Many visitors to Japan, even those coming to the country for just a week, block out a day or two to visit Kyoto, and it’s not hard to see why. With its gorgeous temples and historic districts, Kyoto is a great place to learn about Japan’s past and present. After exploring the popular sites, going on a hike, or shopping at local markets, consider taking a break and getting to know the city’s vibrant coffee scene.
Japan has a rich history of kissaten, or traditional tea & coffee shops. Japanese coffee is usually made with a pour-over technique, which differs from American drip coffee or Italian espresso. These days, you can find espresso-based shops as well, and there are of course chains like Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee. We’re going to go over some of the best places in Kyoto to find a cup of coffee, whether you want to sit down for a meal or grab something to go. Note that many coffee shops in Japan close early, at 4pm or 5pm and that some are closed on odd days, like Wednesdays, so be sure to check the hours before you go!
1. % Arabica
After opening its first store in Kyoto in 2014, % Arabica has since grown into a global brand thanks to its commitment to quality. Among the chain’s more than 80 locations worldwide are three in Kyoto: one inside a Fujii Daimaru department store, one in the historic Higashiyama district, and one at Arashiyama, near the Ooi River and the famous Bamboo Grove. Because of its ties to Kyoto and its massive popularity, expect to wait in line, but when you taste the gorgeously-crafted espresso drinks, you’ll see why it’s caused such a sensation. An iced latte is the perfect companion for a hike up Arashiyama on a scorching August day!
2. Cafe Bibliotic Hello!
Situated just a short walk from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, this oddly-named café is built into a machiya, or traditional wooden house, and offers a cozy interior with large exposed wooden beams and walls adorned with books. You can relax on the coaches or bring a laptop and get some work done at the large communal table. A great spot to have lunch as well as coffee, don’t miss the chance to sample from the selection of pastries and cakes.
3. Brown Eyes Coffee
Offering minimalist interior design and a menu of traditional Japanese pour-over coffee and sweets, this is a great place to take a break while exploring the calm Philosopher’s Walk area. The newly opened cafe is located in a former warehouse, that was completely renovated. The chairs inside aren’t super comfy (don’t expect cushions), but the cakes more than make up for that. Plus, on a sunny day you can also sit outside in front of the store and watch the people stroll by. They also serve hot cocoa and to-go cups are available.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its famous rows of torii gates. Named for the color of those gates, Vermillion uses specialty coffee beans roasted locally and proudly employs English-speaking staff to cater to tourists.The 100 years old tea house is there main shop that has been providing necessary goods for prayers and visitors for the Yakuriki Shrine for generations. You can stop for a breakfast of cheese toast or granola before a hike, or even pick up some souvenirs. Be sure to try the Uji Matcha Latte, made with matcha powder, steamed milk, and honey, which can also be enjoyed in the little garden in the back.
85 Fukakusa Inarionmaecho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0881
Best for: Brunch and coffee in a simple setting, with English-speaking staff!
5. Weekenders Coffee
Dedicated to roasting single origin beans, the Weekenders name is a respected part of Kyoto’s coffee culture. Every aspect of the experience is calculated, from the simple, informative packaging to the beautiful entrance and plants. Tucked away into a small space behind a parking lot, this is a spot for aficionados who can taste the difference. It might take a little longer to get your pour-over, but the flavors will be unique and special.
6. Inoda Coffee
In addition to its 211-seat main shop, this Kyoto institution has six other locations throughout the city, as well as outposts in Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohama, and Hiroshima. The company has been in operation since 1940, and opened its first coffee shop after World War II when founder Shichiro Inoda found 15 bags of coffee beans at his warehouse. Inoda prides itself on its omotenashi, or warm hospitality, and its original blends. If you’re looking for something uniquely Japanese, this café has a storied history, quaint décor, and staff decked out in formal attire.
7. Sarasa Nishijin
Sarasa Coffee actually has several locations throughout the city, but there is one in particular that stands out: Sarasa Nishijin, located about ten minutes from Kuramaguchi Station, is housed in the former site of a sento, or public bath. There are still remnants of the sento visible, such as partitions that used to be dividing walls between the men’s and women’s baths. Parts of the café look like they’re falling apart, but the choice to leave them be is part of the charm. Don’t be fooled: the food and drinks are top-notch, and it has a cool factor most coffee shops lack.
11-1 Murasakino Higashifujinomoricho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8223
Best for: A wide variety of café fare, perfect for groups meeting up before a night out!
8. Ogawa Coffee
Though some of these shops are a bit out of the way, Ogawa has a location at Kyoto Station, ensuring that just about any visitor to the city can stop in for cup. There is also a “head shop” with over 20 varieties stored in temperature-controlled bean cases and an in-house pastry chef. Aside from sandwiches and morning sets with ham, egg, and toast, the Kyoto Station location offers several specialty drinks, including a nitro latte, café latte float, espresso soda, café au lait soft serve ice cream, craft beer, and the ability to add soy or almond milk to any beverage.
9. Murmur Coffee
A nice halfway point between a western coffee shop and a traditional Japanese kissaten, Murmur has a comfortable atmosphere and serves hot or iced coffee as opposed to espresso drinks. The big draw here is the food menu, which includes a variety of toasts, including honey butter, raclette, and marshmallow chocolate. You can also choose between several coffee blends to get the exact taste you prefer.
10. Alt. Coffee Roasters
Dedicated to “light roasted” coffee, this craft shop is run by a former dietician who combined that knowledge with her experience working in a coffee shop in Australia to create a café focused on a specific roasting technique. They also offer a vegan menu and sweets with zero white sugar, so you can take part without feeling too guilty about it. This modern establishment is perfect for conscious consumers who want to see the future of Japanese coffee.
Kyoto private tours Japan Wonder Travel
When planning your trip to Japan, you should reserve at least 2-3 days to explore Kyoto. The city has so much so offer and because of the many historical places, historical atmosphere, abundance of nature and rich culture, it will be a great experience guaranteed. We would love to show you around the old capital of Japan and tell you all about its history, local food and interesting culture. Join our private tour with a local, English speaking guide and discover the highlights of Kyoto, visit the Nishiki market for a food & drink tour, or compose your own Kyoto tour – we can make an itinerary of any length based upon your request.
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Gregg Maxwell Parker is an author and screenwriter best known for the book Troublemakers. Originally from the United States, he moved to Kobe in 2018. Gregg and his wife, Eriko, are the minds behind the blog As Seen In Japan, where they share pictures and stories from everyday Japanese life. They can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
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