The coffee market in Japan is very competitive and sophisticated. It is well-known for its association with ultra-high-scoring coffees and is one of the major coffee-consuming nations in the world. Japanese coffee roasters typically acquire the winning lots in competitions such as the Cup of Excellence and the Best of Panama.
In addition, despite the widespread belief that coffeehouse culture originated in Europe, Japan’s capital city of Tokyo became home to the world’s first coffeehouse in the late 1880s. Since that time, the culture of Japanese coffee shops has swiftly changed, embracing elements from both the past and the present.
This kind of change, however, inevitably has an effect on beverage habits throughout the course of time, which raises a very important question: how can café owners keep up with the ever-changing expectations of their customers?
A history of coffee culture in Japan
The consumption of coffee in Japan set a new record of 7.5 million 60-kilogram bags in 2019, making the nation one of the most prolific consumers of coffee in the world. However, it took the Japanese people centuries to develop a taste for coffee and get acclimated to drinking it.
From the middle of the 1600s until the middle of the 1800s, Japan was a rather isolated trade country. The Netherlands was Japan’s only commercial gateway to Europe throughout this time period. Dutch merchants were the first to introduce coffee to Japan, but the Japanese people were not enthusiastic about it.
However, during the end of the nineteenth century, art deco coffee shops, also known as kissatens in the local dialect, started to open their doors, which contributed to the rising popularity of coffee. There was simply black coffee or tea available at Kissatens; the establishment emphasised simplicity while yet creating an interesting and pleasant atmosphere.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, there was a movement in consumer patterns toward convenience and mass buying. In the 1980s and 1990s, larger-scale coffee chain businesses like as Doutor and Starbucks came into being, and vending machines started selling canned coffee drinks.
Throughout the course of the twentieth century, these goods contributed to a surge in consumption completed inside the house, while kissatens worked on developing whole new categories of beverage.
At the start of the twenty-first century, various kissatens began serving hand-brewed pour over coffee, which is considered to be one of the most prominent coffee preparation methods. Because these businesses have always placed a strong emphasis on quality, the proprietors are continually developing and refining their recipes in an effort to produce coffee that has the most delicious flavour.
Kissatens have had a significant influence on the worldwide third wave coffee movement, particularly in that they have served as a source of motivation for a number of specialised coffee companies such as Blue Bottle Coffee. Before opening locations in the United States that were heavily inspired by the culture of Japanese coffee shops, Blue Bottle’s creator, James Freeman, made his first trip to Japan in 2007 to see the culture of a kissaten for himself.
Prominent coffee trends in Japan
The Vancouver International Latte Art Competition in 2012 and the Coffee Fest Anaheim Latte Art Competition in 2016 were only two of the latte art competitions that Nobumasa Shimoyama won. Additionally, he is the proprietor of Pathfinder, a coffee shop and barista school located in Osaka.
According to him, “Japanese customers often take coffee in the period between waking up and commencing work, or to increase attention [while] working.” Additionally, they drink coffee as a way to relax, either with company or by themselves.
The traditional Japanese coffee shops known as kissaten sell exclusively brewed coffee, but more recently, contemporary cafés all around Japan have started to provide beverages made with espresso. These are becoming more and more popularity as time goes on.
According to Nobumasa, “Office employees prefer to [drink] black coffee in the morning or during breaks.” [Caffeine] “However, people of younger generations have a propensity to [drink sweeter drinks, such as lattes].”
In spite of the fact that they are unique, both traditional and contemporary coffee shops in Japan have established a reputation for being innovative when it comes to the way beverages are prepared.
For instance, a number of well-known kissatens like to play around with the coffee that they purchase. For example, Café de l’Ambre uses a house blend that has been aged for seven years and feeds it to its customers.
In the meanwhile, contemporary coffee shops have earned a reputation for being the first to pioneer revolutionary brewing methods. One such example is iced drip coffee prepared in the way of Japan. This cold filter coffee beverage is prepared by extracting hot coffee over ice, which brings out the acidity and brightness of the coffee.
Nobumasa notes as well that the outbreak has had a big influence on the coffee market in Japan.
He argues that the current level of coffee consumption in Japan is higher than it was twenty years ago. “Beginning in late 2019, consumption [at] cafes, restaurants, and hotels began to decrease as a direct result of the effects of Covid-19.”
“However, during this time period, consumption of roasted coffee at home as well as sales of roasted coffee in stores climbed.”
Coffee lovers in Japan are paying more attention to the coffee they purchase as a result of the growing demand for at-home consumption, as well as the growing number of customers who are passionate about specialty coffee.
According to Nobumasa, “Selling [an] extensive range [of single sources] is in [greater] demand, especially in residential areas.”
Roasting trends & the art of in-store roasting
Nobumasa argues that the features of roasts sold on the Japanese market are prone to a considerable deal of variation because of the vast number and variety of coffee shops in Japan.
He continues, “Japanese customers love coffee that has a dark roasted flavour.” The vast majority of dark-roasted coffees are the ones that are offered in convenience shops and by large coffee chains.
However, coffee that has been lightly roasted and has a bright and mild acidity is gaining more and more popularity. Customers’ interest in trying different kinds of coffee has been growing for some time.
Because of these growing tendencies in roast qualities, café owners need to be able to swiftly adapt to the changing demands of their customers.
The Roastelier by Nescafé is a countertop roasting solution that has just arrived on the market in Japan. Cafe operators may take advantage of this fact by adopting the Roastelier by Nescafé. Because of this product, coffee shops are able to make a wide range of roast profiles in a way that is both efficient and responsive to customer demand.
Nobumasa observes that the custom of coffee shops in Japan roasting their own beans is becoming more widespread.
He explains it by saying that there are more coffee shops or cafes that have roasters. “The majority of [these] businesses focus on selling beans while also offering specialty coffee [by the cup],”
However, given that the majority of commercial roasting equipment is rather large and must operate in a space that is solely devoted to its operation, installation might be challenging for smaller coffee operations.
Nobumasa notes that there may be difficulties in installing big equipment and finding space for it. The Roastelier, on the other hand, has a compact design that doesn’t take up much room and can be easily put, even in a tiny [coffee shop].”
Additionally, due of their smaller sizes, countertop roasting systems allow café operators to concentrate on freshness by roasting in smaller volumes. This is made possible by the fact that they may produce more roasts each batch.
Nobumasa comes to the conclusion that “with Roastelier, coffee beans may be roasted in tiny batches of 250g,” which results in less waste and is simpler to handle.
How can café owners adapt to shifting consumer demands?
The perception of freshness is quite prevalent among Japanese coffee consumers.
According to Nobumasa, the “Ultimate Freshly Roasted Coffee” at the flagship shop for Roastelier in Japan, which is located in Kobe, is served three hours after the coffee has been roasted. This creates a unique sensory experience. Together with the 2016 World Brewers Cup winner Tetsu Kasuya, he collaborated on the development of Roastelier’s menu of signature coffee blends and recipes.
He argues that the most important aspect of Roastelier is that consumers are able to try fresh coffee beans that have been roasted right there in the shop. “However, when you go to the coffee shop, you will not only be able to taste freshly roasted coffee, but you will also be able to appreciate the scent and [craft] of roasting, both of which are things that you very seldom see in cafes.”
“Japanese clients expect a little elegance when eating out, but they like excellent coffee at home,” he adds. “Japanese customers adore nice coffee at home.” “[Cafés] that roast their own coffee on the premises are able to satisfy both of those criteria.”
In-store roasting may help the country’s customer base “understand coffee better,” according to Nobumasa, and it can also boost traceability of the product.
The process used by Roastelier, for instance, makes use of a QR code to identify the coffee and offers baristas a selection of roast types that are suitable for the beverage. The unique terroir of each coffee may be deduced by scanning its corresponding code.
“Consumers want to experience coffees from a variety of sources,” says Nobumasa, “including coffees from Brazil, Colombia, and Ethiopia.”
“Roastelier is able to deliver each bean with its ideal light, medium, or dark roast profile with only the push of a button.”
Additionally, he brings up the fact that customers are not the only ones who gain from countertop roasting setups.
It is wonderful for coffee establishments to be able to produce, roast, and flavour their own coffee.
It is possible that in the long run it will be less expensive for coffee shops to purchase green beans and roast their own coffee rather than to obtain roasted coffee from wholesale suppliers.
It might be challenging to keep up with the constantly shifting tastes of customers in a dynamic market like Japan’s coffee industry. In-store roasting using a technology such as Roastelier, which enables coffee shops to roast for an ever-expanding selection of origins, brewing techniques, and customer demands, is one solution to this problem.
According to Nobumasa, “café owners may give their coffees the flavour that they have been looking for all along.”