Interesting Facts About Japanese Coffee Culture

What can be the perfect synonym for Japan?

If I say proficiency, discipline, and grace, Then it will not be exaggerated at all, and its coffee culture is an extension of that.

When it comes to world-famous coffee destinations, Japan might not be the first place you would think of, but you shouldn’t miss out on our country’s vibrant, innovative, and thriving coffee culture.

Hence, if you are born with a desire to brew the perfect cup of coffee, come to Japan and see for yourself how it differs from the coffee culture in your country.

I think you already have guessed that today, I will talk about the facts about Japanese coffee culture.

So, welcome to the world of coffee in Japan.

Coffee in Japan: A Brief History

Coffee was first introduced to Japan by the Dutch, who were Japan’s only Western trading partner during its isolationist period (Sakoku), which lasted from 1638 to 1858.

First, the locals rejected the “burnt” tasting coffee, but the Dutch traders on the island of Dejima, near Nagasaki, were the only ones who really consumed it.

After the isolation period gave way to the Meiji restoration period in 1868, coffee started to be imported into the country, and then it slowly won the hearts of the Japanese.

black coffee with coffee beans

The first Japanese coffee shop was opened in 1888 by Eikei Tei in Tokyo’s Ueno district. Tei was inspired by the cultural dynamism of cafes he frequented in France while studying abroad, and he tried to imitate their style in his homeland.

Though the shop lasted only a few years, it inspired several other cafes around Tokyo, mainly in the sophisticated and culturally relevant Ginza district.

random coffee shop in Japan

At the turn of the century, the popularity of coffee was on the rise, but after the Second World War, when Japan banned coffee imports, the trend declined.

It wasn’t until the early 1960s that coffee started free-flowing into the country once again. Due to the import of affordable and easy-to-brew instant coffee in the ’60s, coffee began seeping into households around the country. And the economic prosperity of the ’60s and ’70s powered an increasing demand for this beverage.

people enjoying drinking coffee together

And nowadays, people of all ages in Japan consume coffee, making it one of the most popular drinks in the country.

Let me give you a little information on its popularity.

7.5 million 60kg bags were needed in 2019 to fulfill the demand for coffee consumption of the Japanese, making them one of the largest coffee consumers in the world.

coffee beans

So, you might have guessed from this stat how popular coffee is in Japan.

All About Japanese Coffee Culture

Tourists or travelers definitely won’t want to miss out on what Japanese coffee has to offer.

a cup of coffee in a Japanese cafe

While the bog-standard coffee you may have from your local 7-Eleven is extremely bitter, Japan can take you on a unique coffee journey like no other if you know where to look.

You can enjoy complete control over your coffee, from the bean selection to the procedure and the atmosphere.

Japanese woman in yukata relaxing in a pleasant cafe atmosphere

With their diverse and ever-changing drink menu items such as sakura-flavored lattes, nitro-coffees, and many more, you will have every excuse to increase your caffeine intake.

sakura flavored latte

Apart from this, there are more exciting things to know about Japanese coffee culture. Are you curious enough? Okay, keep on reading to find out more.

Japanese Coffee Beans

Every good cup of coffee starts with a good bean. You can pick your own choice of bean for your coffee in most Japanese cafes, depending on what kind of flavors sound appealing to you.

This bean selection can be vast in the best type of cafes. They offer a broad range of specialty coffees and blends ethically sourced from different countries and regions.

different flavored coffee and roasted beans

Not only that, but they are always innovative and versatile and sometimes even offer seasonal blends to keep pace with the Japanese love of changing seasons.

pink beetroot latte or red velvet latte

Whether you want fruitiness in your coffee or looking for notes of orange and chocolate, you can enjoy it according to your preferences by trying something new every time. And this is the beauty of Japanese coffee culture.

chocolate coffee

So, to personalize your coffee or tailor it to what you really love, exploring Japanese coffee is a must.

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While looking at this coffee culture, you will always find the Japanese very creative and advanced.

And this results in a few coffee fusion recipes, niche coffee drinks, and traditional brewing methods like drip coffee or pour-overs.

When talking about the Japanese coffee culture, if I don’t talk about the coffee shops in Japan, it will be totally incomplete. Right?

Japanese Coffee Shops

We Japanese always try to take a moment to enjoy our coffee with a light snack, regardless of the time of the day.

coffee with light healthy snacks

With numerous coffee shops in our country, you will surely get an abundance of flavors and options.

different trendy coffee drinks

You will typically find three types of coffee shops in Japan — traditional ‘Kissaten,’ large and popular coffee chains, and specialty or personalized coffee shops.

Kissaten

Kissaten are traditional Japanese coffee shops that have been historically preserved for decades. They have a near-obsessive focus on quality without compromising it in any way and an owner who has dedicated his/her life to the craft.

Each place has its own style of coffee brewing and a devoted following of regulars who like it.

For example, I can mention Cafe de L’Ambre, one of Tokyo’s earliest and most famous coffee shops. Its owner lived to 103 and was obsessed with coffee until his death. He used to roast beans slowly by hand and serve coffee using a nel drip.

The traditional nel drip is not like the modern pour-over. A cloth filter looking like a fishing net is filled with coarsely-grained coffee, and water is slowly dripped over it for 5 to 7 minutes, sometimes as much as 10!

The retro atmosphere of kissaten will provide you with a sense of nostalgia once you enter the room.

a gardenside kissaten in Kyoto, Japan

You have to spend 350 to 800 Japanese yen to get a cup of coffee. Yes, the cost is quite high, but it continues to be loved by a lot of older individuals and business people.

Coffee Shop Chains

You probably know international coffee chains like Starbucks Coffee and Tully’s Coffee. However, Japanese coffee chains such as Doutor Coffee, Komeda’s Coffee, and Renoir are also very trendy.

You will get cappuccinos, café lattes, hot coffee, iced coffee, and a variety of other items such as tea, juice, sandwiches, and snacks in these coffee chains. A cup of coffee will cost 250 yen to 500 yen.

iced coffee

These shops are very cozy and clean, which lets their customers relax, and some people even bring their laptops to work while enjoying coffee.

working on lpatop while enjoying coffee at a coffee shop

These coffee shops will be a good option if you want a quick break while on vacation.

Specialty Coffee Shops

The increasing popularity of local, small, and independent coffee businesses is a recent trend in Tokyo.

These places have different aesthetics and usually range from tiny shops with a few chairs to mid-sized establishments with eye-catching wallpapers.

coffee shop in Japan

Some cafes have adapted modern designs with vintage furniture, and others have unconventional seats such as hammocks. Each of these specialized cafés has its own unique appeal.

These specialized coffee shops focus on brewing quality coffee for their customers and roasting their own beans. They even have started their own blends due to their love and passion for coffee making. You will get anything in these shops, from hand-drip to colorful lattes to seasonal flavors and espresso-based drinks.

pumpkin flavored latte

So, to see how all of our coffee blends and choices differ from the coffee in your own country, you should definitely try some of these varieties while traveling to Japan.

By the way, if you look for modern cafes in the country avoiding the old kissaten, you may bump into drip coffee choices.

Japanese Drip Coffees

Drip coffee is known to be fancier than instant coffee, and it is easy to prepare. This includes dripping water with ease over the ground coffee beans to release the aroma from your chosen coffee bean.

and drip coffee

However, there is a science and art to making this delightful drip coffee. Hence, you need to master the skill to get consistent, flavorful coffee.

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If you desire to add a new dimension to relish the beverage, then you definitely need to try out this Japanese drip coffee.

another hand drip coffee

I would highly recommend it in case you have never tried this type of coffee before.

The complexity of flavors showcases in their full glory in a drip coffee, while coffees in the expresso machine lose some of this due to the high-pressure environment.

hot expresso coffee brewing machine

I can assure you that its flavor and delicacy will get you hooked. So, don’t delay putting this on your itinerary on your next trip to Japan.

By this time, you have known about pour-over coffee, drip coffee, etc., but have you ever thought about how these types of coffees are brewed?

Well, if I want to talk about that, I need to reveal another surprising side of Japanese coffee culture, which is the brewing equipment.

All The Best Coffee Equipment Is Mostly From Japan

Coffee in Japan is something incredible, and coffee shops, coffee beans- you will get everything readily available here.

What is even more surprising is that even the best coffee brewing equipment is from Japan. So, you are getting the best equipment to brew it yourself.

coffee brewing equipment

While expresso culture is most famous in Italy, Japan is the heart of the hand drip coffee tradition.

As conventional coffee shops have been brewing this way for decades, much of the best equipment is made in our country.

For example, I can mention two names: the Hario V60 and the Kalita Wave. These two are great brewers for hand drip coffee, and both are made by Japanese companies.

Hario V60 coffee brewing and serving

These two are some of the biggest brands, but you will also find some premium smaller ones right alongside them.

Even the pouring kettles that you may see in any café offering pour-over service are often Japanese.

You might have heard about the best coffee kettles in the world, Takahiro. It is also a Japanese product.

kettles for brewing pour-over coffee

Anyway, isn’t it amazing to get coffee readily available in cans just like cola or juice?

Yes, in Japan, you are getting it too.

Japanese Canned Coffee

As the name suggests, canned coffee is coffee in a can, just like canned colas or juices as I said earlier.

canned coffee within two coffee cups

This canned coffee is a Japanese invention done by Tadao Ueshima, also known as the ‘father of coffee’. He created and sold the first coffee can in 1969.

While this type of coffee has gained popularity as a quick and convenient caffeine boost all over the world, Japan successfully brings it to another level.

Anyway, you can find them in places like supermarkets and vending machines. It comes at an affordable price- one usually costs around 120 yen.

man choosing from a Japanese vending machine

Canned coffee has a wide variety of flavors and strengths, including black coffee and café-au-lait with milk and sugar.

When you are at work or commuting and feel like drinking coffee but are so busy to stop by a coffee shop, trying a canned coffee is the perfect option.

close-up cold canned coffee drink

Now we will know about the quality of the service that you will get when stopping by a Japanese café.

More Than Perfect Japanese Coffee Shop Service

The service industry in Japan is well-renowned for being one of the best in the world, and it is not different when it comes to serving coffee.

Waiters are usually in perfectly pressed uniforms or sometimes casually dressed. They are very kind, attentive, and friendly and offer enough time to serve customers.

waiter serving coffee on a tray

Not only will you get served with great attention and grace, but also the presentation of your coffee will undoubtedly be instagrammable.

The coffee is served beautifully. Many cafes use beautiful ornate cups, and you will receive your coffee on a lovely tray with all the necessary fixings and accessories. The process is immensely contemplative and intentional. Enjoying it will be the same.

coffee tray with necessary condiments

They are always willing to guide you without any judgment or expectation that you are already a coffee connoisseur.

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You won’t feel ashamed to ask questions about the coffee due to your lack of knowledge, or there won’t be anything like you are hassling the staff as they all are well informed and, most importantly, very eager to help. This is how coffee culture should be everywhere.

When you know this much about coffee culture in Japan, I should also inform you how to order coffee in a Japanese café. It is the most important matter that you need to know beforehand.

How to Order Coffee in A Japanese Café?

Coffee usually refers to drip or filter coffee in our country. However, espresso-based drinks are also available sometimes.

You will find a lot of options on Japanese coffee shop drink menus that are typically separated into hot and cold drinks like the one below.

waiter taking order at cafe

As most of the waiters in our cafes can’t communicate in English, it would be convenient if you learn some Japanese words for those terms.

(Hotto Dorinku) – Hot Drinks

  • Koohii – Drip/filter coffee
  • Amerikaano – Americano
  • Amerikan – “American” coffee refers to weaker coffee 
  • Kafe rate – Cafe Latte
  • Kafe ore – Cafe Au Lait
  • Kapuchiino – Cappuccino
  • Kafe moka – Cafe mocha
  • Tii – Tee
  • Kokoa – Cocoa
  • Maccha rate – Matcha Latte

(Aisu dorinku) – Iced drinks

  • Aisu koohii – Iced Cofee
  • Aisu kafe rate – Iced Latte
  • Aisu kafe moka – Iced Mocha
  • Aisu tii – Iced tea
  • Aisu kafe ore – Iced Cafe Au Lait
  • Tapioka – Tapioca (some places have bubble tea these days)
  • Sooda – Soda
  • Juusu – Juice

Choose any of the options and place your order.

Here I am also including some japanese sentences to help you start the conversation with the waiter. You can learn them and apply later when ordering based on the situation.

“Hello. I’d like a small latte, please.”

(konnichiha , sumōru no rate o onegai shimasu)

“Could I have a medium coffee for take away?”

(midiamu no kōhī o moraemasu ka?)

“I’d like a latte.”

(rate o hitotsu kudasai)

“Can I get a large mocha to have here?”

(rāji no moka o tennai de)

“Can I get a decaf latte?”

(kafein nuki no rate ( kaferate ) o moraemasu ka?)

“I’ll have a medium coffee please.”

(midiamusaizu no kōhī wo onegai shimasu)

“ I’d like a large green tea, please.”

(rāji no ryokucha o onegai shimasu)

“I’d like an espresso please.“

(esupuresso o itadakimasu}

“Yes please. / No thank you.”

(hai , onegai shimasu / īe kekkōdesu)

And don’t worry if you have any specific way of enjoying your drink. Use The phrases mentioned below to customize your coffee. Most often, they will offer milk and sugar to add yourself. Otherwise, there will be condiments available to you.

  • Koori – Ice
  • Miruku/gyuunyuu – Milk
  • Tounyuu – Soy milk
  • Gamu shiroppu – Gum syrup (for cold drinks)
  • Satou – Sugar
  • Burakku coohii – Black coffee
  • Kafeinresu/dekafe – Caffeine free
  • Esupuresso shotto – Espresso shot
  • Hoippu kuriimu – Whipped cream

You should say what you want to add, followed by the amount. And to personalize the amount, use the following phrase with the ingredient’s name.

For example, if you want less ice, it will be (koori sukuname).

  • Oome – More
  • Sukuname – Less
  • Nashi – None

You will get three different sizes of drinks in Japan- small, medium, and large.

  • Esu saizu – Small size
  • Emu saizu – Medium size
  • Eru saizu – Large size

Use any of the above three as per your demand. I hope now you won’t face any difficulties in ordering your desired coffee in any coffee shop in Japan.

We are at the end of our discussion. I have nothing more to let you know regarding this topic. So, let’s wrap it up here.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the facts about the Japanese coffee culture have made you interested in tasting our coffee.

If you love coffee and traveling in parallel, then you definitely need to discover, experience and relish the countless offerings of Japanese coffee.

Who knows, it might be the starting of a whole new love for Japanese culture.