Canned Coffee Carnival – Japanese Coffees, Part 1

All too often, the siren call hissing of an espresso machine is not easy to come by, and percolators are nowhere to be seen – in such times, one’s eye turns to the world of bottles and cans to get their caffeine-laden, if prepackaged, consumption of coffee beverages. When I recently found that the Japanese market by my house started carrying a downright crazy range of different brands and types of coffee drinks in their fridges, I started wondering if the reason for such diversity laid in consumer’s personal brand loyalties, or if the wide, nuanced spectrum of coffee flavors and experiences were actually retained in their transition from fresh cup to refrigerated can.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

UCC Coffee with Milk Original Blend

Tagline: “UCC: The pioneer maker of the canned liquid coffee in Japan. Come on, and enjoy its original taste.”
  • Cost: $1.29 for 337mL (0.38¢/mL)
  • Sugar Content: 25g (74.1mg/mL, or 4.39 teaspoons per 8oz.)
  • Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Milk Powder, Coffee, Emulsifier.

The quintessential canned milk coffee in my mind, the Ueshima Coffee Comany’s flagship beverage has been a mainstay in Asian supermarkets for years. Much like the much-beloved American bottled Frappuccinos, the drinker definitely gets sugar and milk above anything else in the drink. The sweet creaminess of the milk coffee effectively masks any bitter aftertaste that the coffee itself may have, making this drink palatable to pretty much anyone, young or old.

The UCC Milk Coffees were actually one of my first exposures to coffee as a whole, and therefore have quite a sentimental place in my heart. As a kid, I always found black coffee too strong, so the low-cost, candy-like goodness that lies within these cans all the way through middle school and high school. Indeed, my association to this product is so strong that as I proceeded to drink the other types of canned coffee I kept finding myself comparing them to this original blend. A definite classic.

UCC Hawaii Kona Blend Coffee with Milk

Tagline: Contains not less than 10% Kona Coffee!
Tagline: Contains not less than 10% Kona Coffee!
  • Cost: $1.29 for 337mL (0.38¢/mL)
  • Sugar Content: 22g (65.3mg/mL, or 3.86 teaspoons per 8oz.)
  • Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Milk Powder, Coffee, Emulsifier, Artificial Flavor.

Oddly enough, UCC actually has two cans of milk coffee at the same price point, the second of which being touted as containing a suspiciously-defensive “not less than 10%” of Hawaiian Kona coffee. Much like its Original Blend brethren, I’ve been drinking this stuff for years owing to its low cost and ubiquity in Asian supermarkets. As I’ve gotten older, the slightly more interesting flavor profile of the Kona Blend has caused me to usually reach for this one instead of the Original, making it pretty much my go-to canned coffee of choice.

Despite the implied premium nature of this drink from having Kona beans, I think it’s really better to think of this drink as a variant, almost like a Cherry Coke analogue to the Original Blend’s Coke. The slightly reduced (though still substantial) sugar content in this drink actually goes a long way here, allowing for a lovely toasted almond profile to pop up, and for some brighter berry notes to juuust be detectable. That said, don’t expect any of the nuanced complexity of a freshly crafted latte here – the milk and sugar still blow out any subtleties that the original coffee may have had. If you go in looking for a tasty and quick caffeine fix with a straightforward profile, this is definitely the one to pick.

DyDo Demitasse Coffee

Tagline: The coffee with deep taste is dripped from plenty of selected beans.
  • Cost: $1.99 for 150mL (1.33¢/mL)
  • Sugar Content: 10g (66.7mg/mL, or 3.94 teaspoons per 8oz.)
  • Ingredients: Water, Raw Milk, Sucrose Liquid (Sugar Cane, Sugar Beet), Coffee, Sucrose Esters, Carageenan.

I’ve never seen DyDo as a brand before so the tiny red can caught my eye almost immediately. Like the UCC Kona Blend, this has a slightly lower sugar content than the UCC Original Blend, so one gets stronger coffee notes across every sip by comparison. There’s definitely a smokiness present that floats around the mouth, which mixes with the syrupy sweetness to produce an almost caramel-type flavor profile.

DyDo’s usage of actual milk (as opposed to powdered or reconstituted milk) prevents any “fake” milk flavor that is common to the entirety of canned ‘creamy’ drinks, though the usage of carrageenan to bump up the whole drink’s viscosity and thickness leaves the same tongue-coating properties of the other drinks. (More on carrageenan, as well as other emulsifiers and stabilizers, some other time. They do some interesting things.) If one is looking for a more legitimately coffee-ish experience out of their canned milk coffees, I’d go with this one, though it is somewhat expensive per volume compared to its alternatives (costing nearly twice as much for less than half of the volume of the UCC milk coffees!)

Roots Aroma Gold 微糖 (Aroma Gold Bito, or “Aroma Gold Fine/Micro Sugar”)

高級豆ブラジルブレンド! (Koukyuu-mame Burajiru Burendo, or "High Quality Brazil Blend!")
Tagline: 高級豆ブラジルブレンド! (Koukyuu-mame Burajiru Burendo, or “High Quality Brazil Blend!”)
  • Cost: $2.49 for 260mL (0.096¢/mL)
  • Sugar Content: 7g (26.9mg/mL, or 1.59 teaspoons per 8oz.)
  • Ingredients: Coffee, Sugar, Evoporated Milk, Dextrin, Vegetable oil, Powdered Skim Milk, Casein Sodium Emulsifier, Artificial Flavoring, Antioxidants, Artificial Sweeteners (Acesulfame K, Sucralose), Carageenan, Silicon Dioxide.

Brazilian coffees are some of my favorite brews out there due to their mild, approachable, and well-balanced flavors. (They also blend beautifully with chocolate, but that’s not really the focus here.) The Roots Aroma Gold Bito does have some almost roasted-peanut-like flavors in there, but more than anything I got a ton of sweetness, even more so than the UCC Original Blend.

While there’s less actual sugar in this drink (nearly a third, ounce for ounce), the usage of two artificial sweeteners dials its apparent  sugary-ness way up. (Thankfully, there isn’t really any artificial flavor to this drink, so it’s not immediately obvious that these sweeteners are in there.) Looking at the ingredient list, one can see that there’s actually quite a bit of modulation going on compared to the other coffee drinks – I can definitely appreciate the engineering that goes into this, as the end product is quite tasty, but I also wonder if it defeats the point of using better quality beans in the first place if you’re going to just tune the flavors in post-production anyway. If you’re watching your calorie intake, then go ahead and give this drink a shot, and you won’t be disappointed by what you get.

UCC Black Coffee All Natural Unsweetened Coffee Drink

UCC Ueshima Coffee Company Ltd. Was established in 1933 in Kobe JAPAN by founder Mr. Tadao Ueshima who developed the first canned coffee in the world. We keep challenging "Cup to Seed" spirit, doing all we can with coffee.
Tagline: UCC Ueshima Coffee Company Ltd. Was established in 1933 in Kobe JAPAN by founder Mr. Tadao Ueshima who developed the first canned coffee in the world. We keep challenging “Cup to Seed” spirit, doing all we can with coffee.
  • Cost: $1.99 for 288mL (0.69¢/mL)
  • Sugar Content: 0g (it’s black coffee!)
  • Ingredients: Water, Coffee.

The only non-milk coffee of this first batch, I was very curious to see what this drink had to offer. I love sugary beverages as much as the next guy, but sometimes I want to have my caffeine delivered without a sugar crash attached to it later on. Could UCC substitute a regular morning cup of coffee with a bottled product?

I found that this coffee wasn’t brewed particularly strongly, tasting largely like a watered-down version of the UCC Original Blend. One can identify some nice crispy smoke flavors behind the same nutty profile that was in the Original Blend, which I thought might be the case for a dark roast that might have gone into their Milk Coffee – however, it’s clear that this drink is definitely pulling some punches with respect to how much of that flavor is being delivered, since even the notes that are retained between the milk and non-milk varieties are disappointingly muted. That’s not to say the flavor here is bad, it’s a pretty solid product and still way better than, say, hotel lobby coffee that’s been sitting in a carafe all day, but given how memorable UCC’s Milk Coffee products are, this one falls a little short of that standard to me.

After all is said and done, here’s a breakdown of these first five drinks, on scales from 0-10:

Product Coffee – Nut Coffee – Fruit Coffee – Spice/Smoke Sweetness Creaminess Rating
UCC Coffee with Milk Original Brand 4 1 3 7 7 7
UCC Hawaii Kona Blend Coffee with Milk 7 4 2 6 7 9
DyDo Demitasse Coffee 6 3 6 5 6 8
Roots Aroma Gold 微糖 (Aroma Gold Bito, “Aroma Gold Fine/Micro Sugar”) 4 2 3 8 6 6
UCC Black Coffee All Natural Unsweetened Coffee Drink 6 3 5 0 0 5


I suspect that dark roasts, where those brighter notes are less prevalent, will be emphasize on a whole in canned products, as it’s much easier to get a consistent product with that kind of roast. The berry and fruit notes typical of many freshly brewed coffees don’t seem to translate to the canned or bottle products – I wonder how much of that has to do with the production/origin of that type of coffee being prohibitively expensive, or how much of that has to do with those flavors not actually surviving the production process. Something to look into in future installments, I suppose.

Until next time, take care! 😀