It took 140 years and 1,000 kilometers to get this cup of Tokyo coffee to our table.
Japan may have such a traditional appreciation for tea that it developed an entire ceremony around the beverage, but in the modern era the country loves coffee just as much. A key difference, though, is that while Japan’s favorite teas are domestically grown, it gets most of its coffee from abroad.
We say “most” because, believe it or not, Tokyo produces coffee. You won’t find coffee plantations in Shinjuku, Shibuya, or any of the other downtwon districts of the capital, though. Instead, the one-and-only variety of Tokyo coffee beans comes from the Ogasawara Islands, also known as the Bonin Islands, which lie roughly 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Tokyo.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go all the way to the Ogasawara Islands in order to try Ogasawara coffee. Caffe Appassionato, a coffeehouse right across the street from Tokyo Station, serves the brew, so we stopped by for a cup.
The cafe makes each cup of Ogasawara coffee to order, and ours took about 10 minutes to prepare. While we waited, we had time to reflect on the origins of the coffee we were about to drink.
The Ogasawara Islands became a Japanese territory in 1878, just 11 years after the end of feudal rule by the shogun. Because the islands had such a drastically different climate than the rest of Japan, settlers tried introducing a number of tropical plant species, and found that they could grow coffee.
▼ Caffe Appassionato serves three kinds of Ogasawara coffee, and we opted for the 100-percent Ogasawara bean-version.
The islands were evacuated during World War II, and when farmers could finally return they found their fields had turned to jungle, with many of the coffee trees felled by typhoons during their absences. Not all of the trees perished, though, and those that survived were once again cared for and cultivated, resulting in the Ogasawara coffee we have today.