Food & Drink | KYOTO RESTAURANTS

Walden Woods: Where great coffee meets bare aesthetic

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Contributing Writer

Before being transformed into a cafe, the building that Walden Woods occupies produced ready-made curtains. Almost nothing about the squat, brick building was remarkable. But when the cafe came along, it was out with the old and in with the “throw out everything and paint what remains off-white” aesthetic.

Walden Woods is so hip, the shop is signless. From the outside it could easily pass as a hair salon, pop-up gallery or a work in progress. It’s also tableless. In its way, Walden Woods typifies the third wave coffee boom cafe. Unlike kissaten, the harbingers of cafe culture here in Japan, cafes such as Walden Woods represent the extreme end of the break with the past: It’s unsentimental and the aesthetic is austere in the extreme. I suspect it’s also cheaper to fill a cafe with nothing.

The menu consists mostly of single-origin coffees which by and large have a fruity undertone to them, though the chai latte is a spice festival.

When you get your drink, head upstairs to the agora, or amphitheater-like, floor-to-ceiling white space inspired by the writer Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

It’s this space that makes Walden Woods different, experimental, and at first kind of awkward. The seats are essentially bleachers that look out on to an open empty space on the floor where most cafes would have tables. Or something. But Walden Woods is confident that emptiness has essence.

Coffee from ¥350; English menu; some English spoken