Despite having a vibrant tea culture, Japan is the biggest coffee consumer in Asia. There are thousands of coffee shops or kissaten (喫茶店), serving the beverage all day in different cities. Since coffee was introduced to the country in the 1800s, Japanese people have been enjoying it with a variety of snacks and sweets. These snacks are said to enhance the coffee-drinking experience with their complementary flavors and textures.
In 2024, we embarked on a journey to find out the best Japanese snacks to pair with coffee. Our team visited dozens of kissaten, asking the owners and their customers what coffee pairings people loved and why. Read on to see what we found out!
The Delight of Drinking Coffee with Japanese Snacks
One of the most interesting discoveries we made was why drinking coffee with these delicious snacks really offers an elevated experience. To fully understand that, you need to know about the common Japanese practice of Mari-aaju. Beverages like coffee are “married” with certain foods, based on taste, texture, flavor, etc.
The trend toward coffee mari-aaju continues as people find new ways to pair coffee and enjoy the beverage. Some people learn about the pairings from friends and family or by watching other people in coffee shops. The more seasoned coffee drinkers apply their instincts and knowledge of Japanese snacks and coffee to come up with new pairings.
We can agree that coffee tastes good as a stand-alone beverage. However, Japanese snacks make the coffee-drinking experience more enjoyable in the following ways:
Pairing coffee with the right Japanese snacks will create a more delicious combination.
It balances out the flavor.
It brings out a different flavor note from the coffee.
It makes the meal more nutritious.
Coffee pairing is akin to an art. You have to match different types of coffee with the right Japanese snacks based on several factors. The rest of this post will save you a lot of time and experimenting. We’ve got the best food pairing recommendations for every type of coffee people drink.
Light Roast Coffee: Delicate Flavors and Ideal Japanese Pairings
In terms of flavor, light roast coffee is mild and aromatic with a natural sweetness. You can sometimes notice the subtle taste of fruits and flowers. The acidity in light roast coffee is usually higher than that of other coffee roasts, which produces a dry aftertaste at the back of your mouth.
Taking all of those characteristics into consideration, you want to pair light roast coffee with Japanese snacks that are full of salty-sweet flavors, such as senbei (rice crackers) or light wagashi (traditional sweets).
The Senbei Lab Gift Box is filled with such treats. You’ll get 20 tasty pieces of rice crackers in 8 different flavors, each offering a sweetness ideal for pairing with light roast coffee. Another great option for rice crackers is Hachiko Senbei. It has 10 pieces of rice crackers shaped like the famous Japanese symbol of loyalty. Spread some jam or butter on it and thank us later! For light wagashi, you want to try Fukiyose Japanese Treats Tins. You’ll enjoy the rich flavors and vibrant colors, which match those of your coffee.
Medium Roast Coffee: A Balanced Brew with Versatile Snack Pairings
The most popular kind of coffee, medium roast, is the epitome of balance when it comes to flavor, texture, and acidity. Tasting coffee of this nature will reveal a subtle undertone of caramel and chocolate that seasoned coffee-drinkers keep in mind when choosing a perfect snack pairing. It also tastes slightly sweeter and smoother than a light roast. You should pair medium roast coffee with milk chocolate, vanilla ice cream, or a savory Japanese snack that complements its richness, like dorayaki (red bean pancakes) or a matcha-flavored treat.
We highly recommend you pair Hokkaido Azuki Dorayaki with your coffee. It comes with 25 pieces of traditional Japanese pancakes, perfect for adding natural sweetness to the balanced flavor. If you prefer a slightly more bitter treat, the Kyoto Matcha Waffle Sandwich should be your go-to choice. You’ll love the silky flavor of white chocolate and matcha. Alternatively, you may go for Matcha Daifuku Mochi. It uses white bean paste as filling instead of red. We’ll reveal other types of savory snacks later in this post.
Dark Roast Coffee: Bold Flavors Paired with Distinctive Japanese Snacks
Dark roast coffee is the most intense of the lot. They also have chocolate and caramel undertones, like the medium roast coffees, but they tend to have a stronger and more bitter flavor. You need to pair dark roast coffee with Japanese snacks that have bold, tangy flavors to stand up to its intensity. Snacks like dark chocolate mochi (rice cake), azuki bean snacks, and coffee cake are great choices.
If you’re a fan of bitter-sweet chocolates, you’ll love having the dozen pieces in the Black Strawberry Gift Box with your dark roast coffee. These freeze-dried strawberries have been infused with dark chocolate from Japan to give you an irresistible experience. For those who prefer anko snacks made from azuki beans, we recommend the Honma Gift Box, an assortment of sweet rolls filled with red beans, matcha, and brown sugar.
There’s also something for those who want to have their coffee with both dark chocolate and anko. The Tsukisamu Anpan: Chocolate mixes both red and white bean flavors to create a delicious brownie-like roll.
Savory Japanese Snacks: Enhancing Your Coffee Experience
Snacks with salty and slightly sweet flavor notes fall under the savory category of Japanese cuisine. They tend to pair well with light and medium coffee. The salty nature of these treats offers a delightful contrast to the lighter coffee flavors. Below are some examples of savory Japanese snacks that make fantastic coffee pairings:
Goma Senbei: These are a popular kind of Japanese rice crackers that use sesame seeds as a major ingredient. The chewy and crunchy texture of the rice perfectly contrasts with the silky texture of light-roasted coffee.
Nori Maki Arare: This is also made of rice crackers, but this time wrapped in dry and edible seaweed (nori). The crispy and savory taste makes it a wonderful snack for coffee pairing.
Seaweed Tempura: Seaweed flavor can also be added to authentic tempura and paired with coffee. Try seaweed tempura with sudachi fruit and you will take your coffee break to new heights.
Wasabi Peas: Wasabi peas are the perfect option for adding spice to a coffee pairing. These popular Japanese snacks are made of roasted green peas surrounded by a umami-rich mixture of wasabi sugar, salt, and oil.
Wasabi Pistachio: Wasabi also works wonders when used as a flavoring for pistachios. Bokksu Boutique offers affordable wasabi-flavored pistachio snacks with extra spice.
Agemochi: These are dry-fried mochi snacks that are crunchy when you put them in your mouth but melt after a few bites. These breakfast foods are seasoned to create a rich, savory taste and fill an empty stomach.
Sweet Japanese Treats: A Classic Coffee Companion
Traditional Japanese desserts are popular in kissaten. Millions of people enjoy sweet treats with their hot coffee and tea. Let’s have a look at the common ones that pair well with medium- and dark-roasted coffee.
Anpan: The term “anpan” typically refers to a Japanese sweet roll with anko (red bean paste) filling. There are variants that use other ingredients as fillings, such as white bean paste, green bean paste, and chestnut. The sweet taste contrasts nicely with the bitterness of dark roasts for a classic combination. Tsukisamu Anpan: Kabocha is the perfect treat for those looking to explore the delicious coffee-anpan pairing.
Yōkan: Yōkan treats are traditional wagashi sweets filled with anko, sugar, and agar. High-quality versions like the Fujisan Yokan Jelly have a chewy texture that infuses life into coffee drinking.
Anmitsu: An ancient Japanese dessert, Anmitsu is made of small cubes containing agar jelly. You don’t typically eat them alone but in combination with syrup, anko, and fruits, such as pineapples, peaches, and cherries. Choshiya Anmitsu Jelly contains the full combo packed as individual items. All you need to do is mix them together and enjoy them with bitter coffee.
Exploring Umami: Unique Japanese Snacks with Coffee
If you know anything about Japanese cuisine, you’ll understand that there’s always a place for umami. The same rule holds true with coffee pairings. If you want to bring out a note of deep, savory deliciousness from your beverage, there are a few snacks you can add to your table.
You can’t go wrong with soy sauce-flavored senbei, especially if it’s deep-fried like the popular Ajimai senbei. The crispier, the tastier! Classic seaweed tempura is another umami-rich option. For this experience, we recommend a PRIDE POTATO: Kyushu Grilled Seaweed pack.
Health-Conscious Pairings: Light Snacks with Your Coffee
To help you keep your snack choices light and nutritious, we have some quality suggestions for you. Iron-rich foods, like dried fruits, are naturally sweet. They also contain vitamins, calcium, and potassium in abundance. Look no further than the Seasonal Fruit Jelly Assortment at Bokksu Boutique for your supply of dried fruits that pair well with coffee.
Unsweetened rice cake is another health-conscious food pairing that helps to moderate your blood sugar. We recommend gluten-free, egg-free, and vegan options like One Bite Sesame Mochi and Bokksu Mochi Box.
Seasonal Pairings: Matching Coffee with Seasonal Japanese Snacks
Some of the best flavors you’ll ever taste with your coffee are only available during specific periods of the year. These seasonal snacks may elude you if you don’t take advantage of their seasonal appearances. Popular seasonal food pairings made for coffee and tea include sakura-flavored snacks and chestnut treats. In spring, go for sakura matcha gaufrettes or sakura mochi. When autumn comes, you can drink coffee with high-quality chestnut drum manju.
Coffee Breaks Redefined: Japanese Tea-Time Snacks Meet Coffee
Japanese tea time is typically midafternoon, and during that time, you’ll find the popular kissaten packed with people on their coffee break. Many of these people will pair their tea with sumptuous snacks. We found that some of these snacks, such as castella cake and higashi (dry sweets), are equally delightful with both afternoon and morning coffee. Our top recommendations for castella cakes are the Classic Castella Cake Gift Set and the Nakajima Taishodo Gift Box.
Crafting the Perfect Coffee and Snack Pairing at Home
Pairing your hot cup of coffee with Japanese snacks is easy if you’re ready to experiment with an open mind. Don’t try to match similar notes, but be adventurous and try contrasting flavors. Some of the best coffee pairings have opposing flavors. Start by identifying what types of coffee you love. Whether it’s light roast or iced coffee, take note of what flavors you like the most. After that, you can begin to experiment by pairing them with your favorite Japanese snacks.