Synonymous with “waking up,” coffee is one of America’s all-time favorite morning brews, enjoyed by millions every day. In an industry that continues to boom, coffee lovers are continuing to drink this beloved beverage as much as they ever did. In fact, many people have found a new appreciation for once breakfast-based beans thanks to evolving technology and popular coffee trends.
One thing that keeps coffee popular and relevant is its adaptability. Revolutionizing the way we drink this once simple beverage, where the only real choice was between black and “with” sugar and milk, today’s coffee culture is constantly expanding. With small cafes and big chains on every street corner, the varieties, flavors, and styles of coffee grow with every passing day.
Today, one of the latest trends in American coffee culture centers around the all-day cafe, inspired by Japanese Kissatens, that’s changing the way we look at how we enjoy a cup of Joe.
History of Japanese coffee culture
For several centuries Japan was a tea-drinking culture, with the traditional tea ceremony holding spiritual and cultural significance. Coffee was first introduced by the Dutch during the country’s isolationist period from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s.
In 1888, the first notable Japanese coffee shop was opened by Eikei Tei in Tokyo’s Ueno district. Enchanted by the cultural vibrancy of French cafes, Tei attempted to emulate their style in his home country. Tei’s coffee shop was only around for a few years, but the inspiration they served would last for centuries.
By the turn of the century, coffee’s popularity was on the rise in Japan, but after the second world war when Japan banned all imports, the trend all but disappeared. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that coffee began flowing into the country once again. Imports of affordable and easy-brew instant coffee in the sixties saw coffee dripping again into Japanese households.
Hiromichi Toriba seized the moment. By anticipating the needs of a growing workforce, he built Doutor, Japan’s most popular and long-lasting chain of coffee shops.
As a burgeoning fast-paced urban lifestyle was developing in the country’s big cities, Toriba predicted that the working consumer would crave convenient caffeine beverages and portable breakfast items. Before long, Doutor coffee shops, offering affordable coffee-to-go, began appearing all over Japan’s urban centers, quickly dominating the marketplace.
Enter the Kissaten
Kissaten is the Japanese term for all-day cafes or coffee shops. Beginning back in the Taisho Period, kissatens became the go-to spots for good fun and a lively atmosphere. Originally tea houses where people gathered to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, Kissatens began selling coffee in the 1960s.
As the taste for coffee began to surpass that of the leafy counterpart, kissatens stepped away from the fast pace of the Doutor coffee shops, embodying an intentional approach, using the same ideologies embraced by the Japanese for centuries.
These cafes took on a more laid-back vibe, becoming a relaxed gathering space for students, writers, and artists to exchange ideas, share ideas, and unwind, predating the trendy cut-and-paste chains.
Shifting from a quick caffeine fix to the process itself, kissatens focused on high-quality, slow-brewed, hand-crafted beverages. Hand-brewed using a siphon or pour-over style, a strong, complex, and nuanced cup of coffee became the Kissaten signature brew.
Constantly experimenting and tweaking their brewing methods, Kissaten brew-masters continually developed new concepts and methods to master the process and extract the very best from their beans. Forgoing modern espresso machines, baristas generally opt for hand drip and siphon methods to have complete control over their craft.
Today, some of the world’s most iconic siphon and pour-over equipment brands are Japanese companies.
Modern Japanese Coffee Culture
As the 20th century came to an end, Japanese coffee shop culture began to evolve and popularity rose.
The most evident Japanese contribution to the current coffee landscape is the equipment of brands like Kalita and Hario. Japanese coffee equipment, mostly geared toward hand-drip methods, is known for quality and reliability without being too expensive.
Though Japan only ranks as the 39th largest consumption per capita of coffee, the country is the 3rd largest importer of coffee, sitting behind the United States and Germany.
Something old is new
Kissatens have had a great influence on today’s coffee culture in Japan. Inspired by the thoughtful and intentional approach the Japanese bring to coffee preparation, and their culture at large.
Contributing to Japan’s third-wave coffee culture, today’s all-day cafes are a return to the traditional rather than something new.
The Three Waves of Coffee
To gain a better understanding of the coffee culture transition in Japan, it’s important to take a look at the “waves of coffee” that took place around the world. The term “wave of coffee,” refers to the various stages in the coffee industry that represent the overarching changes in global coffee culture.
Similar to the industrial revolutions, each wave was initiated by some kind of big change after which the industry was changed forever.
First Wave of Coffee
The first wave dates back to the 1800s when the consumption of coffee started to grow at exponential levels. Presenting an enormous opportunity for coffee entrepreneurs to experience exponential growth in coffee sales the coffee bean became a commodity.
With coffee becoming a staple in every household and on every restaurant menu, this period was centered more around consumers seeking an easy-to-access and convenient “caffeine kick” and less about quality, origins, or flavor.
Second Wave of Coffee
The second wave started in the 1970s began when Starbucks opened its first cafes and as the chain seeped across the world. Coffee consumers started demanding higher quality and better taste, and showed a greater interest in coffee’s origins.
In the 90s, Starbucks, understanding that consumers were aching for a new, more social coffee experience with coffee of better quality, started opening coffee shops that were places to relax, listen to music, or work rather than just a place to grab a cup-o’-Joe-to-go.
This wave transformed the atmosphere of coffee shops, beginning with a more relaxed vibe in the architecture and interior design. Higher quality beans and an elevated, experience-centric vibe allowed consumers to justify the higher price tags. Starbucks was definitely on to something.
The second wave also brought more hand-crafted specialty drinks to the cafes that before could only be found on the menus of high-end Italian and French bistros and restaurants. Coffee shops started creating coffee-based drinks, such as frappuccinos to appeal to a broader and younger customer base.
Third Wave of Coffee
The third wave began as a result of an increasingly sophisticated coffee consumer when coffee appreciation starts to take on similarities to wine. People started to care much more about the origins of the coffee, the quality, and the brewing process.
In addition to the quality of the coffee, other aspects became important such as the professionality of the barista, the traceability of the coffee beans, micro-roasters, and fair-trade coffee.
While Japan may not have led the international third wave, it likely inspired it with its centuries-old tea-drinking rituals that spilled over to the coffee culture.
With initiatives such as fair trade coffee which protects the coffee farmers and the use of organic agricultural products, the third wave places a focus on sustainability, from the crop to the cup.
Japanese Coffee Trends Spilling Across the GlobePour-over. The third-wave coffee shops across developed nations have adopted pour-overs as the way to showcase their beans, but despite the attempts to create the illusion of this method being technologically advanced, the Japanese have been using hand-crafted coffee methods like pour-over for hundreds of years.
Instant coffee. The invention of instant coffee can be credited to Japanese scientist Dr. Satoru Kato in 1901.
Hot bloom coffee. Japanese-style or hot bloom iced coffee is made by pouring hot water over grounds that drip onto the ice. This method not only captures the aromatics that result from hot brewing processes, but because it makes one cup at a time, it is a purposeful, meticulous, and ritualistic practice of masterfully crafting a drink.
Latte as an Art. Baristas in America pride themselves on perfecting geometric milk patterns like hearts, rosettas, and tulips, which, real talk, all look basically the same. But the Japanese have taken latte art to surrealist dimensions.
Ready-to-drink canned coffee. Japan is probably the only country in the world where you can find any type of coffee in a vending machine. They have canned americano, espresso, latte, café au lait, filter, and more.
Starting in Japan in the 1960s, there are more than 5.5 million vending machines across Japan selling canned coffee.
Japanese Coffee Culture Filtering into New American Normal
With modern coffee shops being all about free wifi and people staring into their computer screens, much of the focus for new cafes has been on the number of outlets and charging stations and faster free wife.
An American interpretation of the all-day coffee shop is a reflection of a renewed desire to live purposeful, simpler, and slower lives. The pandemic affected us in a multitude of ways, but one of the seemingly longest-lasting effects is the desire to spend more time with our families, our friends, and ourselves.
As American society pivoted towards a simpler, slower, and more individual-centered pace in the last few years, a desire to find places outside the home (which is also many’s workspaces) to simply unwind and chill is on the rise.
An answer to this call is the all-day Japanese-inspired cafe, characterized by minimalistic decor, tech-free (or tech-less) vibe, and laid-back ambiance that pays homage to Japan’s simple, comforting, casual, and understated approach to dining. Its unpretentious nature reflects a renewed less-is-more mentality among Americans.
The idea behind the new Japanese-inspired kissatens popping up in New York and LA is to restore a sense of community in a relaxed setting with a chill ambiance.
NYC’s Davelle has a homey atmosphere that invites you to linger all day. The name Develle is a derivation of the Japanese word “daberu,” which translates to “talking with friends,” and this tiny cafe with minimalistic rustic decor is exactly that – a place for friends to come together and actually hang out.
On the West Coast, the forthcoming daytime restaurant Konbi in Los Angeles similarly reflects the laid-back nature of kissatens in a small space. Upholding simple yet substantial characteristics, the owners of Konbi took their inspiration from Japan’s widely revered conbini (convenience store).
One of the main goals when creating this spot was to create a place that fostered a work-life balance, with no workspace (or Wi-Fi) to fit at their eight-seat counter. Instead, diners can rifle through the cafe’s handpicked supply of newspapers and magazines.
As Japanese culture pervades American life with its purposeful, intentional practices, designed to live in the present moment, the coffee shop has logically followed in its footsteps.
Taking a little time out for self-reflection, slower breathing, and mindfulness is what the Japanese culture has been about for centuries, and as it pours slowly and intentionally into modern American society, the all-day cafe is just one place that we can escape for a cup of coffee.
But you don’t have to head to a coffee shop to practice self-care and mindfulness. Incorporating meditation, massage, and purposeful beauty rituals into your daily routine can help fill your cup with joy.
by Eileen Strauss.