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.
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.
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.
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.
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).