Japan has a long tradition with coffee most perfectly symbolized by the presence of kissaten in the early 20th century, which would be both tea houses and coffee shops. Some kissaten, especially those specializing in coffee, are famous and renowned for their knowledge, the quality of their coffee, and their old world atmosphere.
But just like in the rest of the world, coffee franchises have become one of the most prominent sights in many Japanese cities. So what are the biggest coffee chains in Japan?
Doutor is a powerhouse in Japan. Established in 1962 and going public in 1976, Doutor’s presence can be seen and felt across the whole archipelago. Doutor has over 1,100 coffee shops in Japan, and wants to have a total of 3,000 in the future.
Doutor’s popularity in Japan is easy to understand: the coffee shops offer a relaxing environment, and their food can be both tasty and affordable, being a perfect quick breakfast or lunch for students and office workers.
Doutor’s coffee is also cheaper than that of other competitors’ like Starbucks. However, Doutor coffee shops use machines instead of proper baristas, so they are not the coffee shops to head to for those looking for exquisite lattes and cappuccinos since those drinks will be prepared at the push of a button, resulting in the kind of quality expected from a coffee vending machine.
Still, for a quick coffee and some good sandwiches, Doutor coffee shops are among the most reliable in Japan.
A list would not be complete without Starbucks despite the objections of coffee lovers who frequent independent coffee shops and who usually bash the coffee giant for over-roasting their coffee beans . Love it or hate it, Starbucks presence in Japan can’t be ignored.
The first Starbucks in Japan opened in Ginza on August 2, 1996, and from then, Starbucks Coffee Japan has opened an impressive number of coffee shops across Japan, totalling 1,655 as of June 2021. Starbucks has an impressive footprint, making them one if not the most reliable coffee option for residents and tourists alike.
Additionally, the opening of Starbucks Reserve has converted even the most skeptical Starbucks haters. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Nakameguro is a coffee nirvana, and the many other Starbucks Reserve that have been opening in Japan’s biggest cities have been a great complement. Another reason to like Starbucks? The coffee giant was the one that popularized non-smoking coffee shops. So if you are enjoying your coffee in Japan without the stench of cigarette smoke, you know whom to thank.
Cafe Veloce was born in 1986 after the company Chat Noir opened its 50th coffee shop and decided to develop the Cafe Veloce brand. Cafe Veloce’s prices are very competitive, making them a favorite coffee shop among many people, in 2018 going as far as to win a customer satisfaction award. Cafe Veloce tends to be frequented by more older people than some of their competitors, perhaps due to its history in Japan and overall ambiance.
Cafe Veloce has been slower to introduce many espresso drinks that are popular at chains like Starbucks and Tully’s. So at Cafe Veloce you’ll never find cappuccinos, and lattes, while being part of the menu, are not available at some stores. Instead, Cafe Veloce’s biggest hits include regular coffee and cafe au laits.
Tully’s was once a major player in the United States. The Seattle coffee shop was notorious for opening coffee shops next to their biggest competitor: Starbucks. Fast-forward to 2021,and there are no Tully’s coffee shops left in the States. Similarly to other American names that disappeared from the U.S. but flourished in Japan, Tully’s is one of the most important coffee shops that can be found across the Japanese archipelago.
Similar to Starubucks, Tully’s presence in Japan started in Ginza, and from there it has grown to have over 700 coffee shops in Japan. Tully’s has warm colors and a comfortable decor that places them in the same league as Starbucks in terms of ambiance. As a result, people looking for franchises with this type of ambiance tend to be divided into Tully’s and Starbucks fans.
Tully’s are located in many convenient areas, from shopping malls to big corporations, making them a very easy option for tourists and business people alike.
Cafe Excelsior is a popular coffee under the Doutor umbrella. Cafe Excelsior is more premium than its Doutor sibling, serving more expensive coffee drinks, including proper espresso ones. Excelsior also offers very good panini, rice bowls, and pasta, making them great places for people on the go who need to grab a quick lunch during work or who don’t have time to go to a restaurant and a coffee shop before heading back to work.
Excelsior does not have a very big footprint, though. There are no coffee shops south of Kobe and north of Sendai, and even Osaka has only two locations. However, those in Tokyo will be more familiar with this coffee shop since there are 55 locations there, most of them in business districts and around important train stations, making them a great option for anyone in Central Tokyo.
With over 340 locations, Pronto is one of the biggest cafes in Japan, and one that offers a lot of flexibility to its clientele. Simply speaking, Pronto is not a coffee shop like Dotour, Starbucks, and Tully’s. This is a place where you can even order bar food and party plans depending on what type of Pronto cafe you go to.
However, those looking for coffee won’t be disappointed. Pronto offers things like lattes, cappuccinos, and hot coffee at competitive prices that are lower than what you would pay at places like Starbucks, making Pronto a popular option for a wide variety of people.
And since the Pronto Il Bar locations are great options for office parties, many businesspeople may have been to one of these places for a bonenkai or wedding afterparty.