Posted in Kafevend Blog

Most of us are probably familiar with the name, Tommy Lee Jones. The Hollywood actor and director has appeared in a string of films, but is perhaps best known for his role as Agent K in the 'Men in Black' series. It turns out he's also been moonlighting in Japan, as a character called Alien Jones, in a long succession of Boss Coffee advertisements. So what is Boss Coffee and how does  Japan's relationship with coffee play out in a nation that has long been viewed as synonymous with tea? So, as a prelude to our Japanese tea ceremony quiz which will be appearing later this week, we felt it was time to redress the balance and give you a snapshot of the country's coffee culture.

The Japanese would appear to have had their first taste of coffee via Dutch trading ships back in the 1800s and by 1888 had their first coffee house. Nevertheless, tea remained very much the dominant beverage up until some 50 years ago when import restrictions were lifted and canned coffee started to hit the shelves. Actually, one of the key outlets for these cans of coffee was the vending machine. For anyone addicted to this method of buying goods Japan is vending machine heaven and the introduction of a machine capable of serving either hot or cold canned coffee in the early '70s paved the way for the product's rapidly expanding success. Boss Coffee is one of many brands, hence the need for a big name like Tommy Lee Jones to promote it and help it stand out from the crowd!

Alongside the rise of canned coffee came the emergence of Doutor, a chain of Japanese coffee houses. The company's founder hit on the idea of providing a caffeine hit and food to go for the nation's busy workforce as Japan hit economic boom time. Opening the first shop in 1980, Doutor has well over a thousand outlets throughout the nation today, even in the face of the global reach of Starbucks. The big name from Seattle does seem to have struck a chord with the younger generation however, and coffee culture has become more leisure oriented as a result. Starbucks outlets are also one of the few places that non smokers can enjoy a smoke free zone. While smoking in public places has been virtually outlawed in many nations, bans in Japan are comparatively few and far between.

Japan figures in the top five list of coffee importing countries, probably a reflection on the density of population because based on per capita consumption, it's still the Scandinavians who win hands down, while Japan doesn't even feature in the top twenty. Interestingly, although the Japanese import all their coffee, it seems they know a thing or two about growing it as well. Starting in the 1880s waves of them left for Brazil where they became instrumental in Brazil's prodigious coffee output. Similarly, many emigrated to Hawaii to farm the island's famous Kona coffee. In fact during the early 1900s some 80% of Hawaii's coffee farmers hailed from Japan.

All in all then, whilst Japan's relationship with coffee is nothing like as venerable as the one it has with tea, it's certainly significant and looks set to continue expanding. What we can say with certainty is that the UK isn't the only nation traditionally linked to tea that has latterly embraced coffee culture with gusto!

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