Iced Coffee: Keeping Japan Cool Since the 18th Century

  • CULTURE
  • Whether hot or cold, Japan still keeps getting more and more drawn to coffee as the years go by. With over 100 types of canned coffee sold in the market and more than five million vending machines nationwide, coffee and Japan remain inseparable.

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    But before Starbucks and other coffee shops started serving Japanese their favorite blends of cold latte, macchiato, cappuccino, mocha, and americano, and newer inventions like vending machines and refrigerators keep your canned coffee chilled, iced coffee was actually already served in the Meiji era during summers.

    Different Ways of Making Iced Coffee

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    Today, there are several ways to make iced coffee. One way is to brew the coffee beans in cold water to get a slightly different flavor without the need to cool the coffee afterward. Another way is to brew the coffee beans in hot water then cool the coffee by setting it aside for awhile or putting some ice cubes into it. Additions such as cold milk or sweeteners are already added to a coffee brewed with hot water before the ice is added as basic food chemistry suggests that higher temperature means higher solubility of sweeteners and other flavorings.

    The First Iced Coffee in Japan

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    The first iced coffee in Japan was made during the Meiji era (1868-1912). After the 1920s iced coffee started to be served in coffee shops during the Taisho period. It was also during this time that cold tea was started to gain popularity. Cold brewed coffee was and is still known as Dutch coffee since it were the Dutch who introduced the coffee traded from Indonesia to Japan. So, how did the Japanese make iced coffee without ice and refrigerators during the hot summers? At the time refrigerating machines were not yet invented, the Japanese used a very old and simple technique to chill fruits and vegetables – cold bath. Once the coffee was brewed in hot water, the filtered drink was set in a glass jar and cooled further in a bowl with fresh cold water streaming in it from the well. Today, some Japanese still use this method, but, of course cold water doesn’t come from the stream. Some also put ice in a glass where the filtrated brewed coffee is then poured.

    It is quite fascinating to think that such a seeming modern drink has been popular in Japan for over a century! How about you, is the iced coffee as popular in your country as well?

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