Eat & Drink

Aussie Coffee Is Having A Moment – In Japan

Australia’s cultural influence on other parts of the planet isn’t limited to Hemsworth brothers and smashed avocado. Across Japan, you can enjoy a latte that might have come straight out of Fitzroy or Bondi thanks to the country’s thriving specialty coffee scene.

“Specialty coffee” is a fancy way of saying there’s a new (or renewed) focus on quality and flavour at all stages of the coffee production process, from bean to cup. The movement has taken root in countries like America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and, now, Japan.

So, if you’re craving something single-origin while you’re travelling Japan’s so-called Golden Route (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka), you’re be spoilt for choice. But, before you get stuck in, make sure you sample some more traditional caffeinated delights, too.

Kissatens, Cans And Cups Of Ice

At a kissaten (a coffee shop), you can experience Japan’s traditional cafe culture. In these dark, often smoky dens, filter-style coffee is served alongside toast, sandwiches, or traditional sweets called wagashi.

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You can’t leave Japan without trying the hot canned coffee that you’ll find in most vending machines. The cans are heated inside the machine by technology which has been widespread in Japan since 1973, but oddly slow to catch on in other countries. At almost all 7-Elevens, you can bypass the fridge and head to the freezer, where you’ll find black cups of ice chips and frozen balls of sweetened milk. Add hot coffee and you’re good to go.

Tokyo, Kyoto And Osaka

By the time you’re ready for a flat white, you have discovered that coffee in Japan is approached with every bit of reverence and flair that you’ll find at home. Australian and Japanese specialty coffee culture have a lot in common. So much so, in fact, that you shouldn’t be surprised to hear a Japanese barista talk about “training” in Melbourne.

Karusu Coffee Shop, Kyoto

Image courtesy of Karusu

Specialty coffee is well-established in Tokyo. When you start exploring, you’ll see some familiar establishments from here and across the ditch. Allpress, for example, have opened a Tokyo Roastery, while Wellington’s Mojo coffee has three stores in Tokyo and Coffee Supreme is slinging coffee and toast in Shibuya.

If you’re looking to try something local, Onibus Coffee is the place to start, with four different locations dotted around Tokyo. Their Nakameguro flagship store is a particularly nice place to sit and relax over a latte after wandering along the canal.

Mel Coffee Roasters, Osaka

Masa and Rie. Image courtesy of Mel Coffee Roasters

In Osaka, Masa and Rie run Mel Coffee Roasters. It’s a bustling little outlet, selling takeaway coffee and roasting on-site. The name is an homage to Melbourne, where the couple lived for three years and where they first encountered specialty coffee. They’ve modelled their small shop after Melbourne’s Brother Baba Budan, where they used to hang out.

Kyoto’s Kurasu is the perfect first stop after arriving at Kyoto Station, and boasts a similar origin story. Owner Yozo spent time in Australia, where he was struck by how much people loved their local cafes. The success of the independent cafes, not just the big chains, convinced him to open his own shop.

Karusu Coffee Shop, Kyoto

Image courtesy of Kurasu

Kurasu is now a fixture on the local cafe scene and includes an online store. His goal is to raise the profile of Japanese specialty coffee throughout Japan, and he sees that it’s working: “The trend for specialty and higher quality coffee is getting higher, and we’ve seen the quality of coffee increase throughout Japan, especially in the past few years,” he told AWOL.

A Coffee And A Chat

Like Masa, Yoko sees the relationship between the customer and barista as being a huge part of Australian coffee culture: “Locals know their barista, the baristas know the customer’s coffee, there’s constant communication… A trust and bond, almost.”

Mel Coffee Roasters Osaka

Image courtesy of Mel Coffee Roasters

It’s good news for specialty coffee and perfect for every Australian traveller who gets a bit twitchy without their daily fix. Just don’t expect them to be open at the crack of dawn like they are here – that part may have been lost in translation.

(Lead image courtesy of Kurasu)