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Japanese Coffee Culture: Exploring the Top 10 Japanese Coffee Brands

Coffee enthusiasts often associate Japan with traditional tea ceremonies, cherry blossoms, and cat cafes. However, Japan has developed a thriving coffee culture with a rich history that dates back to the 18th century when Dutch merchants introduced coffee to the country. Today, Japan boasts an array of coffee brands that offer a diverse range of coffee experiences, from major corporate coffee companies to traditional kissaten-style brands and cutting-edge third-wave coffee establishments. In this article, we will explore the top 10 Japanese coffee brands, each offering a unique perspective on the world of coffee.

Japanese Coffee Culture: 1. UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company):

UCC, short for Ueshima Coffee Company, is a true pioneer in the Japanese Coffee Culture. Established in 1933 as a modest shop in Kobe, UCC has grown into a global coffee giant with a rich history of innovation. Their most notable contribution to the coffee world is the introduction of the world’s first canned coffee in April 1969. This groundbreaking development revolutionized coffee consumption, making it convenient and readily available to people on the go.

UCC’s commitment to quality extends to a diverse range of coffee-related products, catering to various consumer preferences. They offer everything from ground coffee to instant coffee, pre-made coffee products, and even drip pods. This extensive product line ensures that coffee enthusiasts can enjoy the UCC experience both at home and on the move.

In addition to their coffee products, UCC has ventured into the café business with multiple café brands. Each of these brands offers a unique ambiance and brewing method, catering to different tastes and preferences. Ueshima Ko-hee-ten, for instance, embraces a traditional kissaten vibe and serves coffee brewed using the Nel-drip method, a manual brewing technique highly popular in Japan. On the other hand, Mellow Brown Coffee provides a more Western atmosphere, offering a variety of espresso-based drinks and even pioneering the concept of ‘draft coffee’ using nitrogen gas infusion to create a delightful foam on their iced black coffee.

UCC’s legacy in the Japanese coffee scene is a testament to their dedication to innovation, quality, and catering to a wide range of coffee experiences.

2. BOSS (by Suntory):

BOSS coffee, created by Suntory, has established itself as a prominent name in the ready-to-drink coffee market. Suntory, a beverage industry leader with a history dating back to 1899, has successfully leveraged its expertise to craft delightful canned coffee. Despite its reputation for alcoholic beverages, Suntory’s foray into the coffee world has been nothing short of impressive.

The BOSS coffee brand has become synonymous with “Working man’s companion,” an ethos rooted in providing individuals with a convenient and satisfying coffee experience. This brand’s success can be attributed to its unique blend of flavors, rich and deep with no unpleasant aftertastes often associated with ready-to-drink coffee products.

BOSS coffee offers a variety of options to cater to different tastes. Some popular choices include the BOSS Rainbow Mountain Blend, which features a double espresso made from beans certified by the Guatemalan National Coffee Association as the ‘Rainbow Mountain blend.’ Other favorites include BOSS Coffee No-sugar Black and Premium BOSS black coffee.

One of the secrets behind the exceptional taste of BOSS coffee is its ‘flash brewing’ process. This method involves brewing coffee using hot water, similar to a pour-over, but cooling it rapidly over ice. This process preserves the coffee’s flavor while preventing the loss of its delicious qualities. BOSS also sources high-quality beans from Brazil and Colombia, using a fully developed roastery to ensure that the beans are roasted to perfection.

BOSS coffee has managed to win over coffee lovers with its commitment to excellence and balance of sweetness and bitterness in its offerings.

3. Dotour:

Dotour is a well-known chain of coffee shops in Japan, celebrated for providing a comfortable and inviting atmosphere to enjoy quality coffee and food. This coffee brand has successfully combined relaxation with affordability, making it a popular choice for locals and travelers alike.

The Dotour experience begins with its warm and welcoming café spaces, designed to be clean and relaxing, creating the ideal setting for savoring a cup of coffee. What sets Dotour apart is its commitment to offering an array of espresso-based drinks, ensuring that the quality of their coffee remains consistent even in the era of third-wave coffee. This dedication to providing a range of coffee experiences has earned Dotour a loyal following.

In addition to their café offerings, Dotour extends its influence to Japanese airports, providing travelers with a taste of their signature coffee as soon as they arrive in the country. This strategic move allows them to leave a memorable impression on tourists and coffee aficionados from around the world.

Dotour’s commitment to coffee quality and overall customer experience is a testament to their role as a major player in the Japanese Coffee Culture.

4. Sapporo Coffee Kan:

Sapporo Coffee Kan, hailing from Hokkaido, a region celebrated for its natural beauty and gastronomic delights, has garnered attention for its commitment to bringing out the best qualities of Japanese coffee culture. This brand’s approach goes beyond offering coffee; it embodies unique ingredients, roasting techniques, ‘Kodawari’ (pursuit of perfection), and ‘Omotenashi’ (Japanese hospitality).

Since its inception in 1982, Sapporo Coffee Kan has been roasting its coffee beans using a rare and traditional Japanese technique called Sumiyaki (Charcoal) Coffee Roasting. This method imparts a rich, smoky flavor to the coffee while preserving the original taste and characteristics of each coffee bean. The attention to detail doesn’t stop at roasting; Sapporo Coffee Kan also customizes the café experience to suit the time of day, changing lighting and background music to create the perfect ambiance for guests.

As a testament to their commitment to Japanese culture, the café features limited edition items on its menu, such as ‘Cherry Blossoms Chiffon Cake’ during the spring season, reflecting the importance of seasonal change in Japan. Sapporo Coffee Kan’s dedication to ‘Kodawari’ and ‘Omotenashi’ has allowed them to stand out in the Japanese coffee scene, making it a must-visit for coffee enthusiasts seeking a unique coffee experience.

5. Komeda Coffee:

Komeda Coffee, founded in 1968, has committed itself to creating an atmosphere where guests can truly relax. The founder’s vision was to establish a space that serves as a “second living room,” and this philosophy is deeply ingrained in the brand’s culture. This coffee brand is known for its unwavering dedication to the small details of coffee, customer service, food, and interior design.

One of the standout features of Komeda Coffee is its in-house bakery, where highly skilled artisan bakers craft bread with great care and craftsmanship. The quality of customer service is reflected in the design of their coffee cups, which feature a thick rim to minimize heat loss, ensuring that guests can enjoy their coffee piping hot.

When visiting Komeda Coffee, there are several signature items that come highly recommended. These include the Ogura Toast, which features toasted white bread with sweet red bean paste and butter, and the Morning Set, offering their house blend pour-over coffee served with toast and a boiled egg. Another specialty worth trying is the ‘Azuki Komachi Coffee,’ a delightful blend of coffee with sweet red bean paste.

Komeda Coffee’s commitment to quality, both in terms of coffee and customer experience, sets it apart as a quintessential Japanese coffee brand for those looking to enjoy a peaceful and enjoyable coffee break.

6. Hoshiyama Coffee:

Located in Sendai, Hoshiyama Coffee has been providing a unique and elegant coffee experience since its establishment in 1974. The brand’s mission revolves around creating an environment where guests can truly feel happiness and excitement during their coffee time. Upon entering one of their cafes, visitors are welcomed with a spacious interior reminiscent of a luxury hotel lobby, complete with high ceilings, exquisite flower bouquets, darkwooden furniture, and artwork on the walls.

Hoshiyama Coffee offers a diverse range of coffee beans, including beans from Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and Brazil. Customers can choose from a wide selection of coffee brewing methods, including pour-over, espresso, and siphon. The baristas are trained to provide personalized service, and each cup of coffee is carefully prepared.

One of the unique features of Hoshiyama Coffee is its extensive collection of over 1,000 cups and saucers. When a customer places an order, the barista meticulously selects a specific cup and saucer from this extensive collection, making each coffee experience unique.

Their dedication to creating a luxurious and special environment, combined with a focus on brewing high-quality coffee, has made Hoshiyama Coffee a favored destination for coffee enthusiasts seeking a refined and elegant coffee experience.

7. Glitch Coffee Roasters:

Glitch Coffee Roasters is a prime example of a third-wave coffee brand based in Japan, a movement that emphasizes the nuances and complexities of coffee. Founded by an American, Obscura Coffee, which later became Glitch Coffee Roasters, helped pioneer the third-wave coffee movement in Tokyo.

What sets Glitch apart is its commitment to serving single-origin coffee exclusively. Unlike traditional coffee shops that offer blends, Glitch celebrates the distinct flavors and aromas of coffee sourced from a specific region or farm. The brand’s coffee menu showcases a variety of beans from countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and Kenya, each with unique tasting notes.

Glitch Coffee Roasters meticulously controls the roasting process to highlight the characteristics of each coffee bean. They also use brewing methods like pour-over, AeroPress, and siphon to ensure the flavors are preserved and accentuated. The attention to detail extends to the design of their coffee shops, which are minimalistic and tranquil, creating a serene environment for savoring coffee.

The establishment’s knowledgeable baristas are always ready to guide customers through their coffee journey, explaining the differences between various single-origin beans and brewing techniques, making it an ideal destination for those who want to explore the intricate and diverse world of coffee flavors.

8. Onibus:

Onibus Coffee is one of the pioneers in Tokyo’s third-wave coffee scene. The brand, founded in 2011, quickly gained recognition for its commitment to quality coffee and a welcoming atmosphere. The founder, Atsushi Sakao, aimed to create a space where visitors could enjoy high-quality coffee without pretension.

Onibus Coffee’s coffee menu features a wide selection of coffee beans and blends, including single origins from countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Panama. They offer both filter coffee and espresso-based drinks, ensuring that customers can find a coffee that suits their preferences.

One of the standout features of Onibus is its friendly and approachable staff. Baristas are known for their welcoming attitude and willingness to engage in conversations about coffee. The brand focuses on fostering a sense of community, friendship, and family among its customers.

The café space at Onibus is cozy, with natural wood interiors and large windows that let in ample light. This, along with their warm service, makes Onibus Coffee a favorite among both locals and coffee enthusiasts exploring the Tokyo coffee scene.

9. Koffee Mameya:

A visit to Koffee Mameya is akin to a pilgrimage for coffee connoisseurs. This Tokyo-based café offers a unique and immersive coffee experience that revolves around the essence of coffee itself. The space is minimalistic and simple, focusing solely on the coffee.

Koffee Mameya’s primary focus is on selling beans, not brewed coffee. Guests can engage with coffee experts who assist them in selecting specific coffee beans based on their flavor preferences. The beans are meticulously weighed, ground, and packaged right in front of customers, ensuring that the beans are as fresh as can be.

The café sources coffee from a variety of origins and roasters, celebrating the diversity of flavors that different beans can offer. This approach highlights the subtle variations and characteristics of coffee from around the world, making it a haven for those who appreciate the intricacies of coffee.

Koffee Mameya’s philosophy is simple: coffee should be experienced in its purest form. This minimalistic approach, combined with a strong emphasis on customer education and engagement, creates an authentic and intimate coffee experience.

10. %Arabica:

Founded in Kyoto in 2013, %Arabica has rapidly become an iconic name in the specialty coffee world. The brand’s mission is to help people “see the world through coffee.” The first café, with its bold % logo and striking design, quickly gained popularity not only in Japan but also internationally.

%Arabica is known for its commitment to offering a wide variety of specialty coffee options, including single-origin beans and a range of brewing methods such as pour-over, espresso, and cold brew. Their menu celebrates the uniqueness of each coffee beans and origin, emphasizing the diversity of flavors and aromas.

The brand has expanded beyond Japan, opening cafes in locations across the globe, from Hong Kong to Paris and Los Angeles. This global presence has helped introduce the world to Japanese coffee culture and has made %Arabica a sought-after destination for coffee lovers around the world.

With its bold branding and dedication to exceptional coffee, %Arabica has succeeded in making specialty coffee accessible and approachable to a broad audience, transcending cultural boundaries.

These are just a few examples of the diverse and vibrant Japanese coffee culture, showcasing the range of experiences available, from traditional kissaten-style establishments to modern third-wave coffee roasters. Each brand reflects the unique characteristics of Japanese coffee culture and is a testament to the nation’s rich coffee heritage. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful cup of coffee in a traditional setting or an immersive journey into the intricacies of coffee flavors, Japan’s coffee brands offer something for everyone.