Coffee chains in Japan   日本のコーヒーチェーン

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A Doutor cafe

A Pronto in Shibuya

Craving caffeine?

Straight from the United States, coffee chains are widespread nowadays in Japan. Starbucks, Doutor, Excelsior... there are many stores offering coffee and snacks at low prices.

Contrary to what one might first think, the Japanese are great consumers of coffee. In 2017, the country was even the 5th largest coffee importer in the world! And this is seen every day: many Japanese drink more coffee than tea. However, you'll quickly realize that the Japanese aren't as fond of espresso as people in Europe: they consume mostly americanos and similar coffee varieties, and often iced rather than hot, similar to the American style.

Coffee shops have thrived on Japanese soil since the 1980s, and are now seen throughout the country. You'll usually find one easily on a nearby street corner or in a shopping mall. It's an ideal place to take a break during a busy day of sightseeing... 

The biggest chains

Large coffee chains have a major advantage: they can offer a coffee at low prices. Coffee is actually quite expensive in Japan. If you were to order a simple coffee in a small independent coffee shop, the price may be a little surprising: between 400 and 600 yen, on average. In the big coffee chains, the prices are much lower, hence their success: you can often get a coffee from just 200 yen.

The most common coffee chains found in Japan are Starbucks, Doutor, Pronto, Excelsior, Tully's and St Marc.

A Starbucks in Shibuya

Tully's Coffee

Starbucks has more than 1,400 stores in Japan. Some Japanese Starbucks are particularly well known, like the one overlooking the iconic Shibuya crossing.

The Japanese chain Doutor is also very well established, with more than 900 stores nationwide. Doutor's cafes generally offer the most affordable prices, along with Pronto.

Taking a break at a St-Marc cafe

Inside a Japanese coffee shop

In Japanese, "coffee" is written as コーヒー, and is pronounced similar to English, "kouhii". The various chains all offer different types of coffee, the most common being drip coffee(ドリップ コーヒー) or blend coffee (ブレンドコーヒー). This is a basic filter coffee, light and not too strong. If you were to just ask for "a coffee" without specifying further, this is the one they would serve you.

Espresso (エスプレッソ) is also available, and is usually served Italian style (a small amount in a tiny cup, with a very strong taste, ristretto style).

A cafe's menu is then more or less as listed on the signs in-store, but you'll always find the usual latte, cappuccino, mocha, and americano.

In the cafe, you'll have to order at the counter first, then bring your tray of food and drink to the seat of your choice. You will always be asked if you want to have it in the cafe (tennai de, 店内で) or take away (mochikaeri, 持ち帰り), and if you want your coffee served cold (aisu, アイス) or hot (hotto, ホット).

Many Japanese cafes (apart from Starbucks, which is always non-smoking) offer a separate smoking area and often a free WiFi network.

To eat and drink

Most of these chains, including Doutor, Excelsior and Pronto, have an extensive menu, and offer non-coffee drinks like teas (and matcha tea drinks), hot chocolate, smoothies, juices, and sometimes even beer.

There's food, too. In the morning you can have breakfast (many offer breakfast sets at good prices), lunch (sandwiches, toasted sandwiches, pancakes, pasta...) or just a cake or pastry as an afternoon pick-me-up. These cafe chains can be a great option if you need to eat inexpensively on the run.

The 2018 spring specialities at Starbucks

The Starbucks Creamy Pumpkin Frappuccino

And of course these cafes also offer their own seasonal specialties and limited edition menus, which the Japanese love. For example, you might enjoy a sakura blossom latte in March, a mango milkshake in July, or a slice of pumpkin tart in October.

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