The ancient capital city of Japan, Kyoto, is filled with coffee hot spots everywhere — north to south, east to west. You get everything from coffee shop chains to the traditional kissaten (喫茶店), a Japanese-stye coffee shop. The hustling and bustling Tokyo is nice and all, but Kyoto takes it down a notch — everything about the city, including its coffee, focuses on the slow and therapeutic process.
If you ever find yourself in Kyoto with a dying need for a cup of coffee, here are the 9 best coffee places that are dedicated to the Japanese aspects of high quality and hospitality.
1. Vermillion Espresso Bar
First on the list, we have Vermillion Espresso Bar — a list of Kyoto’s coffee places wouldn’t be complete without the mention of this amazing coffee place. There are two Vermillion coffee places, a cafe and an espresso bar, located within walking distance of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, making it the perfect break spot after a long day of sightseeing,
The name “Vermillion” is to refer to the deep red of the torii gates at the shrine. Both locations offer coffee, of course, as well as cakes and toast. You can get everything from pour-over coffee to espresso — one of their bestselling coffees is the matcha latte which uses green tea from Uji City located in the south of Kyoto Prefecture.
2. WEEKENDERS CAFE
Another famous coffee shop in Kyoto is WEEKENDERS CAFE. This hidden cafe can be found at the back of a parking lot just around the corner of Tominokoji-dori. To get there, the nearest station is Kawaramachi station and you’d have to walk about 10 minutes — not too far at all.
Opened in 2005, this coffee shop aims to bring artisan coffee to Kyoto and is one of the most reputable coffee shops among local residents. Tons of other cafes use their beans in their store as well — Vermillion is one of them! Pioneer of the Scandinavian type of lighter roast coffee in Kyoto, this minimalistic aesthetic in everything that they do is what keeps the customers coming back.
3. Inoda Coffee
Just a 10-minute walk from Karasumaoike Station, Inoda Coffee is one not to miss out on. This long-established coffee place is extremely popular among locals and tourists alike — they have tons of branches all around the country, but their main store is in the ancient city.
Their speciality coffee is one with sugar and milk, making the coffee richer and more flavorful — while you can drink it straight, why not try their number one rated menu option, the Arabian Pearl?
4. Ogawa Coffee
If you can’t be bothered going so far from the main area and need a quick fix at Kyoto Station, head on down to Ogawa Coffee. Conveniently located and delicious coffee, this stylish coffee shop is one of the most popular ones in town.
What’s more, you’ll have your coffee served by the world championship barista, so don’t worry about not getting a decent cup of coffee at the station — this one’s pretty much a done-deal. You can get everything from espresso to hand drip coffee, as well as food to match if you’re in the mood for a small snack.
With two locations in the city, Kurasu is a buzzing topic among the locals. One located just a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station and the other near Fushimi Inari Shrine, this coffee shop gets all the buzz.
I’d recommend the one near the shrine as it also houses their roastery. Kurasu began as a humble online shop selling Japanese coffee equipment, but now it has even outgrown the local market and dived into the international one. The owner is truly dedicated to combining the experience of a traditional kissaten and the modern trends of a coffee shop.
Nothing beats a cup of coffee after a stroll around the Kyoto Botanical Gardens — located just across the river from that, WIFE&HUSBAND coffee is a small, hidden cafe in the northeast of the city. They have a pretty simple menu: pour-over coffee with homemade toast with butter, honey or cheese.
The coffee beans at this cafe are roasted by the owners themselves, who, as you can tell, are a married couple. Sitting at this cafe is like visiting a friend’s home — the comfy, cosy atmosphere is thanks to the antiques hanging on walls and the self-service picnic equipment that you can use on a nice sunny day.
7. Murmur Coffee
You’ll love it here, trust me. This coffee shop is kind of like the romanticized version of a traditional kissaten. Murmur Coffee has everything you’d expect from a full-on traditional Japanese experience — the sliding doors, the wooden structure, the expertly-brewed coffee.
Located just by the Takase River, you’ll not only get an amazing cup of coffee but also a spectacular view to boot. There are also food options on the menu, so it’s the perfect place for a relaxing morning breakfast or for a coffee break in the day.
8. Dongree Coffee
Dongree Coffee is quite raging recently — located nearby Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, this coffee shop is the only one you need to go to if you’re in the area. This hipster-esque coffee shop only serves hand drip coffees, as do all specialty coffee shops in Kyoto.
If you’re looking for a laid-back ambience with a chance to practice your coffee tasting palates, this is the place for you. There are roasts of different flavours and levels, so you’re sure to find one that you’d fall deeply in love with.
9. % ARABICA
Last but not least is & ARABICA coffee shop. This one is extremely popular — so popular that they don’t only have one store but three in Kyoto alone! If you’re in Higashiyama, Arashiyama and Kyoto Fujii Daimaru, you can get your fix at one of their stores!
Their lattes are the best option on the menu, made by Custom Slayer espresso machines. Sometimes, if it gets quite busy, some of their menu options like lemonades get sold out in the middle of the day, so come by early! You could also buy beans from them and make your own cup of % ARABICA coffee at home.
Everything from modern-style coffee shops to kissaten-influenced ones, Kyoto has it all. So whatever your coffee cravings are, this culturally rich city can satisfy it. With this list of the best 9 coffee shops in Kyoto, you can start your coffee journey in the city!
Yes, I’m a coffee freak. I need my dose of espresso in the morning to set my mood for the day — whether it’s a shot on its own or mixed with a fresh cup of milk, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what kind of roast it’s made from; dark or light?
If you’re a coffee enthusiast like me, you probably get what I mean. The first sip of that freshly brewed coffee just hits you.
Wherever I go, I’m always on the hunt for exquisite coffee places for me to indulge in — so, of course, I found that Japan has one of the best coffee markets in the world! What a treat for me! In fact, Japan’s history with coffee goes deep and far back, with their very own version of the French cafe.
From that, the coffee hype expanded to so much more — canned and instant coffee are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a trip down memory lane of Japanese coffee as well as what and where you can get these exceptional coffee products!
Japan’s Coffee History
Japan didn’t invent coffee, of course. How it did come to Japan is all thanks to the trade the Japanese have with the Dutch and Portuguese, and it was around the late 17th and early 18th centuries that coffee was introduced. However, the Japanese had long been a tea-drinking society, and coffee didn’t change that at all — in the beginning, at least.
You see, Japan’s relationship with coffee didn’t start off so well; the people didn’t like the “burnt” taste of coffee as much, and only the Dutch traders were drinking it. There was even a ban on coffee imports at one point!
The turning point was when the first-ever coffee shop opened during the late 18th century — to provide a space for the younger generation to exchange knowledge, relax and enjoy a good ol’ cup of coffee. Many followed suit, complete with European-styled decor and furniture. This was also the beginning of the very complicated affair between drinking coffee and smoking tobacco.
World War II really affected the rise of coffee in Japan as it interrupted various trades and imports into Japan. It was quite dire — Japan’s coffee culture could’ve ended right there and there in the 1940s! But thankfully, the coffee boom did come after in the 1970s, where the demand for coffee was at its highest.
The term “Jun-kissa” and “Kissaten”
There is a very specific term in Japanese to refer to a coffee shop: kissaten (喫茶店). It was during the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926) where cafes became the go-to spots for good fun and lively atmosphere — sprinkled with coffee, smoke and alcohol. An opposite scene emerged: the laid-back, relaxed ambiance of the kissaten where the creatives like poets, writers and artists went to for a space to exchange ideas and sometimes even have an intellectual debate (I know for a fact I won’t be able to join in).
In the Showa Era (1926 – 1989), the term “jun-kissa” (純喫茶) was coined, and it referred to the genuine kind of chilled coffee places. The term “jun” means “pure” while “kissa” comes from “kissaten”. As the Japanese economy boomed to include Western influences, these kissaten and jun-kissa became even more influenced by the Western aesthetics of velvet seats and stained glass for interior decor.
With more and more of these coffee shops popping up around the country, mainly the capital city Tokyo, it just goes to show that the preference for coffee by the time was obvious — bye-bye to the tea leaves, hello to roasted beans.
Japanese Coffee Products
Since then, Japan has imported and invented coffee products for the masses. I, myself, have noticed how easy and convenient it is to grab a coffee fix around Japan — because it’s everywhere, in all forms!
Let’s look at the top three kinds of coffee products that are the most popular in Japan.
I’m a cafe-hopper, but more specifically I’m a coffee shop-hopper. So I personally know that Japan has quite an extensive range of specialty coffee shops. At these places, coffee is made from the highest grade of beans, grounded with the best machines.
Coffee beans in Japan are usually imported from the best coffee-growing countries in the world including Kenya, Rwanda, Guatemala and Indonesia.
Best of all, these specialty coffee shops in Japan offer various preparation methods like AeroPress, French press and pour over — some shops are so exclusive to a specific preparation method that they only offer that kind of coffee! Mad, right?
If you haven’t read the article about Japan’s vending machine craze, go check it out. As I’ve mentioned there, everything you can ever think of can be found in a vending machine — why not coffee?
For this very purpose, canned coffee is invented, in Japan itself! An innovative man called Ueshima Tadao birthed the wonderful product that is canned coffee in 1968, and now it’s distributed in not only Japan but international countries as well!
While the Japanese didn’t invent instant coffee like they did canned coffee, it is still one of the most consumed coffee products in the country! I mean, it’s quite convenient for the fast-paced, busy lifestyles of salarymen who spend all their daylight and most of their nighttime in the office — a quick coffee fix using instant coffee is the way to go.
One of the most common types of instant coffee comes in those convenient individually packed ones where a sachet is a serving — I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty as charged for having some of those at home for when I need a quick coffee fix but too lazy to brew one myself.
Top Japanese Cities For Coffee
So, where are the best places to go to get the best coffee Japan has to offer? I believe that the low-key, underground ones are the hidden gems — especially the local stand around the corner where you walked down randomly and discovered.
But for those who are actively seeking, there are two top cities that are perfect for your coffee adventures!
Of course, the capital city of Japan has got to be the number one city to get the best coffee the country has to offer. No matter how many coffee shops I go to in Tokyo, I feel like there’s at least 20 more that I’ve yet to discover.
One of the most famous coffee shops in Tokyo is The Roastery by Nozy Coffee in Harajuku. When I first went to this coffee shop, it only sold drip coffee — but I’ve heard it has expanded to include latte, americano and espresso. One thing’s for sure is that The Roastery has one of the best dark roast selection in the city, hands down.
Another good coffee place in Tokyo is Naka Meguro’s Onibus — a local favourite. This coffee shop has a more traditional vibe to it, and you can trust that the coffee is excellent — the owner himself was trained in Australia and put in a Japanese twist into what he learned.
The other great city to explore Japanese coffee is Japan’s ancient capital city, Kyoto. My experience with Kyoto’s coffee scene is that a lot of the best ones are the ones you stumble upon, and most of the time it’s the old-school kissaten. You have to experience that at least once during your time in Japan!
But if you need a name to go to, % Arabica has been making waves in the scene. It attracted a huge crowd when it first opened in 2014 — so much that the owner had to open another branch in the same city the next year! Now, % Arabica has expanded to other countries, but try it in the city it originated at.
Basic Coffee-Related Words & Phrases
What’s a coffee guide without a few Japanese words and phrases to help you out on your coffee adventures? Here are some of the most commonly used ones, and a simple phrase you can use with it.
Trust me, ordering a cup of coffee isn’t that difficult!
コーヒー (kohi) — coffee (usually referring to drip coffee)
ラテ(rate) — latte
店内で (tennaide) — eat-in (literally translates to in-store)
持ち帰り / テイクアウト (mochikaeri/teikuauto) — takeout
砂糖 (satou) — sugar
シロップ (shiroppu) — syrup
ホット(hotto) — hot
アイス (aisu) — iced
少ない~ (sukunai ~) — less ~
もっと~ (motto ~) — more ~
The simplest phrase to order something is: 〜お願いします (~onegaishimasu). For example, to order a hot latte, say “ホットラテお願いします” (ホットラテお願いします).
To ask for more or less sugar in your drink, just use the words for “more” and “less”: “もっと / 少ない砂糖、お願いします” (motto/sukunai satou onegaishimasu).
Head over to our Nihongo Master Podcast to learn more about how you can use this phrase!
And that sums up all you need to know about Japanese coffee origins, the types of coffee products Japan offers and where you can find all these excellent cups of coffee. Look out for a detailed list of best coffee shops in Tokyo and Kyoto respectively — coming soon to our Nihongo Master blog! See you then!