Coffee is probably not the first drink you associate with Japan but did you know they have a vibrant and thriving café culture? Full of innovative drinks and interesting menus, Japanese coffee culture is a treasure trove of unique recipes. Japanese coffee jelly is one of the most iconic items on café menus in this tiny island nation and the unique texture and consistency make it instantly intriguing. Is it sweet or bitter? Firm or creamy? Find out for yourself by making Japanese coffee jelly at home! Read on to learn the interesting origins of this peculiar dessert and how you can make it for yourself.
What is Japanese Coffee Jelly?
Coffee jelly is pretty self-explanatory: it’s jelly made with coffee. Made with gelatin and coffee, Japanese coffee jelly is served with thick, sweet cream as a dessert or treat. An alternative option involves replacing gelatin with agar, making it a vegetarian and vegan-friendly option.
Jellies are a popular part of Japanese cuisine, so it’s no surprise that coffee jelly is so popular there. Experiments with jelly in Japan have created all kinds of culinary delights, including raindrop cakes and the coffee jelly we’re talking about now. While modern jelly creations are definitely innovative, they all derive from traditional recipes of Japanese jelly.
Part of the popularity of jelly desserts and dishes can be attributed to the discovery of agar in 16th-century Japan. Agar is the primary vegetarian replacement for gelatin. It’s derived from seaweed and called “kanten” in Japanese. The most basic form of a Japanese jelly dessert is called “mitsumame”, which consists of cubes of sweetened agar dissolved in water or some kind of juice and served with fresh fruit and red beans called azuki. This basic recipe has many variations including "anmitsu” which adds red bean paste instead of whole beans. You can also add flavour to the jelly itself by cooking it with different juices and powders. Matcha green tea is another popular option, and so you can see why coffee eventually made its way into this traditional dessert.
Japanese coffee jelly came to global attention when Starbucks launched the Coffee Jelly Frappuccino in Japan in 2016. From there, the drink went viral in many Asian countries. This Starbucks drink is an Instagram-worthy concoction of Frappuccino, vanilla cream, whipped cream, and chunks of coffee jelly layered at the bottom.
History of Coffee Jelly: From the West to Japan
Apart from Agar being discovered in 1600s Japan, gelatin was introduced in the 20th century during the Taisho period, when western food and culture became a big fad in Japan. Coffee jelly may sound modern but recipes for it can be traced back to 1800s England. The earliest recipes require you to mix coffee with calf's foot jelly and a clarifier. The production of packaged gelatin simplified the recipes to simply adding gelatin into hot coffee and pouring it into a mould to set the shape.
Coffee jelly was popularised as a healthier alternative to normal coffee since the gelatin was thought to soak up excess acid in the stomach. Coffee jelly was served both hot and cold, in various ice creams and sweet treats. Coffee jelly later became popular in the New England region of the United States. Restaurants in Boston served coffee gelatin as a mainstay item on the dessert menu for years and coffee jelly still has many fans in the area. However, coffee jelly never really caught on in the larger market and fell out of fashion in most of the Western world.
Japan was responsible for a renewed interest in coffee jelly. It became popular among young people who were fascinated by western culture and integrated itself into the emerging coffee scene in Asia. It remains a favourite to this day, appearing in cafés, supermarkets, and even popular anime shows.
How to Make Coffee Jelly
Here’s what you need to make coffee jelly at home:
- 400 ml of freshly brewed coffee. For convenience, you can choose to go with instant coffee but if you’re a coffee purist, a clean pour-over coffee would be great for this recipe.
- 500ml room temperature water.
- 3-4 tablespoons of sugar, you can adjust according to your tastes.
- 5g of unflavoured gelatin powder or agar. Gelatin is made from animal protein, so vegans and vegetarians can use agar instead.
- Optional toppings like whipped cream, ice cream, etc.
Let’s get started!
1. Mix the gelatin or agar with water till it dissolves.
2. Brew your coffee or make your instant coffee and add in the sugar. Make sure your coffee is hot so that the sugar dissolves completely. If you feel your coffee is not hot enough, you can heat it up on the stove and this will help the sugar dissolve evenly as well.
3. Add the gelatin/agar mixture to the coffee. Stir or whisk and incorporate evenly until combined. Agar might need to be heated to almost boiling in order for the gelling powder to dissolve.
4. Pour the mixture into a container, small cups, or whatever mould you like.
5. Chill the mixture in your fridge for 6 hours.
6. Once set, take out your jelly and cut it into small pieces. Serve by itself or topped with whipped cream, ice cream, fruits, or boba. Experiment and have fun with it!
As you can see making coffee jelly at home is super simple when you have the right ingredients. This light and delicious snack are perfect for summer desserts. It’s also great to serve at parties to delight and amuse your friends. You can experiment with different additions to the agar or gelatin, such as adding coffee liqueur, lemon or orange juice, or condensed milk. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or just looking for a quick dessert recipe, you should try out this recipe and enjoy a bit of unique coffee culture from Japan!