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att. Culture - Cafe
att. Culture - Cafe
att.JAPAN Issue 8, September 2002


cafeForget Itarian. Japanese coffee is where it's at- thanks to some clever marketing and a few Eastern touches, Tokyo's ultra chic cafe culture is blooming.

 Tokyo's Cafe Society
Young Japanese have found a new way of spending their precious downtime - sipping on designer coffee. As a result, Tokyo's burgeo-ning cafe culture, which began to blossom in the late 90s, is now blooming. With new and hip cafe opening all the time, young Tokyoites are embracing the java way of life and rapidly becoming aficionados of the dark and potent bean in the process.

 Coffee in Japan
Although cafe culture is relatively new to Japan, coffee drinking isn't and Japan's consumption of coffee has always been significant. The world famous US college-city style cafes known as 'Sta-ba' may have given coffee drinking a new lease of life, then, but it did not introduce good coffee to Japan. Japan is a mind-boggling consumer of coffee. In 2000 around 4 hundred thousand tons of un-roasted coffee were imported to Japan. It has long been one of the top three consumers of coffee in the world, runner up to only Germany and America. Considering the size of Japan, to be number three in the global coffee-drinking league is remarkable.
It was the cafe-cum-lounge concept that caught on with the locals and as Japan was already one of the world's highest coffee consumers, it is easy to see why canny international coffee companies chose Japan as a strategic coffee-selling target.

Coffee Coffee leaves of the Coffea arabica plant, whose seeds are the source of that dark brew nobody can live without.
Coffee The new buds on the tea plant, Camelia sinensis, are powdered to make matcha, the drink of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Coffee A pile of dried green tea leaves. A few 100,000 tons of tea are produced anually, around 96% of which is consumed domestically.
Coffee After harvesting the coffee berries from the tree, the seeds are removed along with any pulp and dried, resulting in what is called green coffee, as seen in the photograph above.
Coffee Coffee is shipped all over the world from the tropical regions that grow it. It is shipped in its green form and roasted (above) in the country of import. Japan is the 3rd largest coffee consumer in the world.

 Bean there, done that...
The Japanese don't take an idea and merely transplant it. The rapid spread of these new-style coffee bars prompted many to just pass the trend off as just another example of globalization. A closer look would suggest that although it may have at first resembled mere globalization, it is more the case of a West meets East west.
During the bubble-era the Japanese began enjoying a multitude of new exotic things from all over the globe. This was the time that the Japanese became increasingly well traveled and indeed, they still remain the most well traveled people on earth. It's true to say that no matter where you go to in the world, you are sure to find hoards of Japanese people in front. It is for this reason that the Japanese know so much about the best the world has to offer.
And so, the Japanese have once again demonstrated the artful craftsmanship that their culture has come to master - the ability to soak up new ideas and inventions, giving them an extensive make-over to give them a unique Japanese twist. Most are familiar with that old adage, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Although this saying is applicable to most people, countries and concepts, it doesn't fit with the Japanese way of thinking at all.
Throughout the entire span of the existence of this country and culture, the Japanese have refined the art of fixing unbroken things to either perfection beyond perfection, or occasionally to the degree that the 'makeover' seems less innovative than unnecessary and extravagant. Though true in some instances, in the case of the cafe boom, only the former is true. Without good coffee a cafe cannot properly be called a cafe and the Japanese know this better than anyone. Being anything less than perfect is anathema.
The standard of java aside, the most impressive things about these new cafes are their designer interiors and flexibility and multifunctional characteristics. In addition to tasty beverages and great food, they offer visitors a relaxing haven to study, read a good book, a good place to meet friends and meet new people. Add to this the ever-expanding menu of new, weird and wonderful variations on the coffee theme, visitors are never likely to get bored.
Some good examples of this kind of interchangeable cafe-cum-lifestyle experience are both in Shibuya: SUS World Three and Frames, both in close proximity to the new south exit. Both venues offer plenty of well-designed spaces, relaxing yet hip and funky music and art, magazines to read, webs to surf, fancy lunch specials, delicious beverages and a transformation from day cafe into night time cocktail bar.

 Green tea time
Just when you thought the evolution and creativity of new concepts has reached a standstill, take another look. To match the Japanese spirit, its love for the more indigenous beverages, matcha and green tea, local cafes concepts have been created upon the only obvious solution - matcha and green tea cafes, of course. What better way to market the highly regarded native tea crop, while creating a love for indigenous foods, and a relaxing space for the light meditative property the magical drink brings to us all? Japan's tea industry produces almost nothing but green tea. Tea being a plant originally from nearby China, was historically a major foundation of the roots of this country. Currently a few 100,000 tons of tea are produced annually, around 96% of which is consumed domestically. Consumption of black tea is also remarkable. Some 17,000 tons annual consumption of the black brew indicates a healthy and thriving import market and taste for foreign flavors as well. Teashops such as L'epicier boast a menu with hundreds of different kinds of teas from all over the world. From young to old, people here are able to choose from the biggest selection of tea available in the world. There are several green tea cafe chain operations throughout the city and they are quickly spreading to the provinces.
These places offer traditional Japanese foods and snacks like lunch or dinner sets consisting of rice balls soup and pickles, or Japanese style sandwiches, green tea incorporated desserts and of course, green tea and matcha itself. And to compliment the spreading popularity of South East Asian culture, you can also find some cafes specializing in Vietnamese coffee (condensed milk on the bottom and extremely fresh, almost sweet tasting strong black fresh brew of espresso floating above).
Whether a product of globalization or not, many of these cafes exist purely thanks to the inventive powers and artistic outlet of the people of this intricate Far Eastern culture. Spend some time in a Tokyo cafe and have an up-close look at innovation at its finest - cappuccino Tokyo-style and mocha a la Nihon, or even a green tea version if you really want an East meets West experience. A piece of advice for the crowded day in self-service operations: find a seat before ordering if you can. If you don't you may be standing with food in hand for a while. Sipping coffee in Tokyo has become something of a competitive sport.

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