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It’s a running joke how much coffee costs in America. Hit a Starbucks and you could easily spend $3-$5 on a cup, depending on what you order. McDonald’s, on the other hand, has $1-$3 caffeinated beverages, and you’d be hard-pressed to not find a gas station that doesn’t offer 99¢ cups for your daily commute. And here’s the real hoot – not one of these places is disliked for coffee unanimously. One person may say Starbucks is just sugar, while another can’t think of getting coffee where you can also order a McRib.

So, what makes a cup of coffee good? And, for us second-guessers, how is it good if it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?

Let us, with the aid of Buzzfeed, take you on a quick trip to Japan.

Back in 2017, a group of Buzzfeed reporters took a foodie trip in Japan, focusing on different items and their various price points to determine what had the most bang for the buck. Their second focus was coffee and they hit two places in Tokyo and one in Osaka. The first location is sandwich café called R.O.STAR located in the Takadanobaba neighborhood. They’re known for offering ¥100 (~$1 USD) iced coffee that’s pretty tasty. Their low cost is achieved by roasting the beans themselves, and the beans are a blend of Laotian, Brazilian, and other coffee beans. The taste is bold with a little bit of sweetness – just what’s needed for a great start to your day.

The second location Buzzfeed visited was called Coffee Elementary School, located in the Daikanyama neighborhood.  The shop was started by Wataru Yoshida, a former elementary school teacher whose customers refer to him as ‘Sensei’. He serves the Buzzfeed group a ¥400 (~$4 USD) coffee known as the C.E.S. Blend. Depending on the coffee bean, he changes the coarseness of the grind, making sure to not bring out too much bitterness. This done in the hopes of appealing to coffee lovers and non-lovers alike. He also serves the coffee in handmade ceramic cups shaped a little like wine glasses, so the aroma can reach your nose better. It’s a personal touch that adds to the already nostalgic location.

The final location is special for one reason – it is home to a ¥100,000 (~$914 USD) cup of coffee. The Münch, located in Yao, Osaka, has a variety of coffee, but only one that’s special enough to be aged for 22 years. The idea for aging coffee came by accident when the owner, Kanji Tanaka, had brewed a batch of coffee that he left sitting in his fridge for six months! When he found out the coffee still tasted good, he decided to age it in a barrel. The result was a sweet coffee that almost resembled syrup. He then continued this process purposely for different lengths of time. Served in a special Meissen cup, Tanaka described the 22-yr.-old coffee as a ‘poem you can drink’.

What makes a good cup of coffee?

Simply put, the people who make it. Price is not particularly an indicator of quality. R.O.STAR offers coffee for a dollar that is constantly refined to make sure it’s high quality, while there’s a coffee in Osaka that it’d take us days to earn enough money for. It’s not a famous brand or location, either. We’ll take a good guess that you’ve never heard of R.O.STAR, C.E.S., or The Münch until today. What made the coffees good were the roasters and baristas behind them. These people had a passion for bringing people joy through a beautifully brewed coffee that could either be grabbed on the go or savored during a cozy evening.

So…what’s in the price of a cup of coffee? We hope a love of people and caffeine.

Drink up. 😉

Take the trip through Japan yourself: $1 Coffee vs. $914 Coffee

What’s in the Price of Coffee?