Demand for coffee in Japan in 2002 hit a record high for the fourth year in a row, boosted by the rapid expansion of coffee shop chains and consumption of coffee in the home.

The All Japan Coffee Association estimates that domestic demand for green, or unprocessed coffee beans grew 4.4% year-on-year in 2002 to a record 439,740 tonnes, compared to 421,309 tonnes in 2001.

Japan, which is traditionally a tea-drinking nation, is now the world’s third-largest importer of coffee beans after the US and Germany.

“Consumption of home-use coffee, including regular and instant coffee, has been growing steadily,” Masao Yamashita, the association’s executive director, was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Expanding coffee shop chains have contributed to the growth.”

Yamashita said demand also grew because of increased production of instant coffee in Japan, after Swiss food giant Nestlé shifted part of its instant coffee output from Australia to Japan last year.

Coffee shop chains in Japan are currently undergoing rapid expansion. Japan’s largest chain, Doutor Coffee Co, plans to open 150 stores in the next financial year. The Japanese unit of US chain Starbucks plans to add 80 outlets in the next financial year to the 436 it currently operates there, reported Reuters.