Changing Moods Meet Evolving Tastes
Coffee was first imported into Japan in 1877. When the country's first coffee shop opened in 1888, in Tokyo's Ueno district, it was modeled on cafés that had sprung up in Paris in the late 1600s. It quickly attracted people who wanted to socialize and use the pool tables and game boards. Before long, coffee shops were spreading to other parts of the country, attracting people who wanted a place to relax. Things have certainly changed since 1877today, Japan imports 380,000 tons of coffee beans a year from more than 40 countries, making it the third largest coffee importer in the world.
Japanese coffee shops have evolved in different directions over time, closely reflecting changes in social habits and personal preferences.
Japanese coffee shops offer coffee, tea and juice, of course, and most also have toast, sandwiches and light meals. For breakfast you can order the "morning set"a light meal of toast, eggs and salad. Many places offer a "lunch set," too, a mid-day meal with a beverage, all at a reasonable price.
But of course the main feature on the menu is almost always coffee. Some coffee shops set themselves apart in their search for the perfect cup of coffee. There are purists favoring a certain type of coffee bean, some special roasting method, their own percolating technique, or a unique type of cup. As for the final product, the possibilities are surprisingly numerousperhaps percolated coffee using only Kilimanjaro or Mocha beans, or an in-house blend of different beans in varying proportions. A growing number of shops now specialize in Western or Chinese tea.
Some coffee shops develop a theme to set themselves apart from others. There are, for example, the music coffee shops, specializing in a certain genre of music, whether classical, jazz or rock. Years ago, when records and audio systems were far from cheap, people would gather in hangouts that played their musical favorites and served a good cup of coffee. There are fewer of those places today, but one of them keeping up the tradition is the Meikyoku Kissa Lion in Tokyo's Shibuya district. The place hasn't changed for over 50 years. Large speakers stand in a prominent place, and beside them are about 5,000 classical music records and 1,000 CDs, all waiting for customers to make a request. The clientele is variedsome are patrons from years back, and some are businesspeople on their break time.
The Meikyoku Kissa Lion was established in 1926. Thick curtains cover the windows to improve the acoustics. People come for the relaxing surroundings, and to listen to music, read or study.