Tokyo - Need a pick-me-up?

Try a lychee-flavoured coffee infused with jasmine, or a 'Chardonnay' espresso served in a wine glass - whatever your taste, Japan's swashbuckling baristas are bringing some serious sex appeal to the drink.

In a country famous for its tea, the Japanese are increasingly turning to coffee as a quick-fix to help ease the daily grind. Hipster cafés are popping up everywhere, offering exquisitely curated beverages to satisfy even the fussiest of caffeine addicts.

Japan imports over 430 000 tons of coffee a year - behind only the United States and Germany - and boasts some of the world's top baristas.

“The fact that tea culture already existed in Japan has helped cultivate an appreciation for coffee as a luxury item,” Miki Suzuki told AFP after recently being crowned Japan's champion barista.

“Japanese people have an extremely sensitive palate so they can appreciate subtle differences in flavour,” said the 32-year-old.

Suzuki impressed judges with a nitrogen-charged beverage - a technique often used by craft beer breweries to get a rich froth - which also had delicate citrus tones. For added serving style she decanted it into champagne flutes.

“Actually I didn't even like coffee at first. Now my goal is to become the first female barista to win the world title,” she admitted.

Japan has a fine pedigree at the World Barista Championship and Suzuki will look to emulate 2014 winner Hidenori Izaki at the competition in Seoul next year, and go one better than Yoshikazu Iwase, the 2016 runner-up.



Along with the likes of Suzuki and three-time national runner-up Takayuki Ishitani, their creativity and panache have made coffee-making cool.

“With a flick of the wrist here and a little bit of flair, baristas are making coffee sexy,” said Ishitani, adding: “It's part of a barista's job to enchant the customer and be a bit of a smooth operator, like a bartender. The performance is part of creating an atmosphere to please the customer.”