How do they brew coffee in Japan: the ultimate guide to Japanese coffee makers

Japanese coffee maker

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Coffee has been consumed on a regular basis in Japan since the early 1900s.  Due to this long history of coffee drinking, the Japanese have mastered the perfection of brewing down to a fine art. 

As with many Japanese traditions, when it comes to coffee, the Japanese prefer to use slower brewing techniques, which results in a richer flavor. Japanese coffee makers perform quite differently from the typical American machine that can pump out a cup of coffee in under a minute. 

Using these slower brewing techniques with a Japanese coffee maker will result in a smoother, richer tasting coffee, bringing out the complex flavor notes of the beans. 

While there are many types of Japanese coffee makers, we are going to take a look at the most popular brewing methods: the pour-over, cold brewing, and brewing with syphon coffee makers.

Top 5 Japanese Coffee Makers

Best OverallHario Technica Syphon
Best Kyoto-style DripperNispira Cold Brew Dripper
Best Pour-OverHario V60
Best for TravelKinto Column Compact
Best for Quick BrewingZojirushi

Japanese Pour-Over Coffee Makers

Hario V60 Pour-Over 

The Hario V60 has become one of the standard Japanese drip coffee makers and has claimed its space in coffee culture.  Hario developed the V60 in 2004, and since its invention, it has received hundreds of design awards and is still a popular choice today. 

The simplicity of this brewer is truly representative of Japanese coffee culture.  It has a conical shape and sits directly on top of your coffee mug.  A cloth or paper filter is placed inside the cone, and the 60-degree slope of the cone is designed to carefully regulate the water flow through the coffee grinds for optimal flavor extraction. 

The ceramic body retains heat to help keep a consistent temperature throughout the brewing process and its spiral ribs allow for maximum coffee expansion. Brewing, however, relies heavily on skill and using a gooseneck kettle to control the flow of your water is highly recommended. 

Not only does it brew great coffee once mastered, but this cute little dripper comes in a variety of colors so you can match it to your kitchen decor.

Kalita Wave Pour-Over

The Kalita Wave is another Japanese pour-over drip coffee maker that has gained popularity in recent years. 

It is a cone-shaped brewer with a flat bottom and small drain holes to regulate the brewing process.  Less demanding than the classic Hario, the flat bottom makes it easier to produce a more consistent brew, and some users even claim it provides a smoother flavor coffee than the Hario.  

This brewer works in a similar way to the Hario but is more forgiving of operator error.  Since it is considerably less expensive, many gourmet coffee chains are switching over to the Kalita Wave as well. 

Hario Woodneck Pour-Over

The Hario Woodneck Pour-Over drip coffee maker was no doubt inspired by the ever-popular Chemex.  Upon closer inspection, however, this is no mere knockoff.  There are subtle differences that make quite a difference. Japanese design is well known for attention to detail and that detail is quite apparent in this dripper. 

The main difference is the filtering system.  Paper filters absorb most of the oils in the coffee, removing finely nuanced tasting notes from the resulting brew.  The Hario comes with a reusable flannel cloth filter that allows more of the oils to pass through and into the coffee. 

It also brews more than one cup of coffee.  It is available in both a 240 ml and a 480 ml size, making it perfect for a family or a small office meeting. 

This Hario coffee maker not only looks elegant and classy, but it can also be used to brew a great-tasting cup of coffee too!

Osaka Pour-Over Coffee Maker

The Osaka Pour-Over coffee maker is a six-cup drip coffee maker made from borosilicate glass, with a unique metal laser-cut double filter that allows you to brew finely ground coffee beans. Using finer grinds results in a slower brewing process and a subsequently stronger cup of joe, so for those who prefer a stronger brew, this dripper is ideal.

The fitted filter sits perfectly onto the carafe and the curved flow channels provide optimal extraction. Cleaning is also a breeze…just spray it off and you’re ready for your next cup. 

Not only does this pour-over brewer make a great tasting cup of coffee, but it is also beautifully designed as well. The removable heat-resistant collar is available in a range of colors so matching your decor is easy. 

Kinto Column Compact Coffee Maker

The Kinto Column Compact Coffee Maker is quite different from anything else on our list.  While it is not the best Japanese coffee maker on our list, if you are a frequent traveler, camper, or live in a tiny apartment, this pour-over dripper is an essential.  

First, let’s talk about its size.  Measuring in at only 3.85 x 2.75 inches and weighing only 4.27 ounces, this brewer has a footprint smaller than a coffee mug.  It is also made of plastic.  Ordinarily, we would consider this a con, but if you are a frequent traveler, you won’t need to worry about broken glass. 

The Kinto Column is easy to use, comes with a stainless mesh filter and even a resin measuring spoon (one spoon is perfect for one cup). It disassembles easily for cleaning and is even dishwasher safe. 

Kyoto-Style Slow-Drip Coffee Makers

Hario Slow-Drip Coffee Maker

Hario in Japanese means “King of Glass,” and this beautiful glass coffee maker lives up to the Hario name.  If you are looking for a smooth, mellow tasting brew, this Kyoto-style cold drip coffee maker is ideal.  

The classic brewing system preserves the coffee’s delicate flavor and aroma while eliminating bitter oils and acid produced by hot water.  This Japanese coffee maker will produce enough concentrate for 2-6 cups of coffee, which you can drink right away or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. 

A metal valve controls the drip to ensure perfect drop-by-drop brewing and the stainless steel filter is even dishwasher safe.

Nispira Cold Brew Dripper

If you drink a lot of coffee or have a large family of coffee lovers, you will need a larger-capacity Japanese coffee maker.  The Nispira Cold Brew Dripper comes in 2 sizes, 600 ml and 2500 ml (shown above). This Kyoto-style dripper looks like something you would see in a chemistry lab.  It is a sturdy borosilicate glass, three-tiered brewing system, encased in a beautiful wooden frame that gives it a classy vintage look. 

The three-tiered coffee maker has an adjustable valve that allows you to control the drip speed, so you can find the perfect configuration for your preferred coffee strength. 

This model also brews considerably faster than the average Japanese cold dripper, meaning you will only need to wait a few hours before your brew is ready. 

Japanese Syphon Coffee Maker

Hario Technica

Syphon coffee makers may not be for everyone, but this moderately priced model is made by the Hario quality standards and surpasses many other Japanese syphon coffee makers. 

The Hario Technica is a self-contained syphon coffee maker that is sure to impress. Hario, meaning “King of Glass,” has been working with heat-resistant borosilicate glass for nearly a hundred years and have truly mastered this art form. 

This vintage design brewer features a cloth filter for a smooth extraction that allows the naturally rich coffee oils to pass through.  It also features a stainless steel burner cover and stand brass fasteners, and comes with an alcohol heat lamp.

This Hario Syphon coffee maker can brew up to 5 cups of smooth, clean-tasting coffee and is a must-have for anyone venturing into the Japanese coffee-making world. 

Yama Tabletop Siphon

The Yama Tabletop Syphon coffee maker is similar to the Hario Technica in that it is a syphon coffee maker that will produce up to five cups of delicious coffee. 

Made from hand-blown heat-resistant borosilicate glass, this beautiful brewer will add style to any kitchen.

This brewer comes with a permanent filter, and a butane burner that is designed to brew coffee more quickly than the traditional alcohol lamp, but the butane is not included so make sure to have some on hand.  Nothing is worse than unpacking and setting up your new coffee maker only to discover you don’t have everything you need to actually use it. 

Other Japanese Coffee Makers

Makita Rechargeable Coffee Maker

Makita, a well-known Japanese power tool company has come out with a rechargeable, battery-operated coffee maker that can be used virtually anywhere.  It only brews one cup at a time, and the battery is sold separately, but if you need a tough machine to make coffee on the go, this one will do the trick.

Zojirushi Japanese Drip Coffee Maker

The Zojirushi 10 cup coffee maker is another great Japanese coffee maker, but it ventures away from the tradition of slow coffee making.  This stylish, compact coffee pot produces great-tasting coffee that will without a doubt impress your hipster friends.

The brewing temperature is carefully controlled at 195 – 215 degrees, and the water is evenly distributed over the grounds in the cone-shaped filter.  It features a durable glass carafe, a removable water tank, and a keep-warm function. 

One feature that sets this machine apart from your standard coffee maker is the charcoal water filter.  The filter is designed to purify the water, pre-brew, to create a great tasting coffee every time. So, if you are a picky coffee drinker that prefers to have their water purified before brewing a cup, this Zojirushi coffee maker is certainly worth considering. 

The filter basket is located inside the carafe itself making it easy to fill and a breeze to clean. Another convenient feature is a space-saving, removable water reservoir.  This feature saves counter space and means no more spilling water all over the place while trying to fill the reservoir, simply take it over to the sink and turn on the tap.

History of Japanese Coffee

Coffee was introduced in Japan by the Dutch in the 17th century.  During World War II, coffee import was banned, but it moved back into the Japanese market in the 1060s. Coffee shops didn’t begin to appear until the late 1990s.  Prior to the 90s, coffee was served in the Kissatens. Translating to “tea-drinking shop,” the Kissaten focused on the ceremonial serving of coffee and tea.  These dark, enclosed quiet locations were considerably less inviting than the modern coffee shops we know today.

History of Japanese Coffee Equipment

The Japanese tea ceremony has been long known for its meticulous rituals.  As the popularity of coffee spread throughout Japan, that ceremonial elegance was transferred to the early Japanese coffee houses. The equipment used to brew this new beverage was just as unique as the drink itself.  Much of it looks like intricate lab equipment, mainly, because it was originally manufactured in the same factories that produced glassware for use in labs. 

Japanese Coffee Culture

Just like Japan, the Japanese coffee market is very dynamic and one of the largest coffee importers in the world. Long known for their tea culture, the Japanese are coffee lovers as well.

They, however, do not see coffee as merely a way to start the day.  Coffee is seen as a luxury product and gourmet coffee is highly valued, as are the details of the coffee preparation. Just like the artful presentation of matcha in a tea ceremony, the Japanese have a particular way of preparing coffee as well. 

Throughout Japan, you can still find a few Kissaten.  Here they control every part of the coffee brewing process, from roasting the coffee beans, grinding them, and meticulously brewing the coffee itself. These classic coffee houses provide a traditional and cozy experience but are very different from the local coffee bar you use to hang out with friends or get a little work done. 

The purist who is looking for a certain variety of coffee, or roasting techniques can find them at a specialty cafe.  Some specialize in Kilimanjaro of Moka grind coffee, some use a particular blending technique.  In short, the Japanese often value the art of coffee making rather than the taste of the coffee itself. 

Japan also offers a number of coffee chains like Starbucks.  In fact, Japan was the first country outside of the US with a Starbucks.  First appearing in Tokyo in 1996 in the small neighborhood of Ginza, there are now over 1,000 stores in Japan.  Like Americans, the Japanese like to go there to catch up with friends, or to work.

How is Japanese Coffee Made

As the fourth largest consumer of coffee in the world, it is fair to say coffee consumption in Japan is booming, and the so-called “third wave” of coffee is sweeping through Japan.   How the Japanese make coffee is one of the most unique elements of their coffee culture, so let’s take a look at three different types of Japanese coffee makers. 

The Syphon Coffee Maker

Developed by Hario in the late 1800s, the Japanese Syphon Coffee Maker is a very clean and contained way of brewing coffee.  This Japanese classic has a unique design that is reminiscent of something you might see in a research lab.  

The Syphon coffee maker gives the coffee enthusiast the utmost control over the brewing process.  The brewer has complete control of the pressure as the air in the chambers begins to expand. Making small changes to the water temperature, amount of coffee used, grind size, and timing of the brew will allow the brewer to fully control and micro-manage all aspects of the body and flavor of the coffee. 

Both the upper and lower chambers of the syphon coffee maker remain sealed during the brewing process.  This allows the flavor to be sealed in as well, bringing out the nuanced character of the coffee beans.  Too light of a roast will be bland, while too dark of a roast can be bitter, so a nice medium roast will allow the coffee drinker to enjoy the intricate flavor of the coffee. 

How the Japanese Syphon Coffee Maker Works

Also known as vacuum pots, these quirky Japanese coffee makers resemble equipment you may find in a science lab, and the way they work is pretty similar.  

Water is first added to the lower bowl of the coffee maker and placed over a burner.  As the burner heats the water to boiling, the air in the bowl expands and the water is pushed through a tube into the upper chamber of the coffee maker. 

Once it is in the upper chamber, the temperature is watched carefully.  Once the water reaches the desired brewing temperature, coffee grounds are stirred into the water to fully saturate the grinds.  The coffee is then left to sit for 30 seconds. A second stir helps the coffee degassing process and then the coffee sits for another 30 seconds, for a total of one minute. 

Next, the heat source is removed and the lower bowl is wrapped in a cool towel.  The cool towel, lowers the air temperature in the lower bowl, causing the air to contract and allowing the coffee to drip through the filter in the upper chamber back down into the lower bowl. 

Once the coffee has returned to the lower bowl, it is ready to enjoy.  

As with any other brewing method, syphon coffee brewing results in a unique flavor. The enclosure of the coffee through the entire brewing process traps essential oils, allowing the resulting brew to have a full body with a rich and smooth “clean” flavor. 

Japanese Coffee Makers - Syphon Coffee Maker Infographic

How to Use a Japanese Siphon Coffee Maker

Step 1:  Add water to the lower bowl and place it over the heat source

Step 2: Insert the upper chamber with filter, gasket, and water pipe into the lower bowl

Step 3: Wait for the heat to push the boiling water into the upper chamber

Step 4: Once the water is in the upper chamber, wait for it to reach your desired brewing temperature

Step 5: Add the coffee grounds to the water and stir to completely saturate the grinds (wait 30 seconds)

Step 6: Stir the coffee again and wait 30 more seconds)

Step 7: Remove the heat source and wrap a cool towel around the lower bowl

Step 8:  Wait for the coffee to drip back into the lower bowl, pour yourself a cup, and enjoy your brew!

The Pour-over Drip Coffee Filter

Pour-over coffee is becoming pretty popular throughout the US but what exactly is this Japanese brewing technique the third wave coffee crowd is so obsessed with?

As with most Japanese brewing techniques, the pour-over is a slow, mindful, method of brewing coffee that can’t be rushed. The secret behind this ever-popular brewing method is quite simple:  quality beans, equipment, water, etc. 

This hand pouring method is usually used to brew one cup of coffee at a time.  Japanese pour-over coffee makers are usually made of glass and come in a larger model with a carafe or a smaller single-cup dripper that goes directly over your mug. 

Brewing Japanese pour-over coffee is quite simple.  You place a paper filter into the conical drip section of the brewer, fill it with the desired amount of coffee grounds, and slowly pour water over them. It is crucial to control both the temperature as well as the flow of the water so we recommend using a gooseneck kettle when brewing using a pour-over method. 

Pour-over coffee usually has a richer flavor than your typical drip coffee since the water is allowed to remain in the grounds longer. 

The Cold Coffee Dripper

Hot Japanese pour-over coffee is good, but Japanese cold drip coffee is great! Japanese Kyoto-style cold-drip coffee makers work in a similar manner to the pour-over coffee makers but take the process even further by slowing it down considerably and avoiding “damage” done to the coffee beans by hot water.  Brewing with a cold drip brewer can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours.  

The resulting coffee is a subtly crafted beverage that showcases all of the nuanced flavors of the coffee bean. Each cup offers an amazing complexity of flavor that no other brewing method can reproduce.  Cold brewing takes patience but the resulting product is totally worth it. 

Cold brew also offers a variety of health benefits.  It is less acidic, sweeter, and fruitier with a rich and complex flavor.

The slow drip brewing method used in Japan is quite different from the immersion method commonly used in the US.  During the brewing process, water is slowly dripped through the coffee grounds which are placed in a filter.  The water is not allowed to collect but is constantly moving.  The slow trickle through the ground coffee results in a delicate extraction.  The entire process takes quite a while, however, the clean, well-rounded flavor with a variety of complex flavor notes is definitely worth your time. 

How to Brew Japanese Kyoto-style Cold-drip Coffee

Step 1: Grind 50 grams of coffee.  Make sure it is coarsely ground. Use a scale to make sure you have the exact amount.

Step 2: Place the filter in the cold drip coffee maker and dampen with a little water.

Step 3: Pour the grounds into the filter.  Add a bit of water (just enough to dampen the grounds) and mix it into the coffee using a chopstick.

Step 4: Fill the reservoir with ice cubes and add a few ounces of water.

Step 5: Slowly open the little nozzle under the reservoir.  Monitor the drip carefully.  The key aspect of making a perfect batch of Kyoto-style cold-drip coffee is the drip-rate.  You want 1 drip per second. 

Step 6: Wait 5-12 hours until all of the ice has melted and all of the water has dripped through the coffee and into the carafe.  

Step 7: Your finished product will be quite concentrated, so pour over ice or dilute with hot water to enjoy.

How to Choose the Best Japanese Coffee Maker 

As with selecting any coffee maker, you need to take into consideration what kind of coffee you enjoy, how much coffee your household typically drinks in a day, and how much you are willing to spend. 

Do you prefer hot or cold brew?

Since Japanese coffee is typically brewed in two different ways, you will need to decide which brewing method you would prefer.  Keep in mind that cold-drip brewing is a time commitment.

How much are you willing to spend?

As with all coffee makers, Japanese coffee makers come in a variety of styles and accompanying price ranges.  Deciding upfront how much you are willing to spend will help you narrow down your choices.  Over the mug drippers are typically less expensive than carafe pour-over coffee makers and syphon coffee makers.

How much coffee do you typically drink?

Consider your household needs when purchasing a Japanese coffee maker.  If you need one or two cups in the morning, an over-the-mug pour-over dripper will probably suffice, but if you need several cups at once, you may want to consider a pour-over dripper with a carafe or a syphon coffee maker instead. Cold brew coffee drippers also make several cups at once but brewing cold brew takes time and planning. 

Build Materials

Look for a well-made brewer with durable glass or stainless steel.  You can find cheap plastic pour-over drippers with mesh filters, but the plastic will affect the taste of your brew and will not last as long as a glass or stainless steel version. 

How much kitchen space do you have?

Japanese coffee makers can be quite tall and may not fit under your kitchen cabinets.  This is especially true of the Kyoto-style cold-drip brewers.  If you need a brewer that will fit under the cabinets, you may want to go with a  pour-over dripper or smaller syphon coffee maker. 

Accessories

Keep in mind what accessories you may need to purchase in addition to your Japanese coffee maker.  If you purchase a syphon coffee maker, it will most likely come with everything needed, but if you decide to go with a pour-over dripper, you will also need a kettle, filters, and thermometer.  If you don’t already own these accessories, your less expensive pour-over brewer just went up in price. 

Portability

Are you planning on traveling or transporting your Japanese coffee maker?  Kyoto-style brewers are tall and bulky, while syphon coffee makers have multiple glass parts.  If you plan to travel with your coffee maker, an over-the-mug pour-over dripper may be your best bet. 

Final Thoughts

If you are looking to brew amazing tasting coffee, and have plenty of time to dedicate to the brewing process, any of these beautiful brewers would make a great addition to your home. 

So which coffee maker makes the best tasting coffee?  We like the Kyoto-style cold-brew dripper for the most delicate flavor nuance. 

However, if you prefer to grab a quick cup on your way out the door you may prefer to stick to a dual coffee maker instead…or maybe even in addition to your Japanese coffee maker.