Picture drinking a fresh, creamy latte while wandering cobbled streets lined with wooden houses, temples and shrines. And no, not a Starbucks latte or a matcha latte from a convenience store but a quality fresh-roasted, single-origin coffee. In Kyoto, a new influx of coffee shops has made this a reality.
Though coffee culture has long been a part of Kyoto, and generations of Kyotoites have enjoyed fresh-roasted coffee at kissaten (old-style coffee shops) like Ogawa Coffee and Inoda Coffee, where the waiters dress in white shirts and bow ties, the third wave coffee boom has increased the number and variety of coffee shops in the city. These shops feature take-away cups, espresso and not a waiter in sight.
One such new-style coffee company is % Arabica, which has shops in Kyoto’s Higashiyama and Arashiyama areas, as well as in the city’s Fujii Daimaru Department Store. The company has 27 stores worldwide, but all its Japanese branches are located in Kyoto. Head barista Junichi Yamaguchi, a Kyoto native, says: “Because our company is Japanese but with a worldwide reach, we wanted to base ourselves in Kyoto, the most traditionally Japanese place, so that we could teach our customers worldwide about Japanese quality.”
Yamaguchi says that 90 percent of % Arabica customers are tourists, and on any given day, dozens of people can be seen waiting in line. As a result, % Arabica recently opened its Fujii Daimaru branch, which is not in a popular tourist location, to give Kyotoites the chance to enjoy % Arabica coffee. The company hopes to create both long-term local business as well as international hype among foreign tourists.
Around the corner from % Arabica’s Higashiyama branch, but a world away, is Kikushin Coffee, a one-man coffee shop run out of an old soba store. Unlike the busy, tourist-friendly % Arabica, Kikushin is quiet. This store feels proudly small-scale. There are no take-away coffee cups, and the owner makes your cup of coffee by hand using the siphon method.
Every detail of the experience, from the coffee bean selection to the brewing to the bread toasting, is performed by one man. Even though the owner is young and there are quirky hipster touches everywhere, like cassette tapes on the wall, the type of coffee and quality of the experience is very much inspired by the older generation of coffee shops — the kissaten that still dot Kyoto’s streets. The store has no website, let alone an English site or Instagram account, so tourists would be hard-pressed to find out about Kikushin.
Striking the balance between these two in size and philosophy is Drip & Drop Coffee Supply, a three-year-old Kyoto-based coffee company with four stores in the Kansai region and one in Bangkok.
According to barista Tomomi Kurimoto, who works at the Takoyakushi branch, located in the Teramachi shopping area, they keep everything in-house and seasonal. “We roast our own coffee and have three blends, plus single-origin coffees that change based on the day.”
As for its customers, she says: “It’s hard to tell how many tourist customers we have, but at this store we have about 60 percent non-Japanese. At our store near Ginkakuji temple we have about a 50-50 tourist-to-local ratio because people who live in the area come to our store.”
For Kyoto coffee businesses, tourists can be a boon as well as a burden, and they must set up their business models with that in mind. For Drip & Drop Coffee Supply, the aim is to have both local business as well as an international following.
“The company has plans to expand overseas. Bangkok was the first step, though the Kyoto business is still important,” says Kurimoto.
To keep things local, but with an eye on the world — that’s the goal.
% Arabica has three branches in Kyoto. For more information, visitDrip & Drop Coffee Supply’s Takoyakushi branch is located at Urateramachi 594 Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8041. For more information, visit Kikushin Coffee is located at Shimobentencho 61-11, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0823. Telephone: 075-525-5322 . Business hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Closed Sundays.