The Spinoff Reviews New Zealand #102: Suntory Boss Coffee

We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Alice Neville and Matthew McAuley chugalug some new-to-NZ (kind of) Japanese coffee in a can.

As a highly cultured woman of the world, I have of course been to Japan. And I can tell you that the rumours are true: they bloody love a vending machine over there. The Japanese vending machine was responsible for my friend taking up smoking again during our holiday thanks to the novelty factor of being able to get a cheap-as-chips packet of darts on every street corner without having to enter a shop or even make eye contact with a single human being. I stuck to beer, snacks and coffee.

I’m an insufferable coffee snob but when superior options were not available and I was on the edge of a full-blown breakdown due to lack of caffeine (it happens), I certainly did resort to the vending machine cans. The novelty factor of wrapping your hands around a piping hot can of joe fresh from a machine is extremely high (everything in Japan has a high novelty factor, let’s be honest). 

I soon discovered, however, that not all canned coffee is created equal. The black options were the most reliable, but some were insufferably sweet. Boss was the best. 

It’s also the best-selling, apparently, with 324 million cans consumed there each year, in part thanks to a shitload of weird ads featuring Tommy Lee Jones as an alien called Alien Jones.

Alleyway of joy (Photo: Aleksandar Pasaric/Pexels)

Committed Japanophile and Spinoffer Matthew McAuley confirms that Boss, indeed, is the best Japanese canned coffee. He’s been buying imported stuff from Japan Mart for ages but as of this week, it’s officially launched in New Zealand and can be found in supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations across the land for $4 a can. 

There are two varieties: Iced Long Black and Iced Latte. It would appear the long black at least has been rebranded for the Antipodean market (in Japan there’s a bazillion varieties but nothing called long black as far as I can tell). The cans are pleasant to hold; smooth and streamlined like a can of V (kidding, I wouldn’t know what it feels like to hold a can of V because I have class, dammit) or perhaps a cheeky can of vino. The face on the can invokes a sense of macho dependability – Boss will certainly not let me down. Apparently it’s American writer William Faulkner, for a reason I have not been able to decipher. 

So what do they taste like? The long black was pleasingly bitter with an almost savoury character. Straight from the fridge, it was delightfully thirst-quenching while also definitely tasting like coffee. Not quite as good as a fancy hipster cold brew, but it certainly hit the spot. Why anyone would drink an energy drink when this is available is beyond me. 

My experience with the iced latte was not as successful. It called to mind that gross UHT milk they drink in Europe. Sickly-sweet, but not in a yum Vietnamese iced coffee way, in a disconcerting, something’s-not-quite-right-about-this way. I did not finish it. 

– Alice Neville

Righto

I’m very aware that my dual loves of everything Japanese plus being hopelessly addicted to caffeine make me a somewhat compromised witness here, but my honest testimony is that I love this damn Boss. 

I’ve never been a huge fan of the black varieties – or at least not chilled – but there’s something singular enough about the flavour of the Boss latte range that makes me feel like I’m allowed to grade it on a different curve to how I’d normally assess a cup of Brain Diesel. 

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More refreshing and with a much greater caffeine hit than a coffee-flavoured milk, less sickly than a capital-case Energy Drink, and significantly cheaper than most other cold brew brands, it’s an option that I appreciate having when I’m already six cups deep on a Sunday – enough to stop my brain from freezing, but not enough to make it melt. Thank you Alien Jones, and thank you Suntory Boss Coffee.

– Matthew McAuley

Verdict: The brain-jolting, nerve-jangling comfort of coffee, but in a can. Can we get a vending machine for the office?

Good or bad? Good.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.


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