Canned Coffee: Convenience and Caffeine On-The-Go

If you’re like most people, a cup of good coffee in the morning can be a prime, invigorating morning experience paired with some breakfast food. However, because of having busy lifestyles, some people don’t have the time to brew a cup, which can take quite a while. Instead, many companies have devised a product that doesn’t only let you take coffee on-the-go, but also keeps it fresh and in-store for a long time – and that product is canned coffee.

By Nori Norisa (98円と安かったのでセブンの缶コーヒー買ってみた) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Story Behind Canned Coffee

Just like soda pop and fruit juices that are available in cans, canned coffee isn’t that different. It is simply brewed coffee packaged in a can, that you can easily open by pulling a metal tab. This beverage is both made and sold all over the world, but this product’s origin has roots in Japan. Japan has since taken a great liking to it, thus its incredible popularity, variety, and strong presence in that country.

In Japan, canned coffee is the star of the show. It is pronounced “kan kohi”, written as “缶コーヒー”. It seems to have been pioneered by UCC Ueshima Coffee Co., as this company was the first known to can it and nickname it “kan kohi” or “can coffee” in 1969. Their product which is most known is coffee mixed with milk. The idea that UCC pioneered this product is disputed, though, as there are claims that a brand called “Mira Coffee” produced canned coffee 4 years earlier, in 1965, in the Shimane Prefecture. Mira Coffee did not last long and was far superseded by UCC.

By Nicky Pallas from Mamaroneck, New York, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Find Canned Coffee Drinks in Vending Machines

Because convenience, technology, and electronics are three things Japan specializes in, it’s no wonder that they rely heavily on vending machines to distribute and purchase goods. There are vending machines for almost everything in Japan, from eggs to umbrellas, so buying canned coffee from one doesn’t come as much of a shock. While canned coffee was a novelty in the late 60’s, sales really started to take off when canned coffee was sold in these vending machines by pioneered by Pokka Coffee – particularly the ones that keep the drinks at certain temperatures during certain seasons. 

First, You’re Hot, then You’re Cold

Canned coffee is treated by these vending machines depending on what season it is. During the warmer months around summer, which usually lasts from around June to August, the vending machines dispense the canned coffee ice cold. However, if you go up to a vending machine and purchase canned coffee in the middle of winter, expect a warm can that’ll soothe you from the chilly temperatures. 

By Douglas Paul Perkins [CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Canned Coffee in Japan today

Canned coffee has come a long way and has changed quite a bit when it comes to the design of their cans. During the 60’s and 70’s, their layouts were much simpler, and parts of it – usually 2/3rds of the way down, had little ridges good for holding. Today, it takes on many different shapes and sizes, popularly the same size as soda cans; with both long and thick varieties. They usually come in fewer ounces than American canned coffee, as Americans tend to have their drinks at a larger of size.

Millions of Japanese citizens consume canned coffee as a part of their daily routine, as their jobs can start early, can be labor intensive, and takes up most of an average worker’s day. In this situation, it would be more convenient to go to a convenience store or “kombini” (コンビニ) to purchase an affordable can of coffee instead of ordering something at Starbuck’s. It’s also quicker to access then taking the time to brew your own cup. 

The Importance of Beans and Brewing Methods

Just as the type of bean, brewing method and additional ingredients make coffee taste exceptionally different from different strains, the same goes for canned coffee. This is not the kind of beverage where you can say that if you’ve tasted one, you’ve tasted them all – each brand has a unique aspect to it; from the beans they choose, to how the beans are ground, brewed, and what kind of milk/sugar/other additives are later mixed in with it.

Beans make a world of difference when it comes to taste, and the difference is quite noticeable. Some have earthier notes, while others have the propensity to taste like caramel, citrus, or smoke. Beans usually start out as green and turn a shade of brown post roast. Darker beans (they’re darker because they’ve been roasted for a longer period) tend to have less acidity than light brown beans, which are light to medium roasted. How the beans are brewed, on the other hand, has an impact on how it tastes; more concentrated brews offer a bigger caffeine punch and intense taste, but more acidity. 

By Fallschirmjäger [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Canned Coffee Brands in Japan

Quite like other products that are popular, there are many different brands of canned coffee. Under each brand, there are even more variations. Some of Japan’s most well-loved selections include Suntory’s “Boss Coffee” and “Roots”, “Dydo”, Kirin’s “Fire”, Coca-Cola Japan’s “Georgia”, the ever-present Nescafe, Pokka Sapporo Foods and Beverages’ “Kissui”, Calpis’ “Café La Mode”, and Asahi’s “Wonda”. 

The types of coffee sold by each usually include a variable that contains a combination of coffee, milk, and sugar. There are also the options of espresso, mocha, and even Doubleshot. There’s also canned coffee that’s pure black, pure black with sugar, coffee with milk with less sugar or “low sugar”, and coffee with milk and absolutely no sugar. It’s different for every brand and companies that have the capability to sometimes offer regional selections, which can sometimes be organic. 

Boss and Georgia

Among the mentioned brands, Boss Coffee and Georgia are two of the top contenders. Boss, or “Bosu” (written as “ボス”) in Japanese, was first introduced to the public in 1992. Since 2004, Suntory has come up with over 60 variations of Boss Coffee, and have hired Tommy Lee Jones, an American actor, to appear in their advertisements.

Georgia, pronounced as “Jojia” and written as “ジョージア” by the Japanese, is the answer of Coca-Cola Co to the tough canned coffee competition in Japan. Although it started out as a Japanese subsidiary of the giant corporation in 1975, Georgia’s reach has gone international, selling to other countries such as Bahrain, India, Singapore, South Korea, and the U.S.A. – however, it is still most popular in Japan – and is bought more often than coke is.

The Best of Suntory

Because Suntory has so many kinds of canned coffee varieties, it’s interesting to note which ones are truly the best. A writer from Live Japan named Dai Igarashi gathered 5 different people from 5 different countries to choose which Boss coffee flavor from Suntory tasted the best. The choices he gave his testers were the Rainbow Mountain Blend, the Premium BOSS Limited (Koku to Fukami), Premium BOSS Black, BOSS No-Sugar Black, and Premium BOSS “The Latte” – Sugar-free. 

Out of the 5 cans of coffee, one came out with 3 upvotes, and 2 drinks with 1 upvote each. Those Coming in second place are BOSS Limited (Koku to Fukami), and BOSS Rainbow Blend. Scoring first place is the Premium BOSS The Latte (Sugar-Free) for its perfectly balanced coffee to milk ratio and delightful creaminess.

Canned Coffee Brands Popular in Singapore, the UK, Canada, Australia, and the USA

Many of these brands are large enough to form franchises in other countries, creating products from local resources and naming it as such (such as Nestle’s Nescafe), which gives it a more personal and sustainable approach. For example - although Nescafe may have originated in Switzerland, Nescafe’s franchise in the Philippines uses local beans to create their goods to form a more cost-efficient system. This goes the same for most other countries. 

Singapore does have awesome local coffee shops – but when it comes to canned coffee, most of their stock is either imported from Japan, such as Pokka, or the Swiss Nestle’s brand Nescafe – or perhaps it is produced in Malaysia and shipped over to Singapore. 

In Canada, the UK, Australia and the U.S.A., canned coffee is indeed produced and consumed within these areas, but only at a moderate amount compared to rates in Japan. Local supplier examples in the U.S. include High Brew, Starbucks, Monster, Stumptown Coffee Roster, BlueBottle, and Blackeye. Japanese canned coffee products are also brought in and are a cult favorite as well – but are not as mainstream as Starbucks.

Though brands may have started elsewhere such as Italy’s Illy, France’s Bernachon, and the multinational Marley’s One Drop Coffee, these brands sell well in the west, and some of them have franchises.

Freshness Over Convenience

Perhaps it’s because of the different lifestyles lead by those who live in Japan and western countries, as it is more preferred by Americans, Europeans, and Australians to order fresh coffee from a store (at a hefty price), brew their own coffee, or at least use a powdered mix, adding the desired liquids themselves. Purchasing and using cans is also an environmental issue – if they are not recycled properly, they pose a harm to the ocean or wherever they’re disposed of at a large count. 

The Cold Brew Craze

While the Japanese seem to have a fixation on canned coffee which is brewed with heat, a new trend is emerging, especially in the west – and you might have read about it in the Huffington Post. This trend is cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee is different from traditional coffee simply in the way that it is brewed. Coffee is made by grinding coffee beans and keeping them in contact with hot water for a short period of time, forming a steaming cup of joe. Cold brew, on the other hand, takes a different brewing process altogether.

The main difference is that cold brew does not use heat to brew the coffee. Room temperature water is kept in contact with the coffee grounds at a specific ratio (it’s up to the brewer, depending on how concentrated he/she wants his/her output to be) for 15 to 24 hours. The ratio can be 1-part water to 1-part coffee grounds for a batch with high potency, or 2 parts water to 1 part coffee grounds. 

Because the water isn’t hot when it encounters the grounds, a completely different phenomenon happens where the beans impart their properties to the water without as much as a chemical change, and acidity. The finished brew also has a much smoother taste compared to the usual way of brewing, opening a completely different world of coffee without that much of a bitter bite. It is important to note that cold brew is much more concentrated than normal coffee, so it’s best if you only had a bit of it, and not cups of it as per usual – palpitations and nervousness could be a side effect of having too much cold brew. Drink Responsibly. 

Nonetheless, western countries are jumping in on the fad, and instead of canning usual coffee with milk, companies are turning to different combinations and formulations of cold brew, packing a much more powerful, caffeinated punch in one small can.