Why is coffee in Japan served with the handle on the left?


In my Jan. 17 column in The Japan Times, I addressed one of those little mysteries about life in Japan, which is why coffee is so often served with the cup handle turned to the left. This seems counter-intuitive when you consider that most coffee-drinkers are right-handed and will have to turn the cup around to pick it up.

As I explained in my column, there is a reason, which has to do with how people drink their coffee. (Follow the link to find out.) But as an aside, there seems to be the impression that serving coffee with the handle on the left is “English style” (イギリス式), as expressed in the chart below, or as I found in other Japanese-language websites, “European style” (ヨーロッパ式).


Yet the German reader who posed the original question reported that in Germany coffee is always served with the handle to the right. (And the spoon in back, whereas in Japan the spoon is usually in the front.)

Orienting the handle on the right, these same sources will tell you, is “American-style” (アメリカ式), which comes as news to this Yankee Doodle Dandy.

So what say you, readers? Do you buy any of this? Is there a particular way to serve coffee in your country?

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6 Responses to Why is coffee in Japan served with the handle on the left?

  1. TonyJ2 says:

    Ok. I admit ignorance. I have never noticed this ‘which side the coffee cup (or tea) handle is’. I will slowly crawl out from under the rock.

  2. Liz Fuse says:

    I enjoyed your article in this morning’s JT, it’s something that’s irritated me mildly for years, but I just thought it was The Japanese Way! I’m pretty certain UK sugar isn’t so hard as to require the left hand to steady the cup. It wouldn’t appear dainty enough!

  3. Anthony says:

    Thank you so much for your explanation. I had never noticed whether my handle was on the left or right. If I had, I probably would have put it down to Kansai vs. Kanto differences (like walking and standing on the escalator). I loved the historical research you did. It really brought the piece alive for me.

  4. Thomas Gittel says:

    That’s really a topic I’ve made fun about for a looong time. My explanation was always close to the one given by the Japanese expert: The handle “needs” to be on the left side, in order to hold the cup while adding sugar and/or milk and stirring it with the spoon in your right hand. But whatever the true reason may be, it’s always fun to observe those tiny differences. Thanks a lot for the background reseach!

  5. Steve laszczak says:

    Being left-handed it would seem logical in a world supposedly dominated by right-handed that this is a concession to those of us who are subjugated by the masses:-))

  6. When I was living in Germany, I used to get so annoyed that they’d serve coffee and tea (anything hot, really) in cups WITHOUT handles at all! I used to wonder if Germans had hands of some kind of heat-proof material!

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