionally, the UH offers excellent exchange programs for certain majors. I advise taking advantage of these opportunities to expand your perspectives and enhance your educational experience.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni