Primal Coffee in Japan – Definitive Guide

Apologies in advance if you aren’t a caffeinated caveman as this information won’t apply to you. However a lot of primal/paleo crowd are also productivity freaks, and coffee features regularly as one of the tools in their toolkit. Now, I’m not gonna go on about it like some of those folk but if you’re into coffee and in Japan then I’ve done the hard work for you and I’m just going to give you the facts, the definitive guide to primal coffee in Japan.


When I first came out to Japan a decade ago, coffee sucked. And this is coming from a guy who grew up on instant (Nescafe Blend 43, although I leveled-up when I moved to Sydney and discovered espresso). Now, a lot of the coffee that sucked back then still sucks now, but I’ve also realised that there are a lot of options out there that aren’t “in your face” like Dotour and can coffee.

So, Dotour and can coffee are pretty much as low as you can go. The latter, despite the fancy branding, always ends up tasting like aluminium, and the former tastes like cigarettes because they can’t work out how to make a smoking room that is fully sealed off from normal people who like fresh air and coffee that tastes like coffee. Having said that, it’s possible that the second-hand salaryman smoke is the only reason people can put down a cup of filth that is a hot blend coffee at Dotour.

Fortunately it’s not all bad. Where some countries (usually those with lots of Italian immigrants) tend to have a well-developed espresso culture, Japan has a well developed drip coffee culture. And while cafes serving proper espresso coffee have had a bit of a boom over the last 10 years or so (not to mention those Nespresso machines that everyone seems to have at home) I still think your best bet is to find a get a decent grinder and either a drip coffee kit or an Aeropress and go from there.

The Goods – Aeropress

I bought an Aeropress kit for the office because I was sick of bad coffee from the company cafeteria, and also because I’m an asshole and wanted to piss people off with an aroma that says “I’m better than you.”

Aeropress kit


Grinder – The “Porex Mini,” loved by foreigners and Japanese alike

The Goods – UCC Filters and Kalita Drip Kit

For your home drip kit I recommend starting with the filters and working back from there.

UCC filters – just all-round good. Unbleached, well-priced, and I have never had one break on me no matter how rough I am in my half-asleep morning state.

Basic Kalita drip coffee kit

For a grinder/mill I don’t have a specific recommendation as the one I bought is discontinued but anything by Kalita or Hario should pulverise them into lovely brown granules of hot-water-ready love.

The Goods – Beans

My rule of thumb is to choose among the places near where you live who roast their own (hint:「自家焙煎」). If you’re looking for me to do the hard work for you then just order online from these guys:

They also have a couple of stores in Tokyo for you to do a walk-in. I recommend their Mandheling Estate (Indonesian) coffee (mixed with a dash of any of their South American beans if you prefer a more balanced flavour), or their “Monzennakacho Blend” if you are making Bulletproof Coffee.

Unfortunately these guys are a little expensive, and I’m still on the lookout for a good “everyday drinker” bulk beans supplier so watch this space (and please add your own suggestion in the comments!)

UPDATE: my quest for an everyday drinker ends in fail. Read about it here.

The Goods – Bulletproof Ingredients

Get your unsalted butter from Hanamasa or any supermarket really. It’s notoriously hard to find details about the methods employed in food production in this country but I doubt they’re doing anything too weird up in Hokkaido to the cows.

For coconut oil I suggest a spoonful of  Dr Bronners. Not the cheapest but definitely the most palatable I’ve found.

If you’re looking for a hand mixer anything from the Braun Multiquick range comes recommended (I got the four-piece set because I wanted to be able to make my own mince).

Posted in Eat

Japanese Doctor Sees my Cholesterol Readings, Gets Boner

Finding a primal-friendly doctor outside of Japan still isn’t an easy task but here it’s nigh impossible. Truth be told, I still haven’t found someone I’m happy with so if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments.

Annual health checks for a moderately-healthy non-primal foreigner are usually pretty much the same – everything is fine but your cholesterol seems to sit slightly above what Japanese doctors consider “healthy.” The consultation session afterwards usually leaves you promising to drink a little less alcohol, eat a few more vegetables, and substitute fish for red meat from time to time.

However since I switched to a primal way of living these annual health checks have become insane. The reason is simple: while most of my results come back somewhere between “good” and “awesome,” my cholesterol readings are right on “ZOMG YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!!1”

The first time I had to sit down and explain my >239 total cholesterol reading the doctor was a young kid still in medical school. Going in I knew my result already and expected to be asked a couple of questions, but I remember foolishly thinking “he’s young, he might be open-minded.”

“Ok, everything looks good, but… holy crap man what the hell is going on with your cholesterol here?! I’ve rarely seen cholesterol readings this high before.”

Poor buddy was freaking out, but I calmed him down by promising to take drastic measures and get my cholesterol down.

Twelve months later and a different clinic my results came back: again everything awesome except cholesterol, which was significantly higher than before. Here we go again. First the nurse to give me nutritional advice:

“Do you eat a lot of fried foods?”


“How about fat?”

“Yes, more than I used to. But they’re good oils.”

“I see, you mean like polyunsaturated oils, salad oils, soybean oil, olive oil, right?”

“Yes, plenty of olive oil. Also other natural oils like macadamia nut oil, coconut oil, butter, lard,…”

“Lard?? Oh my…”

“Yes lard! Can’t think of anything more natural. Oh, except maybe for tallow, which I render myself…”

I could see she was on the verge of having a heart attack herself so I bit my tongue, smiled for 20 minutes while listening to her advice, and promised to cut back on the animal fats.

Next up was the meeting with the doctor. He was visibly excited at the prospect of a new, young Lipitor patient that would continue to pay him dividends well into retirement. However he was also somewhat baffled at the rest of my file, as I didn’t fit the profile of a regular high-cholesterol patient.

Nevertheless he was determined to get me onto the statins. He pinched my knuckles, took an x-ray of my ankles and asked a couple more quack questions to justify the decision he had made before I even walked into the room. He was excited but his data just wasn’t getting him over the line so eventually he sent me home with a warning and told me to come back in a month, and that if my numbers hadn’t improved by then quack quack quack quack.* Never went back, of course.

Now, for someone who doesn’t believe the “high cholesterol = bad” mantra and is comfortable with their elevated numbers, stories like this are fun and humourous but unfortunately it still doesn’t answer the question: who are the paleo-friendly doctors in Tokyo? Doctors who will administer the tests you are interested in, and not freak out when your cholesterol readings are slightly elevated. Where are you?


* He may not have actually said this, I kinda zoned out toward the end.

Posted in Medical

Primal Eating in Japan – the Basics 2

Let’s start really, really simple.

Rule #1: Your basic caveman kitchen should be filled with four main categories of food – meat/eggs, vegetables, oils, and spices.

Stock your cave with some oils (coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil and butter are a good start) and some dried spices (salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika powder and garlic).

Later you can branch out and get adventurous but until you earn your Bad Motherfucker Wings (Japan edition)* in the kitchen you want to stick with the above, and buy meat/eggs and vegetables fresh one or more times a week.


Rule #2: Until you find your feet, or if ever you aren’t sure what to do, remember “meat ‘n’ two veg”

I’ve basically taken the Australian classic “meat ‘n’ three veg” and stripped out the potato. Of course, there was never any doubt that it is a dish versatile enough to appear as the centerpiece on a blog about primal eating in Japan!

Examples would be:

  • Asparagus (vegetable) + mushrooms (vegetable), panfried in butter (oil) with garlic (spice) and salt (spice). Chicken pieces (meat) grilled in macadamia nut oil (oil) seasoned with salt & pepper (spice).
  • Eggplant/nasu/aubergine (vegetable) and bell pepper/capsicum (vegetable) stir fried in olive oil (oil) with garlic (spice) salt and pepper (spice). Grill some pork strips (meat) in salted butter(oil) with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper (spice) separately and serve.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know you’re thinking, “that sounds shit-boring. Never gonna be able to subsist on this crap.” The good news is, not only do you get used to this simple eating, you begin to prefer it. And you start to look forward to the trips to the supermarket, “What vegetables will I buy today?” “Last time the butter was good with the carrots, but I’m going to try olive oil this time and a bit extra salt,” etc.


And those are the only rules! This is how I got my start and I still keep coming back to these rules whenever I get stuck. Now, I never said that this was the cheapest way, nor the most nutritious – we’ll look at this more later, including some fine-tunes for Japan. But this will get you started in Japan on a primal eating course with minimum cry-baby tears.


* Not a real thing.

Posted in Eat

Primal Eating in Japan – the Basics 1

edit: I’m updating these lists every time something new comes to me.

Everyone loves lists. Here are a couple to get us started.


The Good


Yakitori, Yakiniku (sans teriyaki/dipping sauces)

Attention to detail when it comes to ingredient selection and food preparation (similar to the French)

Standard portion sizes smaller than back home

All-you-can-eat meat restaurants

Most things you want from anywhere in the world can be obtained here

Fresh seafood at reasonable prices in most parts of the country

People here aren’t afraid of offal


The Bad

Rice, noodles or alcohol with every meal

Lots of traditional Japanese food used sugar for its preserving properties (think: sechi ryori which you have over New Year’s)

Not just sugar but also mirin, katakuriko, corn starch, etc find their way into even the simplest of recipes, making eating out quite difficult if you are strict primal

Tempura (perfectly healthy seafood and vegetables, ruined by a coating of batter and fried in “salad” oil)

Products you want from overseas can be expensive

Cakes/sweets/etc are delicious here



The Ugly

Of the hundreds of products on the shelves in the food section of my local pharmacy there were three that I consider primal (macadamia nuts, pistachio nuts, and bottled water).

3/4 of the supermarket is crap that shouldn’t be brought back to your cave for consumption. But this is the same anywhere in the West and even most third world supermarkets are filled with crap these days.

Same attitude towards soy-based oils, canola and “salad” oil as back in the West.


The good thing about the above lists is that you only need to be concerned about the first one. There is no shortage of primal options here in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan, and once you get used to it you’ll wonder why you were ever such a cry baby in the first place.


Posted in Eat
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