久しぶりポスト！It's All About The Coffee
It's been a while since my last post. I have been very busy with family related business and haven't had the time to post anything for a while, my apologies. But to be honest, I really don't write unless I have something to talk about. I see many bloggers that make a point to post every week, or even every day. But most of these blogs contain a whole ton of uninteresting posts because more than likely the authors are forcing themselves to write. As the saying goes, If you don't have anything to say, then don't say anything at all.
A note of caution: I will be making some broad sweeping generalizations about Japanese only because it's what I hear every time I have a conversation with a Japanese about coffee. So if you are one of the few Japanese who knows what great coffee is, this is not directed towards you. For those of you who think I am smoking crack, go ahead and leave a comment, but I ask you be respectful. Without further ado~
Today's blog topic is all about coffee. Why, you ask? Because it just plain sucks in Japan. I have few complains about living in Japan. I love this country, it's people, culture, and language. But there is one thing I cannot stand: coffee in Japan. Let me lay out my case for you, but first I would like to give you my background in coffee knowledge. I was born and raised in Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks and much of the modern coffee culture you see in cafes around the world. Having spent 17 years in Seattle (at least 6 years of which I spent drinking coffee daily) I have had my share of incredible coffee from around the world. I also worked part-time for Starbucks for a long enough period of time to understand what it takes to make a great cup of coffee (although Starbucks coffee isn't all that great, even in Seattle). In short, I know what a quality cup of coffee tastes like in a variety of forms.
As a foreigner in Japan I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a Japanese tell me that American coffee is weak and tastes like water. This statement reeks with naivety so much so, in the words of Steve Jobs, I am willing to go 'thermonuclear' on it. Japan is one of the world's largest consumers of coffee, which would lead anyone to the simple conclusion that they probably know how to drink coffee. I'm sorry to break it to you folks, but the complete opposite is the case. Here's why, or at least my two cents on the issue:
Firstly, Japanese think burnt coffee is strong coffee. And secondly, the icon of American coffee., the Americano, is made incorrectly in most coffee shops in Japan resulting in a misunderstanding that coffee in the U.S. tasted like a water-downed tea like coffee beverage.
Coffee has been consumed for 100's of years in Japan, as far back as the Edo period and possibly further. However, coffee wasn't widely consumed until the 1950's when instant coffee made it's way from the West to the East (in fact it was invented by a Japanese living in America). Therefore, Japan developed it's true taste for coffee out of a cheap coffee bean alternative that tastes burnt and sour. Naturally, as coffee beans made there way back into the forefront of coffee consumption, Japanese preferred drinking, what I call, battery acid (burnt coffee, or a use of too much coffee during the making process). I have been to hundreds of privately owned cafes and coffee chain stores in Japan, including Starbucks, and only once have I had a cup of coffee that wasn't burnt or contained WAY too much coffee. The truth is, coffee in the U.S., generally speaking, tastes weak to the average Japanese because it's NOT burnt.
A second reason for this misunderstanding of coffee in the U.S. as weak is because of the infamous coffee beverage, 「アメリカンコーヒー」(American Coffee or Americano). The Americano originated in Italy during WWII where it got its name as a result of the American GIs' preference of a lighter tasting coffee than the Italian alternative, which was and still is, simply espresso in a cup; in other words, very strong coffee. While the Americano is a lighter tasting coffee beverage when compared to espresso, the Japanese (even Starbucks) make their Americano with drip coffee instead of espresso resulting in a tea like beverage with a hint of coffee. If you order an Americano in the U.S. you will get a drink with two-thirds water and one-third espresso, which results in a light tasting coffee that mimics drip coffee with a slightly stronger aftertaste. This is the proper way to make an Americano.
In conclusion, to all you foreigners in Japan, before you believe someone who may tell you Japanese coffee is the best because it's strong, understand that their reasoning comes from a tradition of drinking freeze dried battery acid (coffee flakes); in fact, Japanese consume more blend coffee than they do the real stuff. In addition, their reproduction of the Americano incorrectly captures the essence of what a good light cup of coffee tastes like because it's made incorrectly.
For all of you Japanese who may reading my blog, forgive me for my directness =), but more importantly, I encourage you to go out and find a small coffee shop where you can get a good cup of coffee. You'd be surprised that it doesn't have to burn a hole in your stomach in order to taste good. A few words of wisdom when making coffee:
-I have tried everything from espresso makers to using a french press. My conclusion is that drip coffee is the best home method. I don't mean making coffee from a drip machine. Instead, use a drip filter and pour hot water over the coffee yourself. This method takes practice, but it's actually fairly simple to master. You can find a ton of instructional videos on YouTube.
-After you make your coffee, (assuming it's drip coffee), don't leave it on the hotplate as the coffee can and will burn. Drink it as soon as possible. If it's been on the hotplate for more than a half hour it's probably no good.
-You don't have to use a whole lot of coffee. I used the mid-size drip filter and I fill it about two-thirds of the way for 2 and a half mugs of coffee (about 8-10 table spoons).
-Control the strength of your coffee through the grinding process, not with the quantity of coffee. If you want stronger coffee, then grind your coffee slightly finer than normal. Don't simply use more coffee, it's a waste and only makes the coffee taste acidic and sour.
All you coffee connoisseurs living in Japan, don't settle for less. More importantly, spread the word that coffee shouldn't taste like cigarettes!