A Coffee in Okinawa
I have been in Okinawa for about two months now, and I have been pleasantly surprised to discover a unique coffee culture. Coffee culture in Japan is the counterweight to traditional Japanese tea culture and reflects many of the same youthful influences as specialty coffee culture does in the West. Even more surprising for me was finding coffee farms here that find creative ways to produce their own coffee from start to finish – even though it is tough to make ends meet.
Coffee was introduced to Japan in the 1700s but did not truly take hold until after WWII when Western influence increased. It was then that coffee became associated with middle-class standing and achievement. Like tea houses, coffee shops became social hubs, but more disruptive in nature. They were meeting grounds for social movements in the ’70s and ’80s and today are still enjoying a counter-culture vibe.
I visited Matayoshi Coffee Farm near the northern end of the island, where they grow and roast their own coffee. They also grow mangos, which happened to be in season for my visit! In addition to the farm and café, they have cabins that you can rent and during the harvesting season, offer tours for visitors to pick their own coffee, and learn about the process from field to cup. Growing coffee in Okinawa is a challenge as the island sits above the “coffee belt” and is susceptible to extreme weather such as tropical cyclones that can destroy the crop. The unique climate and soil composition, however, make Okinawan coffee mild and sweet. These factors, combined with the economic disadvantage they are at in competing with traditional coffee-growing regions who can produce larger crops at a fraction of the cost, make it difficult to sustain a coffee farm here. A single cup cost me $13, and a bag typically sells upwards of $40. That’s what makes Matayoshi Coffee Farm so cool. They are all about exposing people to the full process despite those challenges. That and they even serve free coffee leaf tea!
If I find myself back in Okinawa at the right time of year, I will definitely head back up to Matayoshi to check out their tour and show some support. In the meantime, I’ll keep exploring some of the other neat local shops.