Coffee, coffee everywhere but not a drop to drink (that’s any decent)

You can get coffee just about anywhere in Japan thanks to the millions (yes, millions) of vending machines littered around the country.  “How convenient,” you must be thinking.  Yeah, if you like drinking awful coffee.  I’ve seen vending machines with two of the four rows dedicated to coffee in a can, but none of them are very good.  Many of the ones that aren’t flavored with milk and sugar taste bitter and metallic.

Canned coffee in a vending machine. So convenient…so gross.
In the summer, the vending machine chills the coffee and in the winter it warms it up. So cool!

You can also purchase coffee in cute little faux-paper coffee cups at the convenience store.  Just stick a straw in the top and you’re on your way to “enjoying” a nice iced coffee beverage.  That sounds great, except in reality, these drinks are only vaguely reminiscent of coffee and, frankly, suck.  

Coffee at the convenience store. Clever packaging but still no coffee taste.

If I need an afternoon pick-me-up while I’m at work, my only option is of the freeze dried, instant variety.  Japan has perfected many things, but instant coffee is not one of them.


Starbucks, with its sickeningly sweet mochas America has come to know and…tolerate, is actually pretty good in Japan. Adapting to Japanese tastes, Starbucks Japan has toned down its use of sugar and syrups and churns out beverages that actually taste like coffee instead of a liquefied candy bar.  The whipped cream isn’t even sweetened, but the caramel frappucinos still come topped with caramel syrup.

Starbucks Japan: Same logo, better coffee.

Khoa and I visit a little coffee shop in Matsue whenever we get a chance to get off of our island.  They brew a mean cup of joe, but you have to pay 450 yen ($5.73) for a tea cup of black coffee. Yikes!  In the summer, we discovered a whole menu of fun cold drinks.  Take a look at my coffee float.  It’s just iced black coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating on top.  It definitely takes the edge off of the summer heat. 

Coffee float

 Even in Chibu (pop. 602), there are a handful of vending machines offering canned coffee 24/7.  The general store shelves are lined with three varieties of instant coffee, but no coffee beans or fresh brewed coffee in sight.  We have to cross an ocean for that.  Coffee, coffee everywhere but not a drop to drink (that’s any decent).


2 thoughts on “Coffee, coffee everywhere but not a drop to drink (that’s any decent)

  1. Cath January 16, 2013 / 1:31 am

    lol! I remember this lack of coffee from my trip to japan too! I ended up growing a liking for the boxed iced coffee; the one they usually serve on trains along with a little cup of liquid sugar.

    Now I am back in Canada and when I have found an Asian grocery selling Japanese canned coffee; I happily brought some home, cheerful and nostalgic.. until I tasted it again… the nostalgia stayed but the cheer was gone. 🙂 Taste awful!

    I enjoy your blog much! thank you for your posts!

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