How to Order Coffee in Japan?
Japan has had a long history with coffee and they’ve turned coffee into an adventurous artisanal craft of sorts.
The Japanese people have a tendency to pursue a craft to the extreme at times. You can find generations of a family devoted to a certain craft like making knives, pottery, and of course sushi.
Coffee is no exception and that’s apparent in the unique ways of extracting and making coffee with various tools and extraction techniques.
Coffee lovers have also increased and the many coffee terms and expressions used between baristas and roasters have become more mainstream among customers. So much so that customers speak the language of coffee like a pro when ordering.
Today we’ll look at the most common ways coffee is ordered in Japan and how you can order coffee like a pro.
Coffee usually means Pour Over Coffee
Excluding franchise coffee shops such as Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee, most local cafes/roaster cafes make coffee one cup at a time to ensure fresh, robust and fragrant coffee for their customers.
There’re many ways to make coffee in small batches but the most common method is the pour-over method; at least that’s what’s quite popular in Japan.
Nowadays even cafes that don’t specialise in making coffee use the pour over technique.
When you order coffee, you’ll most likely get the pour over coffee so keep that in mind.
Some cafes offer other extraction methods like the french press or the aero press. It’s best to specify the extraction method with the waiter/waitress if you’re looking for something other than pour over coffee.
When ordering coffee, it’s best to replace the consonant ‘f’ sound with ‘h’. So when ordering, you would pronounce it as ‘Kouhii’ rather than ‘Kafee’.
Another term used for pour over coffee is ‘dorippu’ or ‘hando-dorippu’ which refers to the coffee dripping into the cup when using a dripper.
Single Origin and Blends
Single Origin (more commonly shortened to and pronounced as Shinguru in Japanese) refers to coffee that comes from one specific location.
It used to be all countries; but with the advent of the third wave of coffee as well as more transparency & traceability with in the coffee trading world, you can find regions, terroir, farms as single-origin coffee.
The biggest difference from blends is that you get a taste of coffee from a particular region.
Very similar to wine tasting from a particular vineyard.
And yes, sometimes the year harvested can play a huge role in how the coffee might taste.
The number of third wave cafes are increasing in Japan and it’s much much more common to find single origin coffee.
You may just see the country/region/farm names on the menu at the cafe you go to. If they seem to sound like a region in a country, you can bet that its single origin.
There’ll also be descriptions about the unique characteristics and features it possesses.
On the other hand, blends refer to a mixture of single origins. You may have coffee from Kenya, Colombia and Guatemala all mixed into one.
Blends (commonly pronounced as Burendo in Japan)are usually created with a certain vision in mind, a taste/fragrance that boasts particular characteristics.
They may change with seasons, and this is quite common in Japan. You can find Autumn/Fall blend, or maybe Halloween blend somewhere around October.
You may also find core blends that constantly stay on the shelf throughout the year.
The house blend is a representation of the cafe/roaster cafe. If you’re only visiting there once, it may be worthwhile to at least try their house blend just so you understand the style and flavor profiles they’re going for.
To order the house blend simply use Burendo or say Hausu-Burendo.
Dark Roast, Medium Roast, Light Roast
You’ll find various roasts at most cafes specializing in coffee. The common is dark roast (fukairi), medium roast (chuuiri) and light roast (asairi) with medium-dark roasts (chuubukairi) at times.
The light roast tends to have the most acidity and fruitiness. The darker you get, the more smokey and sweet-bitter it becomes.
The term light roast can really differ between cafes, unless they’re specifically talking about roast degrees.
To clarify, you could ask them if the roast is above or below a city roast. This can give you a general idea of whether your coffee is more to the fruity-acidic side or sweet-bitter side.
Third wave cafes tend to line their shelves with coffee that doesn’t go past the full-city roast. So you can expect to have a milder, fruity-acidic taste even if the menu lists a dark roast.
Espresso is not yet mainstream
Espresso (Esupuresso in Japanese) is common in Europe and other coffee consuming countries.
Espresso machines didn’t come to Japan until after the pour-over became popular and common.
That maybe one reason espresso isn’t regularly consumed. Another reason may be the intense and concentrated flavor that doesn’t necessarily suit the Japanese palate; they prefer subtle flavors. And Japanese people also want to take their time at a coffee shop, so naturally they would naturally gravitate to coffee that has more liquid.
For cafes serving espresso, you usually say Esupure’sso for single shots and Daburu for double shots.
One thing you should note is that some of the old style cafes or kissaten won’t offer espressos because they don’t have espresso machines. However you don’t have to worry too much as nowadays most coffee shops do have espressos although they may not be the best.
Your best luck is to go to third wave cafes or the more trendy coffee shops to have some awesome espresso.
Cafe Latte or Cappuccino
There are specific rules to what a cafe latte or a cappuccino should be – when talking about the ratio of espresso to milk to foam.
For example, cafe latte should contain more milk than milk foam. On the other hand, cappuccino should contain equal parts of milk and milk foam, and so you get a stronger taste of coffee.
This is not always the case in Japan however. Depending on the cafe, the cafe latte you ordered may be leaning towards a cappuccino and the opposite goes for a cafe latte.
Why the difference?
There’s no real answer to why this may be so, but since every cafe/barista may have their own unique vision when it comes to their ideal term of ‘cappuccino’ or ‘latte’, it’s quite possible to have something different from what you would expect. But hey, it’s still delicious!!
You should perhaps ask what their cappuccino/latte refers to, or ask which one has more foam if you want to make sure.
Latte is pronounced as rate while Cappuccino is pronounced as kapuchiino.
Milk & Sugar
What’s becoming more and more apparent is the fact that many coffee lovers prefer black coffee. They don’t want milk or sugar because they want to enjoy the flavor profiles of the coffee.
In fact, some cafes nowadays don’t even have a booth/station where you can put milk and sugar in your coffee. You might have to ask for it.
In the old-style cafes or Kissaten, they’ll usually ask if you need it. Sometimes they may bring you fresh whipped cream instead of milk.
Black coffee, or coffee without milk or sugar is pronounced burakku kouhii or just burakku.
Milk – miruku Sugar – satou
I think it’s just the way Japanese people think, but they prefer to feel and enjoy the true essence of a particular dish/beverage. That’s why you find such refined and subtle-tasting dishes like sushi and miso soup.
And that way of thinking has maybe moved on to coffee, especially now that the quality is so good that you can actually taste the various flavor profiles similar to wine.
Iced coffee, or aisu kouhii in Japanese, is quite popular during the summer.
Actually, it’s quite common to find it during the winter since there’re customers who only have ice coffee throughout the year. No joke.
There are two ways to make ice coffee. The simple and the complex.
The simple involves cooling freshly brewed strong coffee with ice, diluting it in the process. This is called the direct cooling method or the Japanese Iced Coffee.
On to the complex.
What you’ll find in a lot of coffee shops and third wave cafes is mizudashi aisu kouhii or cold-brew coffee.
This one takes quite long since very cold water is slowly dripped into a long glass funnel containing lots of coffee grounds.
But what you get is some very delicious and unique coffee that’s pleasing to the palate.
If you’re particularly interested in trying a cold-brew of the cafe, ask for the mizudashi ainu kouhii or mizudashi for short.
Just Know these words and you’ll be ordering like a regular customer in Japan
・Single Origin Coffee – shinguru
・Blend – burendo
・Dark Roast – fukairi
・Medium Roast – chuuiri
・Light Roast – asairi
・Medium-dark – chuubukairi
・Espresso – esupuresso or daburu( if a double shot )
・Latte – rate or kafe rate
・Cappuccino – kapuchiino
・Milk – miruku
・Sugar – satou
・Ice Coffee (the usual kind) – aisu kouhii
・Cold-brew Coffee – mizudashi aisu kouhii
・After saying this, just add onegaishimasu which stands for ‘please’ or ‘can I have’.
・Before the words, you can add sumimasen which means ‘excuse me’.
And there you have it, the words you need to order coffee like a pro in Japan.