Japan Does Starbucks

Long before Starbucks took over the world, Japanese people got their coffee from quaint neighborhood 喫茶店 cafes and later, from coffee shops like Doutor, which in the 1980s was one of the first large coffee chains in Japan. But still, your choices were “American Coffee”, Iced Coffee, and maybe Cafe Latte. Now, after the first Starbucks landed in Japan in 1996, more stores and other similar coffee shops are still springing up all over the country. It seems young Japanese have quickly made the transition from regular coffee to Espresso beverages, and have developed critical decision making skills like single or double shot? soy? non-fat or 2%? and tall or grande?

We had breakfast yesterday at Tully’s Coffee, one such business that followed Starbucks into Japan in 1997. Everything in the store closely resembles Starbucks, from the menu to the interior with its curved counter tops and pendant light fixtures, and the retail corner displaying coffee beans and travel mugs.



There are however 2 differences that make it uniquely Japanese. The first is their portion size. The size of a small cup of coffee is about the size of an American McDonald’s Happy Meal drink (and I say American because even the McDonald’s here has smaller portion sizes), so those of you caffeine junkies will need to order 2 of the large cups.


Second, they don’t have decaf! I don’t do caffeine (or sugar, or alochol – some might wonder if my life is worth living) so I had no choice but to order an Earl Grey Tea which seemed like the least caffeinated option.

How I do miss my Decaf 2% Sugar-Free Vanilla Latte!

3 Responses to “Japan Does Starbucks”

  1. 1 MCAT March 15, 2009 at 1:45 am

    I beg to differ from the tone of your article re coffee.

    I have not done detailed research but from my hunch and from the knowledge of reading the newspaper clipping okasan sent me recently about the biography of the founder of Doutor tells me that Japan was always more advanced than America when it comes to coffee. Of course, back around the 50’s things might bave been different, Japanese merchants were trading coffee obtained from the US army rations but since then in modern times, coffee has been taken seriously by Japanese. Techniques of syphones, dripping, distinguishing various bean types from various sources. I thought the Americans had just two types of coffees, regular (the bland liquid called American by global standards) or decaf for 100 years until espresso was commercially introduced just recently to the avid consumers thru specialty shops. Even today, I see a lot of Americans not being able to order coffee in Australian restaurants.

    Although I suspect this is only a thing that happened just recently as well, Australia has taken a complete transition from normal drip coffee to espresso. They call espresso based coffee real coffee and drip coffee fake. I think the Aussies are also overdoing it and it shows how small a nation they are. It’s like every house has to have aircon and every restaurant or deli has to serve espresso. Right now, even the smallest cornershops and the oldest pubs serve espresso. They call it their own way (short black, long black, flat white) and they probably dont realize it is originally Italian and they imported it just recently. I suspect neither US or Japan has transitioned this much. But anyway, Starbucks is not doing so well in Australia because espresso is not so special. Tullys have not even made an appearance yet.

    And we have so much coffee meetings I also get coffeed out. Maybe my body is also not so caffeine tolerant. I have two meetings in the morning and sometimes I feel my heart beating rapidly even in the afternoon. So in those cases, I order sparkling mineral water, Tiro, other fruit juice or hot cocoa.

  2. 2 honolulueats March 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Wow, I’m flattered that you take the time to read all my writing and write such lengthy commentary…
    Actually, I didn’t mean to insinuate that Japanese drip coffee is in any way inferior to Espresso drinks. I know that the Japanese have long pursued good coffee through research and experimenting with various beans and roasts, as they do with anything related to food and beverage.
    My point simply is that Starbucks seems to be taking over Japan just as it did America by converting the masses from drip coffee to the one million variations of Espresso drinks (complete with all the customizable details). The Starbucks culture (largely popular with young urban professionals) can be a bit silly/pretentious at times and it’s all a huge fad, but I’m the first one to admit I’m hooked on it.
    I wanted to express slight sarcasm about this in my writing, but I guess that didn’t come through. I will work on my writing skills.

  3. 3 Ur sister March 16, 2009 at 1:56 am


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