Going to Japan? Or just daydreaming of it? Its oxymoronic combination of ultra-modern cityscapes and thousands of years of tradition is famous, yet it’s not just Kinkakuji Temple and Shibuya crossing that make it worth visiting.
In fact, you could make your whole trip just about Japanese coffee. Kissaten (tea houses) offer a glimpse into a time before coffee machines and paper to-go cups. Modern third-wave cafés constantly push the limits of coffee. And then there’s the coffee technology, from Hario to Kalita to robots.
There’s one more thing about Japan: it takes shopping to another level. And once you’re back home, we know you’re going to want something to remember your trip by. So we’ve created a coffee shopping list just for you. Read on to learn all about those Japanese items you won’t want to leave behind.
If you’re into coffee, you probably already have your own kettle – but I bet you didn’t have that many choices when you bought it. So when running around a Japanese city, pop into a department store and find their kitchen section. You’ll be amazed by the variety of shapes, colors, spouts, and grips they have.
A cool kettle from Tokyu Hands, which you’ll find in most Japanese cities, will give you definite bragging rights back home. Perhaps you should spring for a copper kettle? Both Hario and Kalita make a few. Or maybe an enameled one in canary yellow? Tsuki Usagi Jirushi makes beautiful enameled and colorful kettles.
Japanese kettles – more variety than you could have imagined. Credit: Eric Tessier
So, you went to Japan. You’re itching to talk about it. But your friends keep rolling their eyes because it’s all you seem to bring up. (Like, why wouldn’t anyone want to hear about Japan non-stop?)
Don’t worry – a few slick and trendy Japanese coffee magazines strategically strewn across your table should do the trick. “Tell me more about coffee in Japan!” they’ll say while skimming through the pages.
There are many different magazines and mooks (magazine-books) that are focused on the Japanese coffee scene. Maybe you won’t be able to read them, but they’re usually filled with amazing photography, easy to follow diagrams, and other interesting images. You can point with glee to the pictures of the cafés you’ve visited and your friends will squirm with jealousy.
Most medium-sized book stores in Japan have a large magazine section. Yurindo, Aoyama Book Center, and Kinokuniya are major chains. And if you can’t speak Japanese, try writing “Coffee Magazines” or, if you can remember it, kohi no zasshi (コーヒーのざっし) on a piece of paper. Chances are, one of the staff members will be able to help.
Japanese coffee magazines: beautiful even if you can’t read them. Credit: Eric Tessier
One-Time-Use Pour Overs
You can’t beat freshly ground coffee for your daily cup of joe, but it’s hard to compete with the novelty of these individually packaged cardboard pour overs, a.k.a. drip bags. They pop open with ears that hook over the side of your mug and have pre-ground coffee sitting in the paper net in the middle.
These will make a great gift for your friends – and are also fantastic emergency items for your travel case, just in case you need coffee on the road. Some stores, such as the Daiso 100 yen store chain, even sell just the paper shell so that you can add your own coffee.
Many good cafes sell these with their own expertly roasted coffee inside. Roast works by the Coffee Shop is a cafe that fills them to order in Tokyo. Alternatively, if you’re on a budget you can also get them with generic coffee inside at any supermarket for next to nothing. UCC Coffee and Key Coffee, two brands akin to Folgers, are extremely reasonable if you’re just looking for the fun of it.
Ready to go! Just pop them open and add hot water. Credit: Eric Tessier
Pour Over Cones
The pour over world isn’t made up of just Hario, Chemex, and Kalita. You may be surprised to find a pour over cone that speaks to you at a department store or kitchen store during your travels. Many take Melita filters, so you can still use it back home without fear of running out.
Another smart buy would be a flannel drip filter, or “nel drip” as it’s known in Japan. This perhaps most iconic piece of coffee hardware in Japanese traditional coffee culture, and is often the barista’s choice in a traditional kissaten. Slow Coffee Style makes beautiful glass carafes with stainless steel cones to fit and require no paper filters. Hario also makes several mesh-lined versions of the V60 which need no paper.
Japanese pour over cones: Hario might be popular, but it’s not the only one. Credit: Eric Tessier
And the Rest…
Still looking for more coffee items? If you’ve got room to spare in your luggage, you may want to buy a syphon coffee brewer for your coffee lab. Just be sure to pack it carefully!
Oh, and don’t forget to stock up on Kalita Wave filters, which are often scarce outside of Japan.
Then there are the accessories… If you’re a barista, you may notice a lot of cool aprons around. Perhaps a stylish, new apron from Tokyo might help you finally win the heart of your café crush. Who knows?
A Japanese syphon: a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Credit: Eric Tessier
There’s a lot to do and see in Japan, and coffee is just a small part of the vibrant culture – but it’s very exciting part. Don’t get so caught up with your sightseeing and coffee shopping that you forget to actually enjoy drinking good coffee, either. It might not be the main focus of your trip, being abroad is no excuse to drink bad coffee.
Do a little research on the areas you’ll be visiting and make sure to make note of the good cafés. Or, better yet, ask someone at your hotel or on the street for a recommendation. A notepad and a pen will be your best friend during your search for coffee and coffee merchandise, since most Japanese people understand basic written English (if not more).
Just remember, when preparing for your trip to leave some extra room in your luggage for some great coffee swag. Mt Fuji might be beautiful, the sushi might be delicious, and the bullet trains might be the fastest you’ve ever traveled on land – but when you get home, it’s these coffee souvenirs that will take you right back to the highlights of your holiday.
Edited by T. Newton.
Perfect Daily Grind.