Coffee is king in Japan – Experience One Of The World’s Most Fascinating Coffee Cultures

Coffee is king in Japan – Experience One Of The World’s Most Fascinating Coffee Cultures

At its best, Japanese coffee exhibits the extraordinary care taken at each stage of the process

From the deeper meaning behind ordering a double double to how we first got hooked on a java, Coffee Week features a fresh blend of everything you ever wanted to know about our nation’s favourite drink.

Coffee is king in Japan - Experience One Of The World's Most Fascinating Coffee CulturesFrom Tokyo’s classic Café de l’Ambre, where centenarian master Sekiguchi Ichiro still roasts the beans, to sleek specialty coffee shops and retro-cool kissaten (traditional coffee houses), Japan is home to one of the world’s most exciting coffee cultures.

This may come as a surprise to the uninitiated, who assume green tea is the chief caffeinated beverage, but Japan is among the world’s largest importers of coffee. Experts at manual brewing techniques such as siphon and pour over (a.k.a. hand drip), Japanese coffee-making have had a far-reaching effect on the modern movement.

Coffee equipment companies such as Hario and Kalita are the go-to for specialty-coffee enthusiasts around the world. And coffee pioneers including James Freeman, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based Blue Bottle Coffee Company, credit Japan as a major source of inspiration.

Japan is among the world’s largest importers of coffee.

Japan is among the world’s largest importers of coffeeAt its best, Japanese coffee exhibits the extraordinary care taken at each stage of the process: from bean selection to the level of roast and grind, and finally the technique and skill of the maker.

Although Japan’s taste for coffee is more recent than Europe’s, cafés were important spaces in Japanese society well before the “Seattle-driven coffee boom,” says Merry White, professor of anthropology at Boston University. In Japan, coffee shops have been flourishing since the late nineteenth century.

White has been sipping coffee and observing daily life in Japanese cafés for more than 40 years. She travels to Japan often, conducting research on various aspects of modern society and culture.

Although she doesn’t remember how the brew tasted, one of White’s earliest Tokyo café experiences during her first trip in the 1960s set the tone for her career in Japanese coffee studies.

“We were asked to take off all our clothes and were painted with blue paint. And I remember thinking at the time, ‘Oh wow! This is the most avant-garde place in the world,’” she recalls.

In Coffee Life in Japan, Merry White traces the country’s rich and vibrant cafe culture. University of California Press

Coffee is king in Japan “Only to find out later – which still made it avant-garde – that it was an homage to Yves Klein, the French painter. But it did not distract me from thinking that Japan was the totally cutting-edge place in the world. And it all happened because of coffee.”

As White illustrates in her book, Coffee Life in Japan (University of California Press), coffee has been considered an ordinary, everyday Japanese beverage since the early 1900s. Unlike other imports – such as the dining room table or men’s dress suit – that retained their Western “scent,” she says that coffee became naturalized quickly.

It evolved from being used as a medicine in its early days (the late 1500s) to “a drink for pleasure” roughly 70 years later when the Dutch, Japan’s sole trading partner during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), started giving it as presents to prostitutes in Nagasaki, White explains.

“Japan’s first coffee shop of record” was founded in 1888: Kachiichakan in Tokyo. By the end of the nineteenth century, Brazil – today’s largest coffee producer – had chosen Japan “as their first targeted, overseas market.”

In 1907, the first coffee chain in the world was established in Tokyo and Osaka: the Paulista group. It was a huge success, White says. Adding that today’s coffee connoisseurs – in Japan as anywhere else – much prefer independent coffee shops to chains, whether local or imported.

Pour over is the reigning style of coffee-making in Japan.

Pour over is the reigning style of coffee-making in Japan“Specialist coffee in Japan was way ahead of the arrival of Starbucks. The coffee house was the number one social space, even more than the bar or the beer hall,” she adds.

“In the 1970s, there were three or four coffee houses per city block in any major Japanese city. There are maybe two now. But still, this is the place you go. It’s almost like breathing… It’s not necessary to be that conscious. Just do it.”

You could spend nearly $20 on an exceptional coffee in Tokyo but options run the gamut across the country.

Cold or hot canned coffee is available any time, anywhere via omnipresent vending machines. While convenience stores and homegrown chains such as Doutor Coffee offer inexpensive (and lower-quality) brews.

Until fairly recently, siphon was the most popular method of making coffee in Japan, White says. A French and German invention, it was introduced by the Dutch when they were in residence in the bay of Nagasaki from 1641 until 1853.

At specialty coffeeshops, espresso is becoming increasingly common. But at kissaten (pronounced key-sa-ten), you’re likely to find pour over coffee, each cup individually hand-dripped. Pour over is the reigning style of coffee-making in Japan, White says.

Specialist coffee in Japan was way ahead of the arrival of Starbucks. Merry White

“The spiralling in and spiralling out of the drip. The pinching of the water kettle spout so it exudes just the tiniest stream of water. At a good shop it’s like a ballet. It’s just beautiful to watch,” she adds.

Kissaten offer a unique coffee experience, says Michie Yamamoto, owner of Tandem Coffee in Toronto. Originally from Shizuoka (a city between Tokyo and Nagoya), Yamamoto visits family in Japan regularly. And when she does, it’s the kissaten she favours over contemporary cafés.

You can usually identify a kissaten by its retro stylings – the décor and furnishings commonly date back to the 1950s or 60s, she says. They have a comfortable, nostalgic vibe and a slower pace than modern coffee shops. Sometimes, the owner-master will be wearing a tuxedo complete with a bow tie.

“The atmosphere is so amazing. They have many regulars from a long time ago. That’s part of their morning (ritual). Every morning they go and chat and have a coffee and maybe smoke some cigarettes,” Yamamoto says.

“Most of them make (hand) drip coffee. That’s their traditional style, especially the older shops. Last time when we went to Asakusa in Tokyo, we went to quite a few kissaten but none of them had espresso machines.”

Coffee masters in Japan historically resisted the espresso machine, White explains.

Coffee produced with a machine wasn’t considered a handmade product; the device interfered between the coffee and its maker.

Hand drip is the main offering of a kissaten, but many also serve morning set: an inexpensive light breakfast that comes with your first cup of coffee. Both Yamamoto and White recommend visiting Nagoya to experience its tasty take on the breakfast.

“There are extraordinary kinds of Nagoya morning set tourism,” White says. “So do something a little off the track and find out how people have made coffee not just Japanese but really regional and local… in Japan.”

High technology is a wonderful thing, Yamamoto says. But the time-honoured tradition on display in kissaten offers visitors a fascinating coffee experience that is vastly different from any available in Canada.

Within one of the most refined and trend-setting coffee cultures in the world, kissaten are spaces where attention to customer experience and craft are paramount.


Best Products Picked

Peet's Coffee, Peetnik Pack, Major Dickason's Blend, Dark Roast, Ground Coffee, 20 oz. Bag, Rich, Smooth, and Complex Dark Roast Coffee Blend With A Full Bodied and Layered Flavor

9 new from $20.20
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • GREAT COFFEE TELLS A STORY: Whether you're brewing a pot of our popular Major Dickason's Blend, a classic French Roast, or trying a single-origin coffee like Brazil Minas Naturais or Sumatra, there's a story behind each batch of beans we roast & grind.
  • OBSESSED WITH FRESH: From the beginning, Peet's Coffee has roasted the best coffee beans we can find with quality in mind. We also care for the communities that grow & harvest those beans, because coffee is better when it is grown & sourced responsibility.
  • BREW LIKE THE BEST: Brewing the best cup of coffee starts with finding your favorite roast or blend. Whole beans or ground coffee, dark, medium or light, single origin or a blend? Try a variety & find the best brew for the morning mug or afternoon pickup.
  • LIGHT, MEDIUM & DARK ROAST: Brew a pot of Peet's ground or whole bean coffee in a blend & roast perfect for your tastes. Light roast coffees are mild & smooth, medium roast coffees are smooth & aromatic, while dark roast coffees are smoky & full bodied.
  • COMPARE WITH: Eight O'clock, Vitascope, illy, Folgers, Organic Coffee Co., Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Koffee Kult, Copper Moon, Community Coffee, Kauai Coffee, Kicking Horse Coffee, Ethical Bean Coffee, Don Tomas Coffee, Caza Trail Coffee, Hygge Coffee Co.

UCC Original Coffee with Milk, 11.3-Ounce Cans (Pack of 24)

6 new from $48.50
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Sweetened milk coffee in a can
  • The original taste of milk coffee from Japan
  • Drink it hot or cold
  • Made in Japan

Hario "Technica" Syphon Coffee Maker

33 new from $61.08
2 used from $ 50.39
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Made of the best heat resistant borosilicate glass from Hario
  • 5 cup capacity
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to Clean
  • Imported from Japan

Zojirushi EC-DAC50 Zutto 5-Cup Drip Coffeemaker

8 new from $68.64
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • 650-watt drip coffeemaker brews up to 5 cups of coffee
  • Filter cone sits inside decanter making it more compact and easier to use
  • Concealed, removable water reservoir; automatic keep-warm function
  • Replaceable water filter; measuring spoon and user manual included
  • Measures 6 by 8-7/8 by 10-5/8 inches; 1-year limited warranty

Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee, Vanilla Fig & Cream, 11 oz Glass Bottles, 6 Count

1 new from $25.00
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Starbucks Cold Brew coffee
  • Brewed and steeped cold from a custom blend of beans for a smoother flavor
  • Vanilla and Fig with Cream flavor
  • Perfect for enjoying at home, work, or on the go
  • Includes six 11 oz glass bottles

Zojirushi SM-KHE48NL Stainless Steel Mug, 16-Ounce, Champagne Gold

14 new from $24.00
2 used from $ 20.20
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Made of BPA-free plastic and stainless steel, vacuum insulation keeps beverages hot or cold for hours
  • Durable and sanitary 18/8 stainless steel interior
  • Slickstee finish
  • Wide mouth accommodates full size ice cubes
  • Compact design takes up minimal space while maximizing capacity

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend, Medium Espresso Roast, 2.2-Pound Bag

41 new from $21.02
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • One 2.2 lb. bag of Lavazza Super Crema Italian whole coffee beans
  • Mild and creamy medium espresso roast with notes of honey, almonds, and dried fruit
  • Blended and roasted in Italy
  • Suitable for espresso (fine grinding) and drip coffee (coarse grinding) preparations
  • Italy's Favorite Coffee Lavazza Super Crema Espresso - Whole Bean Coffee

Starbucks Breakfast Blend Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 20-Ounce Bag

13 new from $11.18
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Breakfast Blend is a lively and lighter roast with a crisp finish
  • Medium-roasted coffees are balanced with smooth and rich flavors
  • Enjoy the Starbucks coffee you love without leaving the house
  • For finest taste, use cold, filtered water and store ground coffee in a cool, dark place
  • Each pack includes a 20-ounce bag of ground Starbucks coffee

Folgers Classic Roast Ground Coffee, Medium Roast, 30.5 Ounce

44 new from $6.89
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • 30.5 oz can
  • Medium-roast finely ground coffee made with Mountain Grown beans, the world's richest and most aromatic
  • 100% pure coffee. Roasted in New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Interlocking AromaSeal canister seals tight to lock in freshness

Kicking Horse Coffee, Kick Ass, Dark Roast, Whole Bean, 2.2 Pound

5 new from $29.88
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Dark roast
  • Indonesia & South America
  • Sweet, Smoky, Audacious. Tasting notes-Chocolate malt, molasses, licorice and an earthy lingering finish
  • Fairtrade, Organic, Kosher
  • Roasted in Canada

Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine

29 new from $549.00
6 used from $ 431.97
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • 15 Bar Italian Pump and 1600W Thermo coil heating system
  • Purge Function: Automatically adjusts water temperature after steam for optimal espresso extraction temperature
  • Stainless steel conical burr grinder with 1/2 lb. sealed bean hopper; Voltage: 110 - 120 Volts
  • 67 fl.oz (2L) removable water tank with handle
  • Newer model of the Breville BES860XL Barista Express

De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

15 new from $91.99
5 used from $ 65.00
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Use convenient pods or ground coffee with the patented dual function filter holder. It makes espresso preparation simple and fast
  • Easily prepares latte and cappuccino with the swivel jet frother, for perfect drinks every time
  • Eliminate annoying start-up preparation with the self-priming operation
  • Always brew espresso at the perfect temperature with two separate thermostats, which allow for water and steam pressure to be controlled separately
  • Enjoy delicious espresso for years to come with the durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler and 15 bar pump pressure. NOTE: Refer user manual before use

BELLA BLA13683 Personal Espresso Maker with Built-in Steam Wand and 5 Bar Pressure, black

4 new from $31.99
1 used from $ 30.00
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Constant 5 bars of pressure and easy user operation delivers a truly bold and piping serving of espresso in just seconds. Brews 1-4 cups of espresso.
  • Built-in steam wand gives you the option to froth and steam milk so you can prepare your very own cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos from your own home (frothing cup not included).
  • Easy-pour glass decante is clearly marked to take the guess work out of how much water to use. Espresso scoop included to serve the perfect amount every time.
  • Permanent filter basket is equipped with a saftey clip for easy operation. Simply detach when done brewing for easy clean up.
  • Removeable drip tray and wand cover make clean up a breeze.

Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker, Silver

19 new from $185.57
15 used from $ 101.63
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Semi-automatic 3-in-1 espresso maker, cappuccino maker, and latte maker
  • 15-bar pump system brews rich-tasting espresso coffee
  • Trouble-free automatic milk frother removes the guesswork
  • One-touch control panel for drink selections
  • Easy-fill, removable water and milk reservoirs

Delonghi EC680M DEDICA 15-Bar Pump Espresso Machine, Stainless Steel

19 new
13 used from $ 147.68
Free shipping
Buy Now
as of April 17, 2018 7:45 am


  • Sleek Design provides outstanding espresso while only taking up 6 Inch of space. Input power (W): 1300.
  • Thermo block technology allows the machine to heat up to the ideal temperature in a quick 40 seconds
  • Cappuccino Frothing system provides Barista quality foam,Rated voltage:220-240V
  • Automatic Flow Stop.External dimensions (l x w x h inches):15.8 x 15.8 x 15.0
  • Stainless Steel Construction. Please refer the videos under the product images before using the product
More 21 posts in Cooking category
Recommended for you
Chocolate Chip Cookies Creator - Ruth Graves Wakefield
Creator of the Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies Creator Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the Toll House brand of chocolate chip…