Coffee in Japan – The Kissaten

Photo Credit: Sylvain_Latouche.

Photo Credit: Sylvain_Latouche.

When we were in Osaka for two months, the search for quality coffee was a paramount concern for me. While the Japanese certainly enjoy their coffee, the huge popularity for tea makes finding good coffee a bit more difficult.

While I can certainly enjoy a Starbucks Americano from time to time, I much prefer buying freshly roasted beans and making the coffee myself. This meant picking up all the necessary tools for coffee creation shortly after we landed in Japan.

The good news is, finding all the coffee tools is relatively easy. After visiting our first 100 yen store I had a cup top brew and filter system all in place. I suppose I could have also gone the French Press direction, but I believed I stopped looking after I found a suitable method.

Finding the Beans

Photo Credit: tico_24.

Photo Credit: tico_24.

Finding coffee beans however, was much more difficult. I could have probably picked up some beans or ground coffee in any grocery store, but I was hoping to find something a little fresher and higher quality. So without any particular planning or research I decided to walk the streets and keep my eyes peeled for anything that looked like a coffee shop.

As turned out, the first one I tried advertised what looked like fresh ground beans by the pound. So in retrospect I guess it wasn’t all that difficult :) Saying that however, the coffee shop was some distance from where we lived and I didn’t have any luck finding a closer coffee shop that sold ground beans. So maybe I just fluked out finding one on my first try.

The Japanese Coffee House

In Japan the coffee shop is called a Kissaten. This article from Shift East describes the Kissaten:

A cursory Google search on what differentiates a ‘kissaten’ (喫茶店)from the multitude of other names that are used to describe establishments that serve coffee (including cafe and coffee house) reveals that there is a bit of confusion over any concrete distinguishing characteristics. Legally the word is used to designate shops that focus on the serving of coffee and drinks, but calling a shop a ‘kissaten’ in general conversation implies a particular kind of establishment.

Outside of Starbucks and major coffee houses, coffee in Japan tends to be more of an experience and an art rather than a pot of joe kept on the hot plate. We decided to have a sit down coffee at the place I bought the beans from and we’re excited to see them create the coffee experience right in front of us. It reminded me a bit of a complicated tea ceremony except with delicious, delicious coffee.

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The Kissaten atmosphere is warm and comfortable with touch of the nostalgic. It felt like a place where regulars would get together to discuss the day. And although coffee is not cheap in Japan, it was wonderful to experience and relax in one of these little local coffee shops.

Although the number of kissaten is being overtaken by chain store coffee shops and they aren’t quite as “trendy” as the growing number of cafes, they occupy a very special place in the Japanese coffee scene. They serve a particular kind of coffee, and with it, a particular kind of nostalgic experience that definitely has its aficionados. – Shift East

Happy coffee hunting! :D

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