Japan is another one of those countries where many other things come to mind before coffee. However, there is a vibrant Japanese coffee culture and many travel from around the world to experience it.

Japanese Coffee: A Brief History

It was only after the sakoku period ended-a time lasting 200 years (from 1638-1858) when Japan isolated itself from the world- that coffee became prevalent in Japanese culture. Until 1858, merchants- especially foreign merchants- were extremely limited in what goods they could acquire and sell. It was only in Nagasaki that European merchants were able to enjoy coffee. It is precisely those European merchants (of Turkish descent) who are thought to be responsible for introducing coffee to the greater island of Japan.

The caffeinated beverage was not well received by the Japanese at first. They found the drink bitter and did not enjoy drinking it until the late 1800s when the country entered the “Meiji Restoration” period.

Shortly after Japan emerged back into the trading world, coffee was slowly imported, eventually reaching most regions of the island country. In 1888 the first coffee shop (called a kissaten) in the country opened in Tokyo; before this occurrence, only tea houses (called chaya) existed throughout the country. Japan saw steady business from the beverage for several decades, but World War II damaged Japanese coffee culture significantly.

Happily, Japanese coffee culture picked up again in the 1960s, when it became fashionable to drink coffee, and started booming throughout the country. The culture hasn’t gone anywhere either: In 2014, Japan-while not in the top 36 coffee producers- is a significant importer of coffee, getting beans from top producers such as Guatemala, Thailand, and Kenya; in 2015, barista and owner of Rec Coffee shop (pictured below), Yoshikazu Iwase, won the SCAJ Barista Championship. It seems that Japanese coffee culture is here to stay!

Japanese Coffee Culture

Early Japanese coffee houses strived to differentiate themselves from the tea houses; they only offered Black tea and coffee while often offering leisurely provisions such as tobacco and newspapers- creating an atmosphere that not only welcomed long-term patronage, but encouraged one to stay for a while. The decor was often in the art deco style, with the goal of appearing modern.

This flashy trend seems to have stuck around (at least in the larger cities). The decor of modern day Japanese coffee shops are simple with clean lines and colors that pop, complimenting one another; one could arguably call it mid-century modern.

Many specialty coffee shops offer freshly ground-to-order coffee while modern day kissatens often act as cafés as well as coffee shops-meant to serve as places of convenience where one cannot only grab a coffee, but lunch too! Kind of like Starbucks here in the West, but with more inspiring decor (and assuredly better food!).

How to Make Kyoto Drip Cold Brew

To make this particular coffee (and many Japanese coffee recipes), you will have to brush up on your mad coffee scientist skills as some chemistry is involved.

This style stands out from other cold brewing methods- although similar, it is not the same as Japanese Iced Coffee– and is claimed by many to bring out a superior taste than the Immersion cold brewing method (aka: the traditional way to make cold brewed coffee). The brewing process is slow and consistent, capturing subtleties of flavor not otherwise produced in its fellow cold brewing methods.

Here is a general recipe for the popular Yama Tower that can serve as the starting point in your relationship with Kyoto Drip Cold Brew.

What you’ll need:

  • Ice
  • Water
  • 8 oz. coffee (medium grind)
  • Drip coffee tower
  • ~11 1/2 hours

Instructions:

  1. Insert filter to the bottom of cylinder.
  2. Add ground coffee to cylinder, making sure the bottom is evenly covered.
  3. Place filter over grounds.
  4. Load cylinder at the top with ice and water.
  5. Saturate coffee grounds (the “coffee bed’) evenly with ~6-7oz (13.5 Tbl.) of water.
  6. Set drip rate to 40 drops/minute (which equates to 1 drip every 1 1/2 seconds), making sure to consistently check drip rate once every 90 minutes, adjusting if need be.
  7. Wait for ~ 11 1/2 hours (11 hours and 48 minutes to be exact).
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Other brewing tips to consider:

  • Adjust “drip rate” throughout the entire process. Check every 1-2 hours.
  • Give your coffee time to “bloom”.
  • A light coffee with bright notes is best for this method.
  • Important to make sure all components of your drip tower are clean, secured in place, and accounted for before, during, and after brewing; note that the aerator should be sitting straight up and down and the bottom carafe portion aligned properly to catch drip.

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