A Thirst-Quenching Guide to Beverages at Japanese Convenience Stores

The easiest way to find something to drink in Japan is to step into a convenience store, where shelves are stocked with an extensive lineup of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Shops also offer fresh-brewed coffee and other caffeinated concoctions. In this installment, we look at the three big chains’ beverage offerings.

A Drink Cornucopia

Japan is well-known for its abundant vending machines. But in recent years the number of these ubiquitous contraptions have declined, largely due to competition from convenience stores.

Shops like Seven-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson offer thirsty patrons an extensive selection of drinks sold in plastic bottles, including mineral water and various teas as well as soft drinks. Hot beverages like canned coffee and bottled tea are also available.

A beverage cooler at a convenience store.

Recently, fresh-brewed coffee has become a staple offering at Japanese convenience stores. Customers looking for a pick-me-up have been won over by the taste and inexpensive price, turning coffee into big business for shops. In 2017, Seven-Eleven alone sold more than 1 billion cups under its Seven Café brand.

Ordering a coffee is simple. First customers purchase a branded cup at the cash register and then set it in a dedicated coffee machine that makes and pours their drink. At Lawson, staff preparing drinks behind the counter, like at a coffee shop.

1. Purchase a branded cup at the register. Ice-filled cups for iced coffee are kept in store freezers.

2. Place the cup in the coffee maker and press the corresponding button.

3. Remove the cup when filled, add milk or sugar to taste from nearby shelf, and cover with a lid.

Many shops also carry chilled coffee drinks. FamilyMart under its Famima Café brand offers a lineup of frappes that includes standard flavors and specialty varieties made with seasonal fruit flavors.

The Café Frappe standard.

FamilyMart boasts a variety of specialty frappes.

Lawson’s Machi Café employs a full-service format, wherein employees pour each cup as it is ordered. The firm has found success with its selection of hot lattes, including its matcha latte made with top-grade powdered green tea from Uji south of Kyoto, a well-known matcha producing area.

At Lawson Machi Café, employees prepare all the coffee.

Matcha latte, available hot or iced at select stores.

As sales of fresh-brewed coffee have taken off, more stores are providing space on the premises where customers can sit and enjoy their purchases, much as they would at a coffee shop.

A relaxed in-store dining area. (Photo courtesy of Lawson)

Alcoholic Drinks

Japanese convenience stores stock an extensive lineup of alcoholic beverages, including major beer brands, canned highballs, sake, and distilled spirits.

Many well-known brands of whisky and bourbon are available, and some stores even carry a selection of quality wines.

The drinking age in Japan is 20, and when purchasing alcoholic drinks customers may need to confirm they are of legal age by touching a verification screen at the cash register. Customers may also be asked to show their ID.

Japanese and foreign brands of spirits are well represented.

Some shops offer detailed information about the wines on display.

Customers may need to press an age-verification screen when purchasing alcoholic beverages.

(Translated from Japanese. Text by Fujitani Ryōsuke; photos by Jōraku Hiroyuki. Banner Photo: Cash registers in Japanese convenience stores are flanked by menus that would not be out of place in a café.)

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