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Canned coffee (缶コーヒー kan kōhī) is ubiquitous in Japan, with a large number of companies competing fiercely and offering various types for sale. Canned coffee is already brewed and ready to drink. It is available in supermarkets and convenience stores (コンビニ kombini), with vast numbers of cans being sold in vending machines that offer heated cans in the autumn and winter, and cold cans in the warm months.
Canned coffee is a Japanese innovation, and the term kan kōhī is wasei-eigo: the English-language term "can coffee" was created in Japan. UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. is well known in Japan for pioneering canned coffee with milk in 1969. The official government web site of Shimane prefecture, Japan, claims that the world's first canned coffee, Mira Coffee, appeared in Shimane in 1965, but this was short-lived.
More significant perhaps was the 1973 introduction by Pokka Coffee of the hot and cold drink vending machine. In 1983 canned coffee makers shipped more than 100 million cases.
Can design and shape have changed drastically. The earliest cans were simple in terms of graphic design and were often corrugated in the middle two-thirds of the can. Cans with straight steel sides appeared next, finally settling on a more modern shape. Like the earlier cans, this type also starts as a flat sheet that is curled and seamed. Extruded steel is also used extensively. Aluminum coffee cans are almost non-existent, although UCC Black is a notable exception.
Besides UCC and Pokka, all large Japanese beer, soda, and drink companies and most coffee companies either currently, or have at some point, offered canned coffee. Some of the more popular brands are listed below;
- Boss Coffee (produced by Suntory)
- Fire (Kirin Beverage)
- Georgia (Coca-Cola of Japan)
- Roots (Owned by Suntory from July 2015, originally owned by Japan Tobacco)
- Wonda (Asahi)
Other brands include Kissui (Sapporo Softdrinks, in January 2013 onward Pokka Sapporo Foods and Beverages), Itoen, Sangaria, Coffee Time (Yakult), BG (Meiji Dairies), and Cafe La Mode (Calpis). Regional and house brands are common, and the bigger companies offer regional versions of their coffee.
There are numerous types of canned coffee in Japan, most of which make up a typical company's line up. Very common is "milk coffee", which includes milk and is generally quite sweet. Black coffee is also popular, as are "low sugar" (微糖), cafe au lait, and milk coffee without sugar. Georgia has offered flavored coffees, such as hazelnut, but they are rare. Seasonal coffees are also produced, especially iced coffee, which appears during the summer months. The coffee varieties are often sold both hot and cold.
The original UCC can had a capacity of 250 ml. In the 1970s, 190 ml cans appeared, and both of these can sizes still exist. Size does not denote type of flavor in either the 250 or 190 ml can, but iced coffee cans tend to be short and fat and contain 280 ml. American-sized (350 ml) cans are almost non-existent, although Dydo produces one of that size called "American Coffee". Barrel-shaped cans are also fairly popular, while an aspect of the Roots' marketing campaign is the company's unique "waist-shaped" can. A new kind of cone top type can with a twist-off cap has appeared in recent years, and many companies offer at least one of their coffee types in this kind of container.
Commemorative cans are quite common in Japan, for major events such as the Tokyo Motor Show, sports teams and sporting events, and manga characters.
In Japan, there is no coffee can collecting organization equivalent to the Brewery Collectibles Club of America. However, coffee can collectors do indeed exist in Japan, and some of them have put those images of parts of their collections online. How many collectors there are is unknown.
There are no books available on the topic. Rare coffee cans may have a monetary value, but efforts at systematizing the hobby are at a low level.
- Convenience Store Coffee Hits the Top in Japan | NACS Online – News & Media Center – News Archive
- Vending machine marketing deal for Harris Tweed | Herald Scotland
- TV: Anthony Bourdain ‘Parts Unknown’ heads to Tokyo Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine.
- Japan Times June 13, 2015 Suntory gains ground in battle of the machines Retrieved June 17, 2015
- Media related to Canned coffee at Wikimedia Commons