Japanese Coffee Jelly: A Sweet Staple From the 60s

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Head to any kissaten (old-style coffee shop) in Japan, and chances are you’ll spot kohii zerii (coffee jelly) on the menu. A staple of Japanese coffee shops since the 1960s, Japanese coffee jelly has become so popular over the years that you can even spot it readymade in the chilled section in convenience stores.

Recently, coffee jelly has become popular among the younger generation too, experiencing a second boom in Japanese coffee culture. Let’s have a look at this tasty treat and how to make it yourself!

What is Japanese Coffee Jelly?

A plate of Japanese coffee jelly with white cream on top with a spoon holding a piece of the jelly.
Cream is a common part of coffee jelly that makes it taste similar to a sweet coffee with cream or milk. Image via Shutterstock

Like many popular desserts in Japan, coffee jelly isn’t actually a Japanese dessert. A British/American invention, it was introduced to Japan in 1914 via The Yomiuri Shimbun’s (a popular Japanese magazine) recipe column. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that its popularity in Japan boomed, when a coffee chain called Mikado Coffee started to market coffee jelly as ‘coffee you can eat.’ 

Coffee jelly is, essentially, coffee which has been hardened. All you really need to make it is black coffee and a thickening agent such as gelatin or agar-agar powder (a common ingredient in things like yokan jelly candy). As a rule of thumb, the strong coffee is sweetened before hardening with sugar or sweetener and served with a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or syrup on top. 

Recently coffee jelly has seen something of a revival, as Instagrammers flock to ‘old-fashioned’ coffee shops, to take a picture with the delicate china cups and sample a retro dessert. Depending on the cafe, you may receive some funky toppings or an exciting variation.  

Typing ‘コーヒーゼリー’ (coffee jelly in Japanese lettering) into Instagram will see a wealth of variations, such as coffee jelly piled high with whipped cream, cubes of coffee jelly in a fancy parfait, tiramisu coffee jelly, coffee jelly cubes in a latte, and many more. 

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Of course, nowadays, it isn’t just coffee shops which sell coffee jelly. It can be found everywhere in some form or another as Japanese cafes and restaurants capitalize on its re-found popularity.

As for ready-bought coffee jelly, it is found in its original form in little yogurt-pots at superstores or convenience stores, but also as an innovative flavor, too. Coffee jelly flavored chocolates see coffee jelly inside a bite-sized chocolate, and there is even a coffee jelly drink you can buy – just like a drink in a can.

If you fancy some coffee jelly yourself, or even if you just have some time to spare, it’s super easy to make and the perfect way to get the feel of a Japanese coffee shop at home. We’ve included a Japanese coffee jelly recipe below. 

How to Make Japanese Coffee Jelly

A cutting board with a cup of powdered agar-agar and strings of agar-agar, a solidifying agent, on a table in the sun.
Agar-agar is quite common in Japanese jelly snacks. It comes in many different forms including powder, blocks, or strings like this. Image via Shutterstock

Our recipe includes the basic ingredients and method, which is easily customizable to your taste. It results in a lightly flavored Japanese coffee jelly. Feel free to adjust the amount of coffee or sugar for a stronger coffee taste or a sweeter treat. You can even use a different sweetener such as maple syrup or agave syrup for a slightly healthier version.

Did we mention? It’s also mega easy so you could even make this with children!

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • Instant coffee-2 tbsp
  • Hot water-500ml
  • Sugar-2 tbsp
  • Gelatin or Agar-agar-10g
  • Whipped Cream-20ml
  • 2 Cups or Containers

Method

  1. Boil the water in a pan. Once the water has boiled, stop the heat. Wait till the boiling water has cooled a little and add the coffee, sugar, and gelatin. (Substitute gelatin for agar-agar powder to make it vegetarian).
  2. Mix very well.
  3. Pour the coffee mixture equally between your two cups, and cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Put the cups into the fridge for 3 hours, or until set.
  5. When the jelly has set, remove from the fridge and wait till it has cooled to below room temperature. And with a dollop of whipped cream, you are finished!
A cup of Japanese coffee jelly on a plate topped with whipped cream and a piece of waffle on a table next to a plant.
Cafes have found many ways to switch up Japanese coffee jelly with waffle bits, coffee jelly parfaits, and more! Image via Shutterstock

Variations

  • You can switch out the cream for something like condensed milk to add to that coffee vibe, or even soy cream or a nut-based cream to make it vegan. 
  • For a mid-level elaborate version, top the jelly with condensed milk, then add a dollop of whipped cream, and top with a glace cherry. Perfection!
  • For a super indulgent trip, try topping the coffee jelly with different layers to create a tiramisu. Simply layer as such: coffee jelly, mascarpone cream, coffee jelly cubes, whipped cream, cocoa powder, and finally, mint leaf.
  • If you are strapped for time, buy a bottle of readymade coffee and use that. Talk about simple! Toddlers and younger children will find it easily doable.
  • If you don’t like the taste of coffee, you could use strong tea or even matcha (powdered green tea). Simply swap out the instant coffee for a strong blend of your choice. This can work well for kids, too.

Let us know how you get on with your own Japanese coffee jelly and feel free to share and tag us in your instagram posts!

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2 Responses

  1. I am Japanese background living in Australia.
    I love Japanese foods and snacks. But my parents and my siblings are in Australia too so I used to ask my Japanese friends to send me ‘Japanese snacks and surprise me!’ but can’t ask often than I found sakuraco! Now i don’t have to ask anyone but I having real Japanese snacks and tea every month! So delicious and surprising me and learn little bit of Japanese history as well! Thanks sakuraco!

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Enjoy New Japanese Sweets, Snacks & Tea Every Month

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