Kyoto Coffee – A Coffee Connoisseur’s Guide to Kyoto
Since 2012, the Kyoto coffee scene has changed significantly. Third Wave Coffee is global but traditional Kyoto coffee joints won't be pushed aside without a fight. We've got the definitive guide to Kyoto Coffee, including 14 recommendations and all the info you're going to need.
Kyoto – a sacred town, home to more than 100 temples and shrines and the traditional heart of the country. Undoubtedly, one of the most ingrained of these traditions is the tea ceremony. Green tea (matcha) is the quintessential Japanese beverage but in this tea-loving nation, today, we must also turn our heads to coffee.
Kyoto Coffee Scene
Traditional Japanese coffee culture revolves around the kissaten (traditional teahouse), in which sweet tea, nutty coffee and sandwiches or light meals are the order of the day; they are tranquil, reserved places. Since the ’90s, however, more and more western-style cafés have popped up all over the map. How can the kissaten and the café co-exist? Have Japanese people let go of tradition and embraced the new cafe culture? Traditional Kyoto is the best place to look if we want these questions answered.
Today, Kyoto is packed with great coffee-houses, many with magnificent views or offering all kinds of expertly crafted brews. Flicking through a Japanese coffee magazine, Third Wave Coffee stands side by side with a kissaten vibe – an interesting mix, found in few other places.
In what follows, we’re going to give you a run-down of the best of both worlds within the Kyoto coffee scene: a guide to the traditional and the contemporary, for whatever mood you find yourself in:
Classic Kyoto Coffee Experiences
1. Kei’s Caffe Oggi
Caffé Oggi is a time machine, transporting you back to the Japan of the 20th century. The furniture is older than the average customer but the food and drink is fresh as can be. This antique cafe is located on the way to the tourist hot-spot Kiyomizu Temple, so expect a very foreigner-friendly atmosphere here. There are many choices for a light meal at Oggi and the menu is even in both English and Japanese.
Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm
2. Mo-an (茂庵)
Mo-an is named after its owner, a woman born and raised in the city, who’s love for it is palpable. It’s not a place you’ll randomly walk by and pop in, it’s a place you’ll need to put on your itinerary and set aside some time for, to appreciate it to its fullest. The huge glass windows offer a perfect view of Kyoto from above and though it’s not too easy to spot from the outside, persevere and your efforts will be rewarded.
Hours: 11:30am – 6:00pm
3. Yojiya (嵯峨野)
During the Heian Period (794 – 1185), Kyoto became the country’s center for the cosmetics industry. Yojiya, established in 1904 as a Kyoto-based cosmetics brand, has dedicated itself to that tradition. You can find their logo everywhere in Japan, and now, they even have their own cafés. There are 4 Yojiya Cafés in Kyoto, offering a very different café experience – a café for beauty.
Hours: 10:00am – 6:00pm (Ginkakuji, Sagano Ranzan) | 10:00am – 9:00pm (Sanjo, Gion)
Address: Sagano Ranzan: 2-13 Sagatenryūjitateishi-chō, Ukyō Ward, Kyoto
4. Inoda Coffee Honten (イノダコーヒ 本店)
We can call Inoda Coffee a chain, but it is exclusive to Kyoto, with local people having enjoyed it since 1947. One of the reasons for its popularity is its luxury interiors, where a morning coffee and breakfast feels like a real local experience in the old capital. Their German-style pastries are a speciality, but they also have seasonal Japanese offerings aplenty. Nowadays, there are 14 Inoda Coffee shops in Kyoto, but the original shop remaines their best.
Hours: 7:00am – 7:00pm
5. Ichikawaya (市川屋珈琲)
Ichikawaya is a family run cafe-shop located on a backstreet in the Higashiyama area. There are 3 types of coffee bean to try, each with a different level of roasting: light, medium and dark; all prepared using the Nel Drip Method – a very traditional Japanese brewing technique. Take a counter seat for the chance to enjoy your cup of Joe whilst watching the owner carefully preparing all of the orders. Even the simplest sandwich on the menu (egg salad, FYI) will be made meticulously in front of you. Ichikawaya is definitely the right choice for a cozy atmosphere and quiet conversations when you’re in Kyoto.
Hours: 9am – 6pm | Closed on Wednesday
6. Rokuyousha (六曜社)
Rokuyousha is a real traditional kissaten experience. Occupying the basement floor of a building on a corner near the Sanjo crossroads, Rokuyousha is mysterious and elegant right from the entrance. Surrounded by mostly old Japanese people, you may feel extremely gaijin-like when you walk in, but try not to be put off too much. The coffee and their homemade doughnuts are the bomb, and what’s more, Rokuyousha can also be a great night-spot when it transforms into a bar in the evening.
Hours: 12pm – 6pm | Bar: 6pm – Midnight
7. Smart (スマート珈琲店)
Fluffy pancakes and a strong cup of coffee is a combination that’s hard to beat. Smart is one of the best choices in Kyoto to enjoy this traditional coffee set, as well a local favorite for breakfast or lunch. The shop opened as Smart Lunch in 1932, changing its name to Smart Coffee after the war, signalling its move toward a more coffee focussed approach.
Hours: Coffee and tea: 8am – 7pm |Lunch time: 11am – 2:30p
Kyoto Coffee: The Third Wave Boom
1. Arabica Kyoto
Arabica Coffee and their symbol are Instagram famous across the world. Their head barista, Junichi Yamaguchi, became the world champion of the Coffee Fest Latte Art Championships, held in Tokyo in 2014. Their shop in Higashiyama is small but always busy, offering drip coffees perfect for the morning and espresso beverages at any time. They also opened a branch in the Arashiyama area, which provides more open space to avoid crowding.
Hours: 8am – 6pm
Address: Higashiyama: 87-5 Hoshinochō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi
2. Weekenders Coffee
As the speciality coffee scene boomed in 2012, The Weekenders led the way in Kyoto. Stop by a random coffee stand and there’s a 60% chance that the beans came from The Weekenders. Their roaster is located in the north-east of Kyoto and they recently opened a new shop in Honeyanocho, where you can get a taste of their fresh roasted beans. Flick through the pages of any coffee magazine in Japan and you’ll definitely see The Weekenders.
Hours: 10am – 7pm
Kissa Master combines shopping and coffee with the cafe area atop a tatami mat, with big glass windows looking out onto a beautiful garden. Their single origin beans are also from The Weekenders, and though located 2 minutes from the busy Nishiki Market, the noise is shut out expertly.
Hours: 11am – 8pm
Address: 26 Nakanocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
3. Cafe Phalam
Cafe Phalam is a typical “from farm to kitchen” café complete with excellent speciality coffee. People love to spend hours at Cafe Phalam, with its cozy wooden interiors and comforting atmosphere. Their aim is to promote healthy lifestyles through organic food, not to mention the replenishing power of relaxing with a coffee.
Hours: 9am – 8pm (7pm on Sat) |Closed on Wed
4. Akatsuki Coffee
Akatsuki Coffee was opened with a focus on people deeply in love with coffee. The owners focus predominantly on drip coffee but espresso options are also offered. A place for nice music and a chat with friends this is not, but it is perfect as a quiet corner for spending time alone, sipping great coffee and feeling the caffeine run slowly through your veins.
Hours: 9am – 6pm |Closed on Wednesday
5. Circus Coffee
In the north of the city, Circus is isolated from other Kyoto cafés. The shop is within a traditional Japanese house, the like of which are found across Kyoto, complete with a colorful facade befitting its name – Circus. The shop sells roasted coffee beans and coffee equipment but only drip coffee to drink on the spot. You can also buy a Circus Coffee Box as a souvenir.
Hours: 10am – 6pm |Closed on Sunday
Vermillion reflects the spirit of the thousand Torri gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in its peacefulness. The shop is quite small and located just 1 minute on foot from Inari station. They mainly offer espresso beverages with some cakes. Their beans are generally from The Weekenders, but the owner is known to mix things up .
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Mon-Fri)| 9am – 6pm (Sat,Sun)
6. Café Bibliotic Hello!
Reading and coffee is very much on-trend these days. Bibliotic Hello! does a good job of representing this trend in Kyoto. Walking into the shop is like walking into a library, only friendlier and with the aroma of coffee hanging in the air. And don’t miss the banana trees at the entrance, an interesting stylistic choice.
Hours: 11:30am – Midnight
If the other Kyoto coffee joints are a bunch of cool guys, Mag is surely a graceful female amongst them. Hiding in a Shimokorikicho backstreet, the alley leading to Mag may confuse you at first, but keep following the map, you will find their sign on your right hand side. There’s nothing special at the front door, but this tiny but beautiful café is a hidden gem. The owner runs the place alone. She will carefully pour out your latte into a special mug before delivering it to your table with a smile.
Hours: 11am – 8pm