How Was Canned Coffee Born?

Coffee wasn't born in Japan, but canned coffee was invented in Japan. Ramen was originally made in China, but it was a Japanese company that invented cup ramen. Japanese seem to be good at creating new things by learning new things from outside and adding some other value to them. How was canned coffee born?

Canned Coffee Born in Japan at an Expressway Service Area

If you carefully look around at an expressway service area, you will probably notice that many of the drivers of tour buses and long-distance trucks are usually drinking canned coffee.  The canned coffee, which contains all the ingredients of regular coffee, is probably being drunk as a cure for drowsiness.  And that’s probably its purpose.  The canned coffee enjoyed by the drivers was born from an idea that came to a man when he stopped to rest at an expressway service area.

During a drive in 1970 on the Meishin expressway, the driver for Toshikage Tanida, then President of Pokka Lemon (currently Pokka Corporation), began to feel drowsy and asked to stop at a service area to get some coffee.  Arriving at the service area, there was a long line of people in the shop wanting to buy coffee.  The story goes that it took 30 minutes just to get a cup of coffee.  The idea “If we made a coffee that could be enjoyed easily in the car” that flashed in President Tanida’s mind was the occasion that gave birth to canned coffee.

Meishin Expressway’s service area (resting spot)

Meishin Expressway’s service area (resting spot)

In actuality, another manufacturer had put on sale a canned drink containing coffee in 1967.  But it had been put on sale as a milk beverage because it had contained a relatively high amount of milk.

The focus of Pokka, however, was on real coffee.  Pokka aimed to make that coffee which the drivers at the expressway parking area wanted as a cure for drowsiness.

From the beginning, Pokka aimed at developing a canned coffee that was enjoyable whether heated or chilled.  However, heating the liquid in the canned coffee caused the growth of bacteria.  It took Pokka nearly two years to find out that the cause of this bacterial growth was the sugar contained in the liquid.

In 1972, after much trial and error, Pokka Coffee was born.  At that time, a cup of coffee served in a coffee shop was approximately 120 grams.  It was decided that it would be better if the canned coffee had a greater amount and therefore each canned coffee would contain 190 grams.

At first, the major distributors were not interested in a product such as canned coffee that people were not familiar with.  Canned coffee had its start in the confectionary section of supermarkets where it first went on sale.

Pokka Coffee later developed an automatic vending machine that could dispense both hot and cold drinks.  When the vending machines started to appear at the expressway service areas, their convenience became highly valued and sales exploded.  Other companies started selling canned coffee one after another.  In 1973, there were no fewer than 50 different brands available throughout the country.

In 1977, fair competition rules regarding the labeling on coffee beverages were established.  The rules required that the label “coffee” could be displayed on a canned beverage only if more than five grams of coffee beans were used per 100 grams of the beverage.  This means that Pokka Coffee was the first product with “Product name:  Coffee” because it had met this stipulation from the first time it went on sale.

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