A Japanese Coffee Jelly Recipe That's Endlessly Customizable

By Rika Hoffman
Updated: July 25, 2023

Chilled and bittersweet, with the rich, roasted aroma of coffee, this bouncy coffee jelly is a satisfying way to get your caffeine boost. The soft and slippery texture of coffee jelly makes it delightfully fun to eat, and it proves to be a versatile addition to chilled drinks, ice cream sundaes, and more. 

Below is our go-to Japanese coffee jelly recipe, with suggestions on ways to riff on it (coffee jelly is incredibly customizable!). But first, a little background on this popular coffee dessert.

What is Coffee Jelly

Japanese coffee jelly with coffee and cream

Coffee jelly is made by simply combining brewed (and usually sweetened) coffee with a gelling agent, which solidifies as it cools. It can be served in individual cups or sliced into cubes and dressed up with other ingredients like whipped cream. Traditionally, gelatin or kanten (agar-agar) is used as the gelling agent. We opted for kanten for a vegan-friendly coffee jelly recipe.

A Brief History of Coffee Jelly

Japanese coffee jelly with whipped cream and a mint garnish in a parfait glass

Coffee jelly is so popular in Japan that one might easily assume that it originated here. However, the concept first appeared in England in the early 1800s and wasn’t sold in Japan until 1963. Mikado Coffee in Karuizawa is said to have pioneered the Japanese coffee jelly trend with their so-called “edible coffee.” There was such high demand for the dessert that Japanese supermarkets started selling it in the 1970s. 

Today, the coffee jelly trend is still going strong. In August 2022, Starbucks Japan came out with a line of 47 jimoto (local or regional) frappuccinos, one for each of the prefectures of Japan. The frappuccino flavor for Tokyo was, you guessed it, coffee jelly.

What is Kanten: The Gelling Agent in Vegan Coffee Jelly

Vegan coffee jelly and other jelly-like traditional Japanese desserts are made possible by kanten (agar-agar), a firming agent that’s made from red algae called tengusa. Kanten is low in calories and high in fiber, making it a popular diet food in Japan. As it’s odorless and flavorless, it’s also the perfect vegan substitute for gelatin. 

Kanten comes in a few different forms: powder, sticks, threads, and flakes. The powder version is so accessible and easy to use, and the type my family normally uses (let’s face it, mother knows best), so it was my gelling agent of choice for this coffee jelly recipe.

Getting Started

Coffee Beans in a Small Dish

It goes without saying that coffee is the primary flavor in coffee jelly, so you’ll want to use high-quality beans. Sweetness, acidity, and bitterness all come into play in a cup of joe; as well as aromas like floral, fruity, chocolatey, and nutty. Use different beans, and you change the flavor of the coffee jelly. 

For this recipe, I used Kofukuya’s Snow Aged Coffee Beans, which is also conveniently sold in convenient hand-drip coffee bags and as a cold brew coffee gift set version. True to name, their Indonesian beans are snow-aged in the picturesque village of Hida Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s famous for their Edo-era gassho-zukuri thatched roof houses.

In winter, these coffee beans slumber under a blanket of snow in close to zero degrees Celsius “to bring out a rich aroma and soft mouthfeel.” Incredibly smooth and drinkable, with a mild sweetness and touch of acidity–Kofukuya makes a delightful cup of coffee that translates to a crowd-pleasing coffee jelly. 

Japanese Coffee Jelly Ingredients

Japanese Coffee Jelly ingredients: kanten (agar-agar), coffee beans, coffee mug
  • 2 tsp kanten powder
  • ¼ cup (60ml) water  
  • 2 cups (480ml) strong brewed coffee
  • ¼ (4 tbsp) cup sugar 
  • Pinch of salt 

Serves 2-3 people.

Customize Your Coffee Jelly

Heavy cream and condensed milk for coffee jelly recipe
  • Shot of espresso 
  • Milk and sugar (or condensed milk for sweetness)
  • Whipped cream or heavy cream
  • Ice cream (vanilla, or another preferred flavor)
  • Chocolate sauce 
  • Coconut milk
  • Chocolate milk 

Optional Coffee Jelly Garnishes 

  • Cocoa powder
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Chocolate shavings
  • Coffee beans
  • Mint leaves

Method: How to Make Coffee Jelly

Grid of four photos showing how to make Japanese coffee jelly step-by-step
  1. Combine kanten powder and water in a pot and stir until powder is dissolved.
  2. Heat pot over medium heat and stir in brewed coffee.
  3. Pour mixture into a wide, shallow dish (if you wish to slice coffee jelly cubes later), or into individual serving cups.
  4. Allow to cool undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. 
  5. Transfer the dish to the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour or until firm enough to cut.
  6. Slice the coffee jelly into cubes and transfer into individual dishes.
  7. Before serving, top with 
  8. Add optional garnishes and serve.

Customize This Basic Coffee Jelly Recipe to Your Taste

Two parfait glasses full of Japanese coffee jelly and whipped cream

Adapt the texture, sweetness, and flavor to your taste with these tips. 

Texture: This base recipe is firm enough to slice into cubes. For a softer coffee jelly texture that you can drink through a straw, just decrease the amount of kanten powder. Serve in a glass topped with a milk of your choice (for vegan options, coconut milk or oat milk are great).

Sweetness: Add more or less sugar to the coffee jelly. When assembling, sweeten with condensed milk, chocolate sauce, sweetened whipped cream, or ice cream.

Flavor: Start with coffee that’s brewed to your taste. Opt for simplicity by serving the coffee jelly with a dollop of whipped cream. For a mocha-like flavor, add toppings like chocolate shavings or chocolate sauce. Experiment with different flavors of ice cream, like matcha green tea. 

Chocolate syrup being poured over a glass of coffee jelly

Feel free to get creative with textures and flavors, adding cornflakes or nuts for crunch, or different sauces and syrups. Japanese coffee jelly can be a base for all kinds of refreshing desserts, so make it as simple or elaborate as you desire.

Prefer to try coffee jelly that's already prepared and ready to eat? Try our Snow Aged Coffee Jelly from the byFood gourmet market!

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
Click clap if you like this post
Rika Hoffman
Rika is a sourdough enthusiast, amateur film photographer, and pun-lover, born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. A carb-based lifeform, she is always on the lookout for tasty bakeries in Tokyo.
Stay in the Loop!
Be the first to know about the latest foodie trends.
Sign up for insider tips & sneak peeks into the diverse world of dining in Japan