I was sitting in my garden the other day drinking some perfectly brewed green tea when I thought “Does Japan have good coffee too?”
It turns out Japanese coffee isn’t just good quality, it also has an extensive and modern subculture surrounding the humble bean. Most large towns will have a couple of independent cafés, and definitely a vending machine if you’re in a rush. The country is also home to one of the rarest coffees in the world. Let’s find out exactly why Japanese coffee is good, and where you can find it.
How was coffee introduced to Japan?
Coffee made its way to Japan in the 1700’s through dutch traders.
It wasn’t until much later in 1888 that Japans first coffee shop opened called Kahiichakan.
After returning from France, Nishimura Tsurukichi established a coffee house with the intention of building a space and community where creatives could socialise and discuss ideas over a cup of coffee.
Sadly the coffee house only lasted a few years before going out of business, but the relationship between coffee and the Japanese people had only just begun.
Fast forward to 1969 and the first commoditised version of Japanese coffee had been made.
Tadao Ueshima had re-designed and invented the idea of coffee in Japan and had it mass produced. He had created a product that could be widely distributed throughout Japanese society and enjoyed anywhere and anytime someone wanted it.
So even though coffee wasn’t best received during the Meiji period in Japan, it planted a seed that would later grow to a defining part of a Japanese subculture.
Is coffee important in Japanese society?
Think about why you personally drink coffee.
For some of you it may feel like a necessity to grab a cuppa before you continue your day.
For others it may be a way to destress and reflect, a lot like tea.
For a large population in Japan, work can be a stressful and often pressured place to be. And what better way to alleviate some of that stress by grabbing a coffee.
Not only can work in Japan be full on stressful, it’s also likely you’ll be expected to go above and beyond on a regular basis. For English teachers at Japanese primary schools that means dedicating your weekends and evening hours to the students and local community.
So any spare time you do have (probably not much) needs to be made the most of. Grabbing a coffee with some friends for a catch up is a great way to take a breather from the intensity of work and it’s something many people decide to do.
Whether that’s a can of BOSS coffee from a vending machine or an artisan Japanese coffee from an independent cafe, you’ll definitely value your time off!
Can you get good coffee in Japan?
I would hazard a guess that you know Japan is famous for its incredible high quality tea, but don’t know about its coffee.
Am I right?
Well, it turns out that coffee in Japan is in a world of its own.
Not only can you get coffee on practically every street corner, but you’ll also find coffee artisans looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible with this caffeinated beverage.
Where to get coffee in Japan
According to vending market watch, there are approximately 5 million vending machines in Japan. With such a high figure, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of them are going to have coffee!
Inside most drink vending machines which you’re likely to find pretty much all over Japan (definitely train stations or shops), you can expect cold, hot, and canned coffee.
Every time I walk past one of these machines I feel the need to press the bright flashing button and grab something to drink. Hard to resist even after your third cup of coffee!
So yes, Japanese vending machines are perfect for a quick caffeine dose, but nothing to shout about in terms of quality.
Having said that, if you’re yet to try a can of BOSS Coffee then you absolutely need to. It’s a right of passage!
The best thing about coffee in vending machines is you’re never too far away from that next cup. Great news! ^_^
An extremely popular place to get coffee if you’re visiting Japan is Starbucks Shibuya Tsutaya. In fact, it might even be the most popular Starbucks in the world. Or at leat, the most photographed because of it’s position!
Yep, that building on the right hand side (at least the bottom of it anyway) is the Tsutaya Starbucks that overlooks Shibuya crossing.
It’s a great place to watch the world go by and a pretty decent place to grab a cup of coffee too.
But if you’re coming all the way to Japan, you should probably check out some of Japans famous café chains too.
If you’re travelling around Japan and bump into any of these coffee shops (which you definitely will), you’ll know you’re in good hands!
Japanese café chains
- Doutor Coffee Shop
- Ueshima Coffee House
- Moriva Coffee
- Tully’s Coffee
- Excelsior Caffe
Best Independent Japanese coffee shops
If i’m ever travelling around Japan (or any country for that matter) I make it my goal to find the best that country has to offer. And even though famous Japanese coffee chains will give you a decent cup, they aren’t the best of the best.
If you’re looking for something unique or a bit different, you’ll want to search for an independent coffee shop. These places take the humble coffee bean and turn it into something spectacular.
If you can plan these cafés into your trip, you’ll be treated to some of the best coffee you’ve tasted!
Best independent coffee shops in Tokyo:
Onibus has two locations throughout Tokyo, but you’re most likely to visit the shop in Nakameguro due to it’s proximity to the center of the city.
With your americano or latte being served in a Champagne glass, this might just be one of the most luxury places to get coffee in Japan.
20 varieties of beans in 60g bags that start at ¥ 1,200. Spoilt for choice!
CBD Coffee in the heart of Tokyo. A great option if you’re after something a little bit different!
Allpress Espresso Tokyo Roastery & Café
The original hipster coffee haven in Tokyo. Located inside a renovated warehouse, Allpress Espresso Tokyo Roastery and café is a down to earth coffee shop that sells quality cups of coffee
The rarest coffee in Japan
Japan isn’t just home to some of the best coffee in the world, it’s also home to one of the rarest.
Japanese Sumiyaki Coffee
According to the Japanese coffee company, Japanese Sumiyaki Coffee has been somewhat oaf a hidden gem since 1933.
Simply put, Sumiyaki Coffee is charcoal roasted which gives it a distinct and unique flavour profile you’re unlikely to get anywhere else.
Just as matcha tea is an experience that all tea enthusiasts need to try, Japanese Sumiyaki coffee is something every coffee lover should have on their bucket list.
Im not a coffee expert, and so if you’re interested in finding out more or even fancy purchasing some of the rarest coffee in the world, head over to the Japanese Coffee Company where you’ll find all your Japanese coffee needs met!
Is coffee or tea more popular in Japan?
Although famed for its tea, Japan has one of the largest coffee markets in the world.
As of 2019 the country consumed around 7.5 million 60KG bags of coffee, up from just over 1 million back in 1990.
So it coffee or green tea more popular in Japan?
From the information I’ve researched it seems like coffee might take the win. Not something I thought would be the case!.
This chart from Euromonitor suggests both tea and coffee consumption in Japan is at a similar level in 2009.
However if we skip forward 11 years we can see from this survey conducted in 2020 that coffee comes out on top. The study aimed to uncover the most popular non-alcoholic in Japan and with a staggering 76 percent of people consuming coffee.
I think the reason for this goes back to what I was saying at the beginning of the article about social as well as work pressures.
But hey, maybe they just love coffee!
Is Japanese coffee expensive?
That all depends on what kind of coffee you want and where you get it from.
Just like with any country, the more specialised, unique, or luxury you go the more expensive it’s likely to be.
Average price of vending machine coffee: 90 – 130 Yen ($0.80-$1.30)
Average price of chain coffee: From 200 Yen ($1.80)
Average price of independent coffee: 400 – 600+ Yen ($3.68-$5.52
I’m pretty sure you can get much cheaper coffee than ¥90 and far more expensive coffee than ¥600 (Latte art, I’m looking at you!) but these are the prices you can expect during your trip.
Japanese Coffee: The verdict
Whether you only grab a vending machine coffee on your trip, or visit each and every one of independent coffee shops on the list, it’s clear that the coffee subculture runs deep into the heart of Japanese living.
Not planning a trip anytime soon?
Take a look at this article about Japanese snacks that shows you where to get coffee from Japan online as well as something to eat with it!