We investigated the relation between coffee drinking and serum aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) concentrations among 7313 Japanese men receiving a health examination, excluding former alcohol drinkers and men with a history of chronic liver disease. Serum AST > 40 and/or ALT > 40 U/L was defined as liver inflammation. Adjustment was made for alcohol use, smoking, body mass index, serum marker for hepatitis virus infection, and other possible confounders. Adjusted odds ratios of liver inflammation were 1.00 (reference), 0.80, 0.69, and 0.61 for men drinking < 1, 1-2, 3-4, and > or = 5 cups of coffee daily, respectively. Among 6898 men without liver inflammation, serum AST and ALT were inversely associated with coffee consumption, and alcohol-related rise in AST was attenuated with coffee drinking. These findings suggest coffee may have an effect of suppressing the rise of serum aminotransferase, partly by inhibiting the alcohol-related elevation. Studies regarding biological mechanism are warranted.