The story of coffee in Japan begins in the 1800s when it arrived on Dutch trading ships, and was prepared and served in the original Japanese coffee shops, 喫茶店. The kissaten, “tea tasting shop”, or “coffee lounge”, has a rich history in Japan. Coffee consumption grew in Japan after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 — Matthew Perry’s black ships inspired our name, Black Ship Coffee — opening Japan to increased trade with the rest of the world.
Does Japan like coffee? Indeed it does.
Though Japan only ranks as the 39th largest consumption per capita for coffee, at 3.2 kg per individual, they are the 3rd largest importer of coffee … Japan imports over 440,000 tonnes of coffee annually. [source]
By the middle of the 20th century Japan had coffee shops everywhere. Here’s a busy coffee shop in a train station in Tokyo, in the late 1950s.
But our story really begins in The Pacific Northwest United States, 37 years ago. In the early 1980s I got a job at a small but growing coffee company in Seattle. It only had six stores. That company was Starbucks. It began my lifelong love of coffee.
Seattle was a receptive place for coffee to develop. We considered ourselves coffee “evangelists”, introducing customers to the pleasures of coffee, at the beginning of what is now known as the second wave. During the early postwar era America had terrible coffee, but by the 1970s and ’80s this was changing.
On the west coast, the process of reformation began in the 1960s, when Dutch immigrant Alfred Peet founded Peet’s Coffees & Tea in San Francisco. In the 1970s Alfred became Starbucks’ mentor and supplier. Peet’s and Starbucks enjoy a shared history. Before long, Starbucks was roasting its own beans.
I was at the Pike Place Starbucks when Howard Schultz first arrived and wanted to join us. He became our marketing director. Within a few years Howard bought Starbucks and made it into a global company.
I was one of Starbucks’ first baristas. Part of our mission was to revitalize the way we enjoy coffee as a social experience. Coffee houses and coffee shops began to flourish as French and Italian-influenced espresso beverages became popular.
By the beginning of the 21st century a third wave of coffee roasting and brewing was underway. Coffee cultivation improved, artisan coffee shops blossomed, and advances in roasting technology made it possible for a new generation of small roasters to get in the game. Seattle continues to be a breeding ground for coffee innovation.
In 2016, I decided to try roasting coffee myself. We moved out to the country and begin to experiment.
This is our first coffee roaster, on the front porch of a cottage behind a bed & breakfast in La Conner, Washington.
I discovered that there’s no mystery to roasting great coffee. I shared it with my friends, and they liked it.
In 2017 we moved to Japan.
We settled in Tono, land of myth, magic, mystery and legend. Tono is regarded as “Japan’s hometown”. Chizuko’s family has history here. We decided to share our love of fresh-roasted coffee, and discovered that there are other roasters in Tono, too! So we organized ourselves into a little club, so we could promote coffee together.
We found that it’s not easy to introduce our coffee, just by roasting it. We needed to brew it and offer it to people, by the cup, to see what they think.