Japan certainly has a taste for excellent coffee. For example, it is one of the biggest importers of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, one of the most expensive brands in the world. Japan’s coffee culture is one of the most developed in the world. One unique element of Japan’s coffee culture is the international diversity—Scandinavian, New Zealander, Italian and American are among the cafe offerings in major cities.
With such a vibrant coffee culture, you might be wondering why you would even want to brew at home. Price is definitely one factor—for the ¥500 you might spend on one coffee, you can have a week’s worth of homebrew! It also ensures a drink you’ll enjoy, one tailored to your tastes and preferences.
So what do you need to begin brewing at home?
Good home brewing shouldn’t have to be expensive or inconvenient. You can pick up the equipment you need cheaply from Japanese stores, both online and in-store. Some of the most convenient places include Amazon Japan, Kaldi Coffee Farm, Coffee Roasters Tonya, Yodobashi Camera and Tokyu Hands. Most methods of making coffee at home are small and easy to maintain – perfect if you’re working in a smaller kitchen. Some of the more common and budget-friendly ways to make coffee at home include:
- Pour overs: Dorippu kohi (Drip Coffee) in Japan, is made with hot water poured into a cone with ground coffee in a filter. The water seeps through the beans and slowly drips into the cup beneath. This method works best with slightly coarse ground coffee, so ask your roaster for chuubiki (medium grind).
- Press Coffee: A puresu (press coffee), such as the French press, is a pot where you soak the ground coffee in hot water for several minutes. Once you’re done, press down with a filter to separate the grounds, then pour off your coffee. This will work best with a rough grind. ask for arabiki (coarse grind).
- Percolator: The pakoreta (percolator) uses boiling water to continuously cycle through the grounds. A popular percolator is a moka pot. The water in the lower chamber is heated, and the steam passes through the coffee grounds in the middle chamber. This allows coffee to collect in the highest chamber, which you then pour out. Percolators usually want the same coarse grind as presses, but moka pots need finer coffee. Ask for hosobiki (fine grind). Which you might need to find at specialty coffee shops.
Which method is best for you?
They can all be acquired relatively cheaply online or at specialty coffee stores, but each has pros and cons. A pour-over will produce a smooth, balanced cup of coffee, but you’ll need filters at hand, and it only produces one cup at a time. Despite these drawbacks, it’s the preferred method for most Japanese cafes and the most popular in Japan generally. Most preground beans here will be ground to a consistency ideal for pour-over coffee.
The percolators will make milder coffees, although the Moka pot will make more robust, bitter coffees like espresso. However, you’ll need a gas stove. It is the least common method in Japan since it’s only used for home brewing. You might have trouble finding a good one. Check the reviews before buying!
The French press will create the most subtle taste—you can really taste the flavors in the coffee, but if your grounds are too fine, you can end up with a silty, sludgy coffee.
A simple way of choosing a method is to first find beans you like and ask the roaster if there’s a method that works particularly well for them. Many roasters are familiar with the flavor profiles of their beans. They can guide you to a method that ensures you have the best experience.
Speaking of beans…
Choose your coffee
The other half of our equation, fresh ground coffee is always going to be better than pre-ground, so a grinder is worth budgeting for. In Japan, larger coffee roasters tend to rate beans on a few criteria:
- Sanmi (acidity): The sour, fruity notes in your coffee.
- Nigami (bitterness): The darker, more coarse notes in the coffee
- Kanmi (sweetness): The milder, sweeter tastes in the coffee
- Koku (body): The feel and viscosity of the coffee in your mouth
While that may seem incomprehensible to beginners, it’s one of the easiest ways to find a coffee you can brew at home.
If you’ve got a cafe you like, asking them for the flavor profile of their beans can give you a good starting point. Afterward, you can pick up the beans at larger roastery chains, such as Yanaka Coffee or online at Coffee Roasters Tonya. A Scandinavian roastery, Fuglen, even offers a coffee subscription service in Japan!
Another option is smaller specialty roasters. Of course, they won’t have the variety that the larger roasters have, but you can often try a cup of their coffee and, if you like it, buy the beans used for it. Or if you’re in a hurry, there is always Kaldi Coffee.
The price of a bean
Smaller roasters also usually have a familiarity with their beans, so they can offer some direct insight into what flavors you enjoy in their coffee.
Depending on the quality and rarity of the beans you order, 100g can set you back anywhere from ¥200 to ¥1,200 but expect to pay around ¥400. A cup of coffee usually needs about 20g of coffee grounds, which works out to ¥80 a cup.
So that’s the basics of brewing at home! Is there a method that stands out or one you already swear by? Or is there a cafe that already won you over that you don’t think you could top?