Brewing Traditions: The Rising Popularity of Coffee Shops in Japan

11 min readJul 17, 2023
Brewing Traditions: The Rising Popularity of Coffee Shops in Japan

Japan’s coffee culture is steeped in tradition, giving rise to a vibrant coffee scene unlike any other. In recent years, coffee shops have become increasingly popular in Japan, attracting both locals and tourists alike. From the traditional tea houses of Kyoto to the bustling cafes of Tokyo, the country is home to a diverse range of coffee shops, each with their unique ambiance and brewing methods.

A Brief History of Coffee in Japan

Coffee was first introduced to Japan in the 17th century by Dutch traders. Initially, it was a luxury item reserved for the elite and served in exclusive tea houses.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that coffee became more widely available to the general public. In 1888, the first coffee shop in Japan opened in Tokyo. From there, coffee shops began to spread throughout the country, and by the mid-20th century, they had become a staple of Japanese culture.

“Coffee has become more than just a beverage in Japan… it’s become a symbol of sophistication and a way of life.”

Today, Japan is known for its unique coffee culture, which blends both traditional and modern brewing methods. From specialty coffee shops to traditional kissaten cafes, there’s no shortage of places to indulge in a delicious cup of coffee.

A Coffee-Drinking Nation

Despite its relatively recent introduction to Japan, coffee has quickly become a beloved beverage among the Japanese. In fact, Japan is now one of the largest coffee-consumers in the world.

Coffee is not only consumed as a morning pick-me-up, but also as a social drink. Many coffee shops in Japan offer comfortable seating and a relaxing atmosphere, making them a popular spot for friends to gather and catch up.

“Coffee shops in Japan are more than just places to drink coffee. They’re a place where people can come together and enjoy each other’s company.”

With a long and rich history, coffee has become an integral part of Japanese culture, and a visit to Japan wouldn’t be complete without experiencing its unique coffee scene.

The Japanese Coffee Experience

Japanese coffee is known for its emphasis on precision, attention to detail, and unique brewing methods. The coffee experience in Japan goes beyond just a drink; it’s a sensory journey that engages all the senses.

At many Japanese coffee shops, pour-over and siphon brewing are popular methods that highlight the delicate flavors and aromas of the coffee beans. These methods require a high level of precision and skill, with baristas carefully measuring and timing each step of the brewing process.

“The coffee is brewed to perfection, with delicate nuances of flavor that highlight the unique characteristics of each bean.”

In addition to the brewing methods, the ambiance of Japanese coffee shops is also unique. The design of these establishments often reflects Japanese aesthetics, with minimalistic decor and attention to detail. The tranquility of the surroundings provides a peaceful escape for customers, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the coffee experience.

Whether you’re enjoying a cup of coffee at a traditional tea house in Kyoto or at a modern specialty coffee shop in Tokyo, the Japanese coffee experience is one that engages all the senses and leaves a lasting impression.

Tokyo’s Coffee Scene

Tokyo’s coffee scene is a bustling and vibrant community, with a wealth of coffee shops located throughout the city. From the cozy and intimate to the sleek and modern, there is truly something for every coffee lover in Tokyo.

Some Notable Coffee Shops in Tokyo

  • Streamer Coffee Company — Known for their signature latte art, Streamer Coffee Company is a must-visit destination for any coffee lover. With several locations throughout Tokyo, this coffee shop offers a cozy and welcoming atmosphere, perfect for sipping on a delicious cup of coffee.
  • Onibus Coffee — With a focus on seasonal and specialty coffee beans, Onibus Coffee is a popular destination for coffee connoisseurs in Tokyo. The shop’s minimalist design and cozy ambiance create a tranquil atmosphere, perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee — Originally from California, Blue Bottle Coffee has made a name for itself in Tokyo’s coffee scene with its commitment to quality and sustainability. The shop’s sleek and modern design, paired with their expertly crafted coffee, make it a popular destination for coffee lovers in Tokyo.

These are just a few examples of the many unique and innovative coffee shops located throughout Tokyo. From classic drip coffee to the latest in brewing technology, visitors to Tokyo’s coffee scene are sure to find a shop that perfectly fits their tastes and preferences.

Kyoto’s Coffee Culture

Kyoto’s coffee scene is not as lively as Tokyo or Osaka, but it offers a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. The city’s traditional tea houses and serene atmosphere provide a tranquil escape for coffee lovers.

One of Kyoto’s most popular coffee shops is %ARABICA, which has become a global sensation with locations in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Kuwait. %ARABICA’s minimalist design and high-quality coffee have earned it a cult following.

“We aim to provide only the highest quality coffee possible, using only the finest beans and the most up-to-date equipment available. We believe that a good cup of coffee can transport you anywhere in the world and provide a moment of pure joy.”

%ARABICA Founder Kenneth Shoji

Another must-visit spot in Kyoto is Kurasu, located in the popular neighborhood of Fushimi. Kurasu’s focus on precision and attention to detail is evident in its carefully crafted pour-over coffee and latte art.

For a taste of Kyoto’s traditional flavors, head to %ARABICA’s sister cafe, %KYOTO. This cozy coffee shop serves up matcha lattes and hojicha (roasted green tea) alongside their signature coffee blends.

Osaka’s Coffee Hotspots

Osaka is often overlooked in favor of Tokyo and Kyoto, but the city has a thriving coffee scene that shouldn’t be missed. Here are some of the must-visit coffee shops in Osaka:

  • %ARABICA: This coffee shop chain is known for its sleek and minimalist design, as well as its high-quality coffee. With locations around the world, it’s a must-visit for coffee lovers in Osaka.
  • COFFEE TENGU: This cozy cafe offers a range of brewing methods, including pour-over, siphon, and AeroPress. Don’t miss their signature “devil’s coffee,” a blend of espresso and drip coffee.
  • LiLo Coffee Roasters: This small coffee stand specializes in hand-drip coffee, using beans sourced from around the world. The owner, Shota Nakagawa, is a former barista champion and is known for his expertise and attention to detail.

These are just a few of the many great coffee shops in Osaka. Take the time to explore the city and discover your own favorites!

Regional Variations: Coffee Outside the Big Cities

While the bustling coffee scenes of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka often steal the spotlight, there are also numerous hidden gems to be found in smaller cities and rural areas throughout Japan. These regional variations in coffee culture offer unique perspectives on Japanese brewing traditions and flavors.


Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is known for its dairy products, seafood, and hot springs. It also boasts a thriving coffee scene, with many small-scale roasters and cafes scattered throughout the region. Hokkaido’s coffee is often characterized by its creamy texture and mellow sweetness, with milk-based drinks like the popular “zangi latte” (featuring Hokkaido-style fried chicken) being a must-try.


Okinawa, a subtropical island chain located south of Japan’s mainland, has a distinctive coffee culture influenced by its historical ties to the United States. Here, you’ll find American-style diners serving up coffee alongside pancakes and burgers, as well as locally-roasted beans with a hint of tropical fruit flavors. Okinawa’s coffee shops often double as community gathering places, with live music events and workshops on traditional Okinawan crafts.


Shizuoka, located on Japan’s east coast between Tokyo and Kyoto, is famous for its tea production. However, in recent years, the region has also gained recognition for its high-quality coffee beans and specialty cafes. The fertile soil and mountainous terrain of Shizuoka provide optimal growing conditions for coffee, resulting in beans with unique floral and citrus notes.

  • Did you know? Shizuoka produces over 40% of Japan’s total coffee output, and is the only prefecture in Japan to have its own “coffee ambassador”.

Coffee and Japanese Cuisine

When you think of Japanese cuisine, coffee may not be the first beverage that comes to mind. However, coffee has become an increasingly popular pairing with traditional Japanese dishes.

In Japan, coffee is typically served after a meal as a palate cleanser, similar to green tea. The bitterness of coffee complements savory flavors and refreshes the taste buds.

“Coffee’s bitterness and acidity have an effect of cleansing the mouth…”

-Yuko Inoue, owner of Good Meals Shop and Coffee in Tokyo

Some coffee shops in Japan have even begun to offer specialty coffee that is specifically paired with Japanese cuisine. For example, a darker roast coffee can bring out the umami flavors in dishes like miso soup and grilled fish.

In addition, coffee can also be used in cooking and baking. Coffee-flavored desserts, such as coffee jelly and tiramisu, have become popular in Japan.

Next time you sit down for a meal at a Japanese restaurant, consider trying a cup of coffee to enhance the flavors of your dish.

Third Wave Coffee Movement in Japan

Japan’s coffee scene has experienced a surge in the third wave coffee movement, a movement that emphasizes the quality and origin of beans, as well as the craft of brewing and roasting. Unlike the Starbucks-dominated coffee culture in the United States, Japanese coffee shops offer a wider variety of specialty beans and brewing methods.

Specialty coffee shops in Japan are often small and cozy, with a focus on creating a relaxing atmosphere for customers. The baristas are highly trained and passionate about their craft, which often leads to unique and creative coffee offerings.

One of the hallmarks of the third wave coffee movement is the focus on direct trade and sustainable practices. Many Japanese coffee shops work directly with coffee farmers to ensure fair compensation and high quality beans. In addition, the movement emphasizes the importance of environmental sustainability, with many coffee shops using only eco-friendly materials and implementing energy-saving practices.

Third wave coffee shops in Japan also prioritize education and community building. Many offer coffee classes and workshops to help customers better understand the craft of coffee making, as well as provide a space for coffee enthusiasts to connect with one another.

The third wave coffee movement has given rise to a new era of coffee culture in Japan, one that values quality, sustainability, and community. This movement is constantly evolving and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of coffee, providing a truly unique experience for coffee lovers in Japan and beyond.

Coffee Culture and Social Spaces

In Japan, coffee shops are not just a place to grab a quick drink, but rather a social space where people can slow down and connect with others. Coffee culture is deeply ingrained in Japanese society, with coffee shops serving as a popular meeting spot for friends, colleagues, and even first dates.

One unique aspect of Japanese coffee culture is the concept of “sado,” or the way of tea. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of taking time to savor each sip of coffee and appreciate the moment. This focus on mindfulness and attention to detail is reflected in the architecture and design of many Japanese coffee shops, which often incorporate natural materials and minimalist aesthetics to create a serene atmosphere.

Many coffee shops in Japan also offer a variety of seating options, from cozy armchairs to communal tables, to cater to different groups and occasions. It is not uncommon to see patrons sitting alone with a book or laptop, while others engage in animated conversations with friends or colleagues.

Additionally, some coffee shops in Japan offer unique experiences beyond just coffee, such as workshops or events focused on art, music, or even calligraphy. These events provide an opportunity for patrons to engage with the local community and explore new interests.

Overall, coffee shops play a significant role in Japanese social culture, offering a space for people to slow down, connect, and enjoy a quality cup of coffee.

Coffee Shop Etiquette in Japan

When visiting a coffee shop in Japan, it’s important to keep in mind the cultural customs and etiquette that are observed. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience:

Ordering and Payment

When entering a coffee shop, it’s customary to first check for an available table and make a mental note of the seat number. Then, approach the counter to place your order. It’s common to pay for your order at the same time you place it. Be sure to have cash on hand, as many smaller coffee shops do not accept credit cards.


After placing your order, return to your table and wait for your drink to be served. It’s considered impolite to take up too much space or linger at a table after finishing your drink, especially during peak hours when the coffee shop may be crowded.

No Smoking

In Japan, smoking is not allowed in many public spaces, including coffee shops. Be sure to check if the coffee shop you’re visiting allows smoking before lighting up.

Quiet Environment

Many coffee shops in Japan are considered quiet spaces for relaxation and reflection. It’s important to keep conversations low and avoid causing disturbances to others. If you need to take a phone call, step outside to avoid disturbing those around you.

Respectful Behavior

When enjoying your coffee, be sure to use a napkin to avoid spills and crumbs. It’s also polite to return your tray and dishes to the designated area after finishing your drink. When leaving, it’s customary to say “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you very much) to show appreciation for the service.


As we conclude our tour through Japan’s blossoming coffee culture, it’s evident that the coffee shop trend is much more than just a passing fad — it’s an emerging tradition. These innovative spaces have not only redefined the Japanese coffee landscape, but they also act as social hubs, fostering community and connection in an increasingly fast-paced society. Whether you’re a dedicated coffee connoisseur or a casual enthusiast, there’s a unique experience waiting for you in every cup. The rise of coffee shops in Japan represents a remarkable fusion of tradition and modernity, brewing a rich blend of old and new experiences that is truly captivating.

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Disclosure: This article was written with the assitance of AI technology. An AI tool (Chat GPT) was used to create an outline and generate content for portions of the article. A human writer has manually reviewed, edited, and contributed to the article content before publishing.




zenDine is a restaurant discovery platform that serves the needs of foreign residents, travelers in Japan and restaurant partners.