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Discover Tokyo’s Unique Tea and Coffee Scene

This is the fourth episode of our series, “Connections: See Both Sides,” where we’ll visit six international cities to explore two sides of the same city to find inspiration.

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You may have heard of Tokyo’s cat, maid, owl, or robot cafés, whose unique themes lure in patrons for a photo opportunity and a cup of tea. But alongside this more playful approach to tea and coffee, Tokyo is also home to many cafés where the craft of preparing these drinks takes center stage.

In this episode of Connections: See Both Sides, June Quan, food blogger and co-owner of Sip tea shop in Los Angeles, explores the traditional and modern tea and coffee scene in Tokyo. From being a guest at a sadō (traditional tea ceremony) to tasting single-origin coffee at a new wave coffee roaster, the tea and coffee experiences that June has in Tokyo show how significantly the histories of these beverages have influenced their modern interpretations today.

Tea was first introduced to Japan from China in the 700s, first as a luxury product and medicinal drink that later gained popularity among all social classes. The most popular kind of tea in Japan is green tea. It comes in many forms, from the ceremonial matcha (powdered and dried high-quality green tea leaves) that is the centerpiece of sadō to bottled tea in the colorful vending machines dotting Tokyo’s sidewalks.

Coffee, on the other hand, is a more recent import to Japan. Coffee first arrived on Dutch and Portuguese trading boats in the 16th and 17th centuries — in fact, the Japanese term for coffee, kouhii (コーヒー), originates from the Dutch word koffie. Today, you’ll find coffee in many different forms in Tokyo, from the retro kissaten that serve meticulously brewed coffee in an old-school setting to canned coffee kept warm on the shelves of konbini, the 24-hour convenience stores seemingly on every corner in Tokyo.

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