As the popularity of canned coffee rose, beverage brands clamored to establish their own versions. BOSS Coffee, which was launched in 1992, is owned by Suntory -- the global beverage company that also owns Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. They aren’t the only brand that has dipped their toes in both alcohol and coffee; Kirin, a Japanese brand famous for their beer, also produces their own version of canned coffee. But just because these businesses share a parent company with liquor brands doesn’t mean that they don’t make a great cup -- or can -- of coffee.
“Japanese canned coffee brands, like BOSS Coffee, have had a lot of time to grow along with consumer tastes,” Fukata said. “Canned coffee was born in Japan, so we’ve had more time than any other country to learn how to get canned coffee right.” This reflects in the sales; Japan leads the rest of the world in sales of ready-to-drink coffee, with the US following closely behind in second place. According to the Japan Times, the canned coffee industry was worth 739 billion yen in 2013 (that’s roughly 6.7 billion dollars). In fact, just last year, BOSS sold over 100 million cases of their canned coffee -- marking it as the third largest beverage in all of Japan. That’s a lot of coffee -- especially considering the price of a can ranges between 90 to 150 yen, which in most cases means spending less than $1.50 on coffee. It’s a much cheaper alternative than a latte at Starbucks in Japan, which clocks in at a little under $4 for a tall.
For BOSS’ own canned concoctions, the brand boasts flash brewed coffee -- a technique in which the coffee is brewed hot to maximize the taste, but chilled just as quickly to preserve flavor. This ensures the coffee tastes as close to a fresh brew as possible, while maintaining a silky and smooth mouthfeel.
“Canned coffee has made an indelible mark on Japanese food culture, and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon,” Fukata said. Not to contradict him, but Japanese canned coffee is going somewhere -- and that somewhere is across country lines and into the global marketplace, including in the US. BOSS conveniently offers their coffee on Amazon, and many Asian grocery stores carry a wide variety of Japanese canned coffee that used to only be available in Japan, but can now be sipped stateside -- though we unfortunately don’t have the same culture of coffee-filled vending machines on every block. Maybe one day soon.
The US also has its own fledgling canned coffee culture, with brands like Starbucks and La Colombe providing their own versions. Despite that, there are still stark differences between the two countries’ brews. For one, Japanese canned coffee tends to be much smaller in size, typically clocking in at around 6 ounces in stout cans, whereas American canned coffee is sleek, slender, and holds roughly 9 ounces of coffee -- if not more. Secondly, though words like “nitro” and “cold brew” are thrown around and displayed on labels, the proprietary flash brew technology isn’t the same across both countries.
Whether it’s hot or iced, black or milky, there’s no way to beat the convenience that is brewed coffee in a can. To repeat what Izumi said, no matter what, even if it’s in a can, “Coffee is always there for us.”