Like many college students, I suffer from an unfortunate addiction: caffeine. From fourth grade on I have started my day with two cups of coffee, less if I’m traveling or busy, usually more when classes are in session. Since I was sixteen, I’ve been a barista, so between shift drinks and employee discounts, I’m rarely without espresso pumping through my veins. My life is just killing time, sandwiched between waking up from a caffeine withdrawal headache and struggling to sleep hours later because I’m vibrating from the day’s tea, coffee, cola. I knew this habit would not be sustainable in Japan and I made a conscious effort to prepare ahead of time. I stopped drinking coffee first, switching wholly to tea even though it meant I was drinking ten or so cups a day. Then I gradually reduced my tea allowance, avoiding it later in the day so I could get to sleep and thus need less the next day. All of winter break at home I managed with only a cup, two maximum, which certainly did not help me get myself organized for my trip. But I did it, I weaned myself off of coffee.
Only for jetlag to knock me right back to where I started.
As previously mentioned, $6 dollar cups of coffee are de rigeur in Tokyo which is certainly not sustainable on a college budget. But I’m not sustainable without coffee so another solution would have to be found.
My first try was instant coffee, picked up at the dollar store known as ‘daiso.’ I was proud of my thriftiness, of my toughness, having previously eschewed instant coffee on the grounds that, well, it’s disgusting. (Get it, ‘on the grounds’ like coffee grounds?) But I told myself this was a necessary sacrifice, part of being abroad and getting outside of my comfort zone. So when the first cup was too water-y, I added more powder. When the result was like a brick of grit going down my throat, I ran to the store for milk. And when, five rounds of modification later, I knew that this wouldn’t be a pleasant or even practical solution, I made sure to at least finish the mess I made.
Luckily, the conbinis of Japan stock an insane number of beverages—coffee, tea, aggressively advertised energy drinks, hot, cold, with or without milk, sugar, flavor, fresh made or bottled—and can be found on every corner.
The good stuff
Plain old iced coffee quickly became a part of my routine, unsweetened so I can save my calories for mochi. Most stores stick to a color-coding policy of blue carton for sweetened, brown for unsweetened. However there was one instance where I picked up a brown carton and nearly gagged from a mouthful of what tasted like dirt and butter had a baby. I still don’t know what that was to this day as I ditched the carton immediately. Individual latte cups are also a nice treat but with their sky-high sugar content and the waste that comes with their single-use packaging, I try to stay away.
Like most things in Japan, extreme care is put into every facet of coffee. The beans are expertly selected, the milk never burned, and the latte art award-worthy.
A confused westerner who is trying to assimilate by photographing her beverage
And with that in mind, of course, sometimes you just have to get the $5, $6, $7 cup of coffee and enjoy the perks that come with it. Tokyo baristas, while in my experience less friendly than the rest of the country’s seemingly peppy work force, are generally pretty chill and it is guaranteed that purchasing a beverage comes with hours of sitting unbothered in a trendy café, free Wi-Fi enabling you to write blog posts to your heart’s content. I wrote this and many other posts in one of these such cafes in Omotesando, sipping on a matcha latte with Coldplay drifting through the speakers.
An afternoon well spent
Train fare: 124yen
Being in the background of every teen girl’s hipster photo shoot: priceless