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Coffee Life in Japan

(California Studies in Food and Culture #36)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  92 ratings  ·  12 reviews
This fascinating book—part ethnography, part memoir—traces Japan’s vibrant café society over one hundred and thirty years. Merry White traces Japan’s coffee craze from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan helped to launch the Brazilian coffee industry, to the present day, as uniquely Japanese ways with coffee surface in Europe and America. White’s book takes up th ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by University of California Press (first published April 1st 2012)
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Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
For some reason one tends to associate Japan with a tea culture and not coffee. Oh the misleading power of assumption. For those who shared this reviewer's ignorance of Japanese coffee culture, this could be an interesting work to peruse.

Written in an academic style but accessible to a tenacious reader, this book takes a look at the café society in Japan in the past 130 years and how coffee has helped to shape Japanese society in different ways. It might seem far-fetched yet coffee has played a
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I went into this with the expectation of an ethnographic text on coffee and cafes in Japan, and that's pretty much what I got. It is dry and academic at times, but interesting nonetheless. Full disclosure: I found this book in the citations of the Wikipedia article for coffee jelly, and I bought it because I really like Japanese cafes, because they don't necessarily serve espresso (bleh!). It was really interesting to read it and kind of compare it mentally with past experiences in Japan, and al ...more
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fun and fascinating dive into the world of Japanese culture through the lens of coffee preparation and drinking. Japan is so heavily associate with tea (fairly enough), but this book explores its societal cousin. The author writes as a cultural anthropologist, so it can feel a little repetitive, due to the nature of how proofs are explained in anthropology versus popular science literature. That being said, each section is its own little vignette into different aspects of coffee culture as it ...more
Delfin Labao
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Going to Japan in the spring. Kyoto! Besides matcha the coffee culture in Japan is amazing 😉
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully evocative and wide-ranging look at cafe culture and history in Japan. Anthropological, celebratory and passionate.
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a super interesting book. Japan is one of the world's major coffee consumers and has a pretty unique history and culture of coffee.

The author does a good job in covering both this historical and social aspects that make Japan's coffee scene unique as well as how coffee unseated tea as the caffeinated beverage of choice in Japan.

I do think it could have stood to be a little expanded. The book mentions Starbucks quite often but doesn't spend much time on how western chains have fit into J
Richard Janzen
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Academic style of writing. Even though I found the topic very interesting, and learned a lot about the coffee history and culture in Japan, I had to work hard to get through the book. I don't think this is the for the casual reader. It was worth the read for me, as it brought back memories of numerous Japanese who meticulously made cups of coffee for me, the most fascinating method was the siphon method. I will look for more interesting cafes in Japan on future visits!
Colin Roy
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
A great little read about Japan's history with coffee.
A bit breezy and light with it's cultural ideas, it still presents some interesting insights into the role coffee and cafes play in Japan.
It also describes some fascinating cafes, which will be useful to anyone who loves coffee and is heading to Japan.
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Dense and fascinating anthropological study of coffee culture in Japan, and how the various locations/cafes to consume coffee is formed by the context and needs of the surrounding society. Have implications far beyond either Japan or coffee. I'm still thinking about it regularly, three years after first reading it. Highly recommended!
Santiago Giraldo
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great book on coffee in Japan!
Nov 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: japan, food-cooking
Enjoyed the topic, but found the writing style a bit of a slog.
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Robert Hudder
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought it was interesting and made me think about my relationship to cafes.
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24 likes · 5 comments
“The drink that characterized these new spaces quickly became a “normal” beverage: like the café itself, coffee subtly lost its foreignness. Providing what one café historian in Japan calls “dry inebriation,” it was also seen as the drink of thoughtfulness, of solace, and it became associated more than any other drink with being “private in public.” 0 likes
“From the early 1900s coffee, a drink for every day, became a commonplace and Japanese beverage. The expansion of the world's coffee industries, I will argue, was in its early days closely related to the rise of coffee drinking in Japan. Japanese coffee workers in Brazil, in concert with the aspirations of the Brazilian coffee industries, made Japan a world-beating destination for beans and taste.” 0 likes
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