Translated by Tomoka Aono
Love Coffee? Experience Japan's Unique Coffee Culture!
Affordable but good-quality coffee at convenience stores, the third wave of coffee, Kissaten (Japanese cafés) and even iced coffee... here's how you can try unique coffee in Japan!
Written by Mayu
Japan's Unique Coffee Culture
One of the favorite drinks of the Japanese is coffee. Did you know that coffee consumption in Japan ranks 4th in the world and you can find coffee shops at almost every corner in Japan? Shops with the concept of the so-called “third wave of coffee” such as Blue Bottle Coffee from the US have been arriving in Japan each year. Moreover, premium dripped coffee has become available at most convenience stores.
Japanese coffee culture has developed very uniquely. Canned coffee, which is not very popular outside of Japan, iced coffee and Morning Service, a coffee set that comes with free bread/toast or eggs, are just some of the interesting aspects of theJapanese coffee culture that coffee lovers should try while in Japan.
Unique Types of Coffee in Japan
Canned coffee and iced coffee are not very common outside of Japan but you can find them everywhere here. Furthermore, milk added to coffee is not always fresh milk in Japan.
As the name suggests, canned coffee is coffee in a can just like canned juice or colas. You can find them in places like vending machines and supermarkets.
Canned coffee comes in a wide variety of flavors and strengths, such as black coffee and café-au-lait that has milk and sugar. When you are commuting or at work and feel like drinking coffee but are too busy to stop by a coffee shop, canned coffee is the thing for you. Also, it’s very affordable - one usually costs around 120 yen.
Iced coffee is available outside of Japan, but they tend to be a sweeter drink as many come pre-made with milk and sugar, or sometimes even ice cream.
On the other hand, Japanese iced coffee, or strong coffee with ice cubes, is more for enjoying the taste of coffee itself. It is usually served black, but you are free to add milk and sugar if you wish. It is said that Japanese iced coffee was born because of the weather in Japan. Iced coffee is more popular than hot during the muggy, humid summers. The strong coffee becomes easier to drink with ice cubes, which you can gulp down.
Coffee Fresh and Gomme Syrup
When you order a cup of coffee in Japan, you will be asked if you want milk and sugar. Please be aware that “milk” is sometimes different from what you get when you order coffee in your country.
If you order coffee with milk, you may expect to get coffee with fresh milk. In most of the places in Japan, however, you will get coffee fresh, which is a small potion of artificial cream.
If you add the coffee fresh to coffee, the taste becomes milder. It tastes different from coffee with fresh milk that you may be used to, so it may be a bit of a surprise for you.
When you order iced coffee, you will get a small portion of sugar syrup, which is also unique to Japan and is called gomme syrup.
Regular sugar doesn’t melt well in iced coffee, but the gomme syrup melts quickly. It has a different kind of sweetness from sugar.
Some coffee shops and restaurants serve toast, eggs or salad for free or for discounted prices when you order coffee in the morning. This is called “Morning Service” or just “Morning” in Japan. A lot of business people use this service for their breakfast before they go to work.
Morning Service hours tend to run from shop opening until 11 AM.
The service originated in Nagoya and there are a lot of coffee shops and restaurants that compete with each other to prove just how good their morning service is.
If you are interested in the Morning Service, Komeda's Coffee, a coffee shop from Nagoya, is a good place to try. In this coffee shop, if you order a cup of coffee during morning hours, you will get free toast, a boiled egg and you can also add a small side salad or anko spread to your meal.
You can find Komeda's Coffee not only in Nagoya but also in many other cities in Japan, so you can experience a Nagoya style “morning” everywhere.
The Third Wave of Coffee
It didn’t take too long for the idea of the third wave of coffee to become widespread among the coffee-loving Japanese.
Blue Bottle Coffee, which is a popular coffee shop brand from the US, and other coffee shops have been arriving in Japan regularly.
The idea of roasting and grinding carefully selected coffee beans and dripping each mug one by one is especially attractive to younger coffee lovers.
Coffee at Convenience Stores
Convenience stores have everything − so it goes without saying that you can get coffee there as well.
A cup of coffee usually costs only 100 yen to 300 yen, but you can’t underestimate their quality. Each convenience store is very particular about their own coffee beans and roasting method, and they serve good-quality coffee for affordable prices, which attracts people of all generations.
Not only regular black coffee but also iced coffee and even café latte are also available at convenience stores.
Coffee Shop Chains
You may know Starbucks Coffee and Tully’s Coffee, which are international coffee chains, but Japanese coffee chains such as Doutor Coffee, Renoir, and Komeda's Coffee are also very popular.
A cup of coffee runs from 250 yen to 500 yen. Hot coffee, iced coffee, café lattes and cappuccinos and also a variety of other items such as tea, juice, sandwiches and snacks are available.
The cozy and clean shops let their customers relax and some of them bring their laptops to work while enjoying their coffee. If you want to take a quick break while on vacation, these coffee shops might be a good option.
Coffee shops, or kissaten in Japanese, are popular as well, even though a cup of coffee costs 350 yen to 800 yen, which is relatively expensive.
Some kissaten have been maintained in a historical style, giving them a good, retro atmosphere, which is different from that of contemporary coffee chain shops. Some customers visit these coffee shops not just for the coffee but to enjoy their atmosphere. Delicious sweets such as pancakes and homemade puddings are very popular at these coffee shops.
Iced coffee and Morning Service… you might feel Japanese coffee culture is a bit strange. However, once you've tried it, you may find yourself enamored with Japan's native coffee culture.
Why not try this uniquely Japanese take on coffee when you are in Japan?