Cover photo

Kissaten 喫茶店: A Kiss in Every Cup

The title might come off as a bit cheesy to some, and yeah I admit, I share that sentiment too. But stay with me here because, at first blush, "kissaten" kind of nudges you towards thinking about, well, kisses—obvious connection, right? Kissaten is an old style of Japanese "coffee shop". We're talking a throwback vibe, a touch of vintage where you can snag a killer egg or ham sandwich, sip on a meticulously made drip coffee or an Americano, get a melon soda, all while jazz tunes softly set the scene. The ambiance makes you feel like you are at your grandparents house. Think cozy old furniture and muted lighting.

Photo credit: https://san-tatsu.jp/collects/208788/

Now and then, I crave that kissaten vibe, so I find myself heading out for their morning set. There's something about the early buzz, the coffee scent filling the air, people chatting away, some glued to their phones, others flipping through the newspaper. It's life, in its most vibrant form.

Photo credit: https://san-tatsu.jp/collects/208788/

Today, we're delving into kissaten, but first, a must-hear coffee story from Apollo 13.

In 1969—yeah, go ahead and chuckle at the number—humanity first moonwalked with Apollo 11, and Captain Neil Armstrong famously dropped the line, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." NASA conducted six moon missions, but Apollo 13 is especially memorable due to its harrowing ordeal. On April 13, 1970, a tank on the Apollo 13 moon mission exploded unexpectedly. The crew faced a dire situation, having to conserve energy for their return to Earth by shutting off electricity, which caused the spacecraft's temperature to plummet. Water consumption was also severely restricted.

Despite the desperate circumstances, the crew and mission control on Earth remained determined, supporting each other through every challenge. The astronauts feared they might not survive the journey back, but words of encouragement from mission control bolstered their spirits.

One such message was, "This is Houston. Good luck, crew! You're on your way to hot coffee!" The promise of "hot coffee" became a symbol of hope, repeatedly inspiring the crew when morale was low. Miraculously, thanks to the tireless efforts of everyone involved, Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth. One can only imagine the relief and joy the astronauts felt savoring hot coffee back home, a simple pleasure symbolizing their survival against all odds.

Okay, back to original topic...

As a matter of fact coffee was introduced during the Edo period, but gained widespread popularity in the Meiji period as Japan opened to the world. The Japanese, eager to embrace Western culture and ideals of "civilization and enlightenment," began to adopt coffee during interactions with Westerners. Key cities with significant foreign populations, like Kobe, Nagasaki, and Hakodate, saw the emergence of coffee culture, with the first coffee house for Westerners opening in Yokohama in 1864. The import of coffee beans started in 1868, the dawn of the Meiji era, and Japan's first coffee advertisement appeared a year later, published by Edwards in a Yokohama newspaper. Shinbei Izumi's 1875 advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun further fueled coffee's popularity among the Japanese, although it remained a luxury accessible primarily to the upper class.


In 1888, Japan saw the opening of its first full-scale coffee shop, Kakai Tea House—in some other articles was known as Kanai Chakan—in the Ueno or Shitamachi of Tokyo. Just to give you an idea about the economy too, during this period, a bowl of buckwheat noodles(soba) could be purchased for 8 sen to 1 sen, whereas a cup of coffee was priced at 1 sen and 5 rin, marking it as a luxury item more costly than a single meal. A cup of coffee with milk was even pricier at 2 sen.

Despite the closure of Kakai Tea House in 1892, the official importation of coffee beans into Japan had commenced in 1866. By ten years later, a few establishments were selling coffee for business purposes, yet they did not adopt the coffee shop model. It's speculated that these ventures did not succeed because they were too advanced for their time.

Following this, coffee shops began sprouting up in Asakusa and Osaka. By 1911, Ginza witnessed the sequential opening of three coffee shops: Café Printemps, Café Paulista, and Café Lion, all of which quickly gained buzz. These establishments thrived not merely as venues to savor coffee but also as hubs of social interaction where elite cultural figures convened to exchange ideas on literature, art, and Western philosophy.

One of the most famous one that remains open until today is Café Paulista which was established in 1911. Ryu Mizuno, the cafe's founder and a participant in this policy, received complimentary coffee beans from the Sao Paulo government in Brazil. Upon its opening, the cafe attracted stylishly attired women and students, who flocked there to relish the coffee and engage in spirited discussions. You can visit it in Ginza, find more info here: https://www.paulista.co.jp/

Image Credit: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/location/cafe-paulista/

In the 1960s, Japan witnessed its first major coffee boom, dubbed the first wave, triggered by the liberalization of instant coffee and green coffee bean imports. This era broadened coffee's appeal across various demographics, making it a staple in Japanese culture. Subsequently, from 1965 to 1983, a surge in coffee shop popularity led to the emergence of diverse coffee shop styles. The establishments from this period are credited with inspiring the third wave coffee movement in America.

The second coffee boom, or second wave, occurred around 1995 when a Seattle-based coffee chain aka "Starbucks" introduced cafe-style outlets in Japan, bringing with them a variety of coffee preparations like cafe lattes, thereby enriching the coffee experience. I wrote an article about Starbucks success story in Japan which you can find it here.

Around 2013, Japan embraced the third coffee boom, or third wave, characterized by a focus on quality, with an increase in shops offering meticulously selected and brewed coffee. Additionally, the era saw the rise of alternative coffee experiences, such as counter coffee from convenience stores and coffee offerings at hamburger chains, emphasizing "cheap and delicious coffee" without compromising quality, which continues to be cherished by many.

Tokyo, and indeed Japan, is home to numerous Kissaten, making it a challenge for me to choose a favorite. Often, I rely on serendipity, wandering into them without a preconceived plan. The Kissaten I stumbled upon recently "Takayama Coffee" in Kanda, stands out due to its surrounding greenery, a rarity amidst Tokyo's concrete jungle.

It invites you into a serene escape, illuminated by soft lighting and enveloped in quietude.

References:

1. Photo credit for the banner image: https://san-tatsu.jp/collects/208788/

2. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/000841306.pdf

3. All Japan Coffee Association https://coffee.ajca.or.jp/data/

4. AGF's Coffee Encyclopedia: https://agf.ajinomoto.co.jp/enjoy/cyclopedia/history/04.html

5. AGF's Coffee Encyclopedia: Interesting Facts https://agf.ajinomoto.co.jp/enjoy/cyclopedia/zatugaku/circumstances.html

6. Co-Trip: Article 1:(https://co-trip.jp/article/637749

7. Gyokai Search: Café Industry Overview: https://gyokai-search.com/3-cafe.html

8. Great Cup Coffee: Japanese Café Culture https://great-cup-coffee.com/cafejp/

9. NHK News Report: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20231013/k10014215141000.html

Loading...
highlight
Collect this post to permanently own it.
Bee Curios logo
Subscribe to Bee Curios and never miss a post.
#coffee#history#japan#kissaten#meiji period#edo period
  • Loading comments...