Food and beverages rich in polyphenols have been shown to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. The present study estimated polyphenol levels and consumption from food and beverages in Japanese women. Randomly recruited housewives living in the area around Tokyo (n 109; aged 21–56 years; Group 1) recorded all beverages and foods they ingested for 7 d, and the total polyphenol (TP) consumption was estimated based on the TP content of each item measured with a modified Folin–Ciocalteu method. For Group 1, TP was consumed at 841 (sd 403) mg/d (range 113–1759 mg/d), and beverages were a larger source of TP (79 %) than food (21 %). The largest single source of TP was coffee at 47 %, followed by green tea, black tea, chocolate, beer and soya sauce, at 16, 5·7, 3·3, 3·2 and 3·1 %, respectively. In terms of food groups, cereals/noodles, vegetables, fruits, beans and seeds, and seasonings (except for soya sauce) contributed 5·0, 4·0, 1·4, 1·8 and 2·4 %, respectively. Another group of housewives who consumed at least one cup of coffee per d were separately recruited (n 100; Group 2) in the same area. Their consumption of TP was higher at 1187 (sd 371) mg/d (range 440–2435 mg/d) than Group 1 (P < 0·001), and the difference mostly came from the coffee consumption. We conclude that not food but beverages, especially coffee, may be the major contributor to TP consumption in Japanese women.