Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial (and government) capital until 1868, moves at a far slower pace than Tokyo. The city’s many shrines, a deeper connection to nature, and less overt reliance on technology, allow for more relaxing meandering. Learn about five of my favorite places to drink good coffee in Kyoto, based on a trip from November 4-8, 2016.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
“See the world through coffee” at the % Arabica coffee bar located next to the Katsuragawa River in Arashiyama. Tokyo-born founder Kenneth Shoji started % Arabica in Kyoto in 2014 and has turned his % logo, sharp design, and beautifully roasted coffee into a global brand, with locations that extend to China, Kuwait, and the Philippines. The glass-fronted Arashiyama outpost is near Sagano Bamboo Forest and Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama and overlooks a fleet of wooden row boats with peaked roofs and Togetsu Bridge. Coffee’s roasted on-site and prepared on a custom, three-group wood-and-white Slayer espresso machine. Menu’s limited to espresso drinks, still/sparkling lemonade, and water. I enjoyed a single-origin cappuccino made with Guatemala honey-processed Caturra beans. % Arabica charges 1000 yen to rent their patio table for 30 minutes. Otherwise grab-and-go or sit on a concrete bench that wraps around the building.
MUST ORDER: Cappuccino
% Arabica Coffee also runs a branch in Kyoto’s downtown tourist zone, inside Fujii Daimaru department store. Their seating area sports a copper counter and cinder block base inside an arched stainless steel structure with Chemex lanterns. Kenneth Shoji added this location in 2015. The counter houses a beautiful Slayer expresso machine and light-up % logo. My iced caffe latte was well-balanced, and provided a great respite while my wife explored the department store.
MUST ORDER: Iced Caffe Latte
3. Elephant Factory Coffee
Elephant Factory Coffee is located down an alley on the second floor of an unassuming downtown building since 2007. A long room houses concrete walls and a featured a male proprietor pouring water from copper kettle into row of six glass cones. Decor consisted of moody lighting, a wood counter and tables, and jazz music. Medium, dark, and “very dark” roasted coffees are available by the cup or mug. Minimum one order per person. I enjoyed a medium roast Tanzania with “sweet bitterness and bright acidity” served with tiny pitcher of milk, and oddly enough, three Raisinets. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice was refreshing. Sister cafe Moon Factory Coffee debuted in 2011.
MUST ORDER: Coffee, Fresh Grapefruit Juice
Mitch Prince from Vermillion recommended Traveling Coffee, a cafe hidden inside an old concrete building along a downtown canal. The space resembles a classroom, featuring worn wood tables, two record players, an old film projector, paintings and posters for documentary films like “The Man & Le Mans,” about Steve McQueen. A man presides over a very simple coffee program. Order either house blend (hot/cold) or cafe au lait brewed using a row of seven glass cones.
MUST ORDER: House Blend
Shigeo Kimura spent 20 years in Melbourne before returning home to open Vermillion near Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for vermillion arches that climb the hillside. Melbourne born barista Mitch Prince called Kimura “as Australian as a kangaroo.” The space features a central communal table, parallel counter, and two-group La Marzocco espresso machine. Notorious B.I.G. blared from speakers. I enjoyed a cortado featuring an espresso blend of Guatemalan, Brazilian and Ethiopian beans roasted with friends at Weekenders Coffee. Vermillion also runs a second branch nearby.
MUST ORDER: Cortado