Coffee vs Tea, Why So Popular in Japan?


Did Somebody Say Coffee?

As an outsider I was definitely a little frazzled( if not a little surprised) to see that Japan is one of the largest consumers of coffee in the world! No, seriously! Coming from a foreign country that drinks more coffee that I care to see, it was a little shocking.

All you have to do is take a walk down any road in any direction, for even a few minutes and you can see why that is. As almost every vending machine you come across will have at least two types of coffee in it.

Coffee sales in Japan have been quite substantial in the import market for many years, yet they have only joined the coffee culture relatively recently. Japan is the world's 4th largest country importer of coffee. According to JapanToday​; Brazil, Vietnam, and Columbia account for a whopping 67% of Coffee bean imports alone in Japan! The annual consumption volume of Japan is estimated at around 450,000 tons or 48 billion cups. Just thinking of that makes me need a bathroom break, oh my.

Tea Time!

Tea is the most common beverage that is drunk in Japan. It is also a main staple of the Japanese food culture. Green tea, as everyone in Japan can reassure you, is the most common type of tea. So when someone says, “Tea” [お茶, ocha] without further specifying the type of tea they mean, Green Tea is the set default of reference.

The Types of Coffee and Tea

The world of coffee and tea is ever expanding, and people are coming up with all kinds of new flavors and methods of making these calming beverages. From drip methods, to the disturbing Kopi Luwak​ (cat poop coffee). I've been to many a coffee and tea shop, and the blends and styles they have always leave me with a small smile. To truly understand why coffee and tea is an important part of the food culture in Japan, the types of coffee and tea sold can be explained.

Coffee vs Tea, Why So Popular in Japan?

First off, let’s start by diving into the world of tea, and their different types. First on the list of Tea is Ryokucha​ (Green tea) which is separated into three categories: gyokuro, sencha and bancha. This type of tea is usually collected during the first round of Harvest, the only differences being in their cultivation. Such as how much sunlight they had been subjected to.

Coffee vs Tea, Why So Popular in Japan?

Then we have Matcha!​( A powdered Green tea) A tea that everyone and their mother’s are familiar with here! I drink this at least once a day and it is sold in every single store I have ever gone to. What’s uniquely special about this tea, is that even though it is available everywhere, the quality is exquisite. Only the utmost, highest quality Tea Leaves are used for matcha. Having asked the locals about Matcha, they have all told me the same thing:” Matcha is inexpensive, and healthy for you. It is a soothing drink whether hot or cold.”

Tea leaves are ground into a fine powder to mix with hot and or even cold water which is how powdered matcha is made. It's simple, if thats what you’re craving.

Coffee vs Tea, Why So Popular in Japan?

Green tea also comes in more forms such as Genmaicha​ and and Hojicha (​green tea with roasted brown rice/ roasted green tea -in that order). Genmai (unpolished brown rice) grains are roasted and mixed with tea leaves to produce Genmaicha​. While for Hojicha​, the heat from the roasting triggers chemical changes in the leaves, causing hojicha tea to smell like delicious caramel and taste mildly sweet, all while developing its well-known reddish brown color.

Coffee vs Tea, Why So Popular in Japan?

Its seems like this list is never ending! Yet we are almost done I swear-for the tea at least. I’ll make this next part fast okay?

We then have Oolongcha, Kocha, and Jasmine-cha (these teas are all from tea plants). Now Oolongcha​ involves oxidizing the tea leaves, and then steaming to stop that process at a certain point. Kocha’s​ leaves are even more oxidized than Oolongcha, which gives the tea its dark color; hence its name-Kocha (which means red tea). Jasmine-cha​, a very popular drink in Okinawa, where it is more often referred to as Sanpincha.​ It is made with a green tea or oolong base with jasmine flowers added to it.

The Special Tea Category!

We are also given special types of teas which aren’t made from the plant itself. Barley and Kelp tea are two examples! Barley Tea (Mugicha), is made by infusing roasted barley into water.

Kelp Tea (Kombucha), is made by mixing ground or sliced kombucha seaweed in hot water. The drink itself is kind of salty and surprisingly, it’s served as a welcome drink at Ryokans! I never would have known that if I hadn’t of gone to one myself.

Beans, Grinds, Drips- Oh My!

Now that you’ve become more familiar with just how many types of tea are drunk here in Japan on a daily basis, you can get a taste for
the coffee too!

Just by going to a local Tully’s about five minute walk from my house I can see that Japan is very fond of importing from South America and Central America.

The coffee at Tully’s comes from Hawaii​, Rwanda​, Ethiopia​, and Brazil ​(Fazenda Planet, Fazenda Bow, Brazill SS Da Gramma). It’s diverse and has a strong aroma. As most coffee is percolated in a regular coffee maker it doesn’t have the unique hand drip experience that the millennials seem to crave. Nevertheless, the taste is quite delicious, and everything could always use a little milk and sugar in my opinion. I guess that’s why I like Milk tea!

Yet every coffee place has more than just imported straight coffee beans, they also have many kinds of blends. Tully’s has about 8 different blends: Ice Coffee Blend, House Blend, Mochajaba, French Roast, Piccolo Bambino, Dutchman’s Blend, Espresso Classico, and Cafe Au Lait Monare.

Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s a bunch of coffee name lingo that I probably don’t know, but would like to know!

More than half of Tully’s coffee blends come from Guatemala in Central America including other various countries.

Whether it is a rich bitter aroma, or a full bodied and heavy roast, Tully’s usually has what I want. Which brings into the over all subject: why coffee and tea are so popular in Japan.

As Japan is observant of the world around them, and very adept at making changes to stay with the times, if not a little ahead; so do their beverage culture. Tea will always be a staple that will never disappear in Japan, we all know this. While coffee became popular during the 60’s,70’s, 80’s because of the first chain Doutor. Leo Lewis( CEO Doutor) was an insightful genius and successfully predicted what hurried businessmen would want in the morning as they rushed out the doors unable to even eat breakfast. That was a breakthrough that really brought coffee into the game in Japan. With Starbucks as it’s natural competitor, Doutor still has more shops than Starbucks does by a large margin in Japan at least.

Despite all the vending machines that have numerous coffee choices, just take a little bit of peak and you’ll see they also always have some kind of tea too. While coffee may be popular, it’ll never get rid of a timeless staple of the Japanese diet everyone.

So I guess both drinks win Prom King and Queen! Well isn’t that a relief? All that tension made me thirsty, I wonder what I should drink. Coffee sounds good, but so does tea! I guess i’ll know when I get there. Until next time you guys.

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