Japanese Coffee Culture and the Terms You Need To Know

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  • It was said during Japan’s period of isolation that coffee does not appeal to Japanese taste buds. And before Japan began to embrace Western culture, coffee was mostly considered to be medicine to relieve fatigue rather than a beverage.

    There was a Japanese writer who shared a cup of coffee with the Dutch on a ship who published the book, “Japanese Manners and Customs in the Meiji Era.” According to this writer, coffee is in line with the popular Japanese phrase “Ryoyaku wa kuchi ni nigashi” which means “good medicine tastes bitter.”

    The Coffee Culture Revolution

    Coffee intro

    The viewpoint on coffee as a medicine rather than a beverage has changed as Japan has now caught up with the global coffee culture; being one of the biggest importers of coffee beans in the world. Coffee shops flourished everywhere after the Second World War. Today, there are many cafes and coffee shops throughout the country as well as some traditional Japanese shops called “kissaten”. There are even tea houses in Japan which serve coffee.

    Indeed, coffee shops in Japan have grown exponentially with various themes such as kurashikku-kissa (classical music kissaten), jazz-kissa, rokku-kissa (rock music) and manga-kissa. Each shop prides themselves with their coffee-making equipment possessions such as siphons and drippers with the capacity to serve varieties of coffee either hot or cold.

    Glossary of Coffee Terms in Japan

    Coffee shop

    Although most coffee recipes in Japan have adopted the Western name such as espresso, cappuccino, latte, macchiato, and mocha, there are some coffee terms that foreign visitors should watch out for when going to a coffee shop.

    Kissaten – an independent coffee shop that is different from a chain or outlet such as Doutor or Starbucks. (Pictured above).

    Burendo – A blended filtered drip coffee made with a ceramic, glass or plastic cone lined with a paper filter. Most preferred by professional baristas because they can control the water temperature at 200 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. The filtered coffee is free of sediments because filters add an unwanted flavor.

    American – American-style coffee, or Americano—a shot of espresso diluted with hot water weaker than Burendo.
    Coffee americano

    Aisu koh-hii – Always served black, with sugar syrup and nondairy creamer.
    coffee iced

    Miruku (milk) – In Japanese coffee shops, this word means a nondairy creamer while real milk is called gyuunyuu.
    coffee milk

    Tounyuu – This word refers to soy milk.
    coffee soy milk

    And there you have it! Now you can go into any Japanese cafe or kissaten and order like a pro.

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