Kyoto is perhaps most identified with elaborate traditional tea ceremonies, but it is also home to its own distinct cafe culture that can be dated to the country’s embrace of European modernity at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th.
Now, a century on, cities like Kyoto host a mixture of old-school cafes, where men puff Peace-brand cigarettes and drink pour-over coffee, and austere third-wave-coffee establishments whipping up cold brew and artisanal snacks.
The best cafes all fulfill the cultural function of providing a space to feel sophisticated yet relaxed.
Keep reading for the top cafes in every category all around Kyoto.
What's New 2019
― Koe Donuts : March 2019
Koe is a donut shop like you’ve never seen before.
Opened in March 2019, the ultra-modern interior was designed by internationally renowned architect Kengo Kuma, and the minimalist decor is complemented by a dome of 572 traditionally woven bamboo baskets hanging overhead.
But the donuts are also an experience.
Koe serves up decadent donuts meant to be eaten with a knife and fork, and since the factory is in the back of the shop, you can watch them being made right before your eyes.
Plus, these donuts are all organic, locally sourced, and comparatively low-calorie, so you can feel even better about indulging.
- koe donuts kyoto
― Alt. Coffee Roasters : March 2019
Alt. Coffee Roasters is a third-wave coffee shop specializing in light roast coffee, and it also opened its doors in March 2019.
You can expect the painstaking attention to detail in every cup that third-wave shops are known for. Alt. Coffee actually serves their light roast in a wine glass, meant to draw attention to the fact that their pour over coffee (500 yen) offers a sweetness even without adding sugar.
The food options are health-conscious creations, with locally sourced fruits and vegetables sitting alongside guilt-free sweets made without white sugar.
Have a seat in the warmly decorated shop with a bite to eat and take some time for yourself.
― Coffee and Wine Ushiro : May 2019
Recently opened in May 2019, Coffee and Wine Ushiro sits on the first floor of Hotel Tsugu. It’s a classy cafe that adopts 3 styles throughout the day.
From 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. they serve a healthy breakfast, complete with a vegetable buffet alongside your choice of a main dish and drink.
From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. it’s a coffee shop with a straightforward menu of carefully prepared beverages. Then from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. it transforms into a wine bar that also serves light snacks and special coffee selection.
There’s a great reason to visit at any time of day.
― Hard Rock Cafe Kyoto : July 2019
Opening in July 2019, Hard Rock Cafe Kyoto is completely different from the chain’s other locations. It’s the first and only Hard Rock made in Japanese style, with both the interior and exterior reflecting a traditional townhouse aesthetic befitting the storied stone streets of the Shirakawa area. Expect lots of woodwork and exposed wooden beams throughout.
The dining is a combination of the beefy burgers and steaks Hard Rock is known for, adding some local dishes and original spins on Japanese classics to the menu.
The cafe will also house the Rock Shop, where you can get Hard Rock arrangements of Japanese handicrafts that’ve been locally made—great for souvenirs.
Best Cafes to visit
― Kaikado Café
Kaikado Café 開化堂カフェ occupies a remodeled railroad office and train storage facility, giving it high ceilings and concrete columns offset by warm wooden decor.
The exterior is largely untouched, though—a testament to the building’s history.
Kaikado is originally a company that sells tea containers, and the metals cylinders behind the counter hold coffee and tea in their signature airtight cans.
They sell the containers right in the shop, in case you see something you like.
The coffee is excellent, as well, imported from Tokyo’s Nakagawa Wani Coffee and served in Asahiyaki ceramic cups.
You’ll find light snacks, tea, and matcha on the menu, too, giving you plenty of reason to soak in the atmosphere.
- Kaikado Cafe
― Walden Woods
Named for Henry David Thoreau’s wilderness escape, Walden Woods in Sakaecho is certainly a fine place to contemplate the simple life. Walden Woods shares with traditional Kyoto cafes the commitment to a fine cup of coffee, with a rotating selection of single origin drinks on the menu—but all resemblances end there: this is a cafe at the cutting edge, with a minimalist esthetic that strips away all that is unnecessary, including tables. After ordering a cup, guests head upstairs to a square room with amphitheater seats. Walden Woods takes the design ideas of the third wave cafe to their avant garde conclusion.
― Weekenders Coffee
Weekenders Coffee opened in 2005 as one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. Since then, the area has seen an explosion of coffee shops, but we still think that the shop that started it all is one of the best around. Since 2011 they also run their own roaster - the quality of their beans is truly excellent. In 2016, they opened a new small shop on the Tominokoji Street. The shop is tucked away in the corner of a boring parking lot but has a tiny garden with a few seats in front of it, making this place an excellent stop while you’re checking out the rest of the shops in this interesting neighborhood.
― Good Time Coffee
Feel right at home at Good Time Coffee.
The space is a renovated Kyoto townhouse with over a hundred years of history, and the atmosphere is cozy and casual.
Pour over coffee is prepared at your table, and the kitchen has tasty sandwiches sporting clean grill marks and ingredients like Kyoto vegetables and white miso.
Or have one of the local craft beers they offer if you’re in the mood.
You can have your cafe treats to go, as well, should you prefer to continue your walk around the neighborhood.
Doors open at 10 a.m., so no rush for the early birds.
― Starbucks Ninenzaka
The third wave of coffee gave birth to Starbucks—and Intelligentsia, Stumptown and Counter Culture, Blue Bottle, on and on—and the firm’s tens of thousands of locations have been the driving force behind getting folks to try espresso-based drinks. With that defense out of the way… The Ninenzaka branch of the chain, located in one of the most famous preserved districts of Kyoto, has been set up in a renovated building. The interior is furnished with tatami, although the menu is mostly unchanged. Like everywhere in the neighborhood, expect a long wait to get in.
― Kissa Soiree 喫茶ソワレ
Kissa Soiree has a long history. Established in 1948, this retro, western-styled building offers a touch of nostalgia from the Showa era. The blue light inside makes you feel like you are in a dream. Their most popular menu item is jelly punch for 650 yen. The owner’s wife came up with this idea! The colorful jelly and fruits in their pretty, clear glass will remind you of a shiny jewelry box! This is definitely an Instagenic item. Try to view it through the lights. Not only will your camera be filled with joy but your heart will be too! Its taste is refreshing, with the accent of fizzy soda popping in your mouth.
― MonoArt Coffee Roasters
MonoArt Coffee Roasters leaves a strong first impression, offering a stone brick exterior and a coffee roasting machine sitting right up against the front window.
Inside its a quieter space with a laid-back atmosphere.
There’s an espresso machine perched atop the glossy wooden counter while dried flowers tastefully hang in worn picture frames along the walls.
With only about 10 seats, the shop won’t get too rowdy, but there’s still enough ambience to have some privacy with a cup of their specialty coffee
Take a cup to go if you’re in the area but short on time.
― Drip and Drop Coffee Supply
Drip and Drop is a young operation but they’ve had Kyoto on lock for the past couple years, opening locations across the city and even a satellite operation in Bangkok. The tiny branch beside a 250 yen a bowl soba spot, down a side street in Shinkyogoku, might be the most charming, but the largest of Drip and Drop’s outposts is their setup near Ginkakuji. Drip and Drop has all the bells and whistles and squeaky clean sheen of a corporate operation, but the menu is pure third wave, with single origin aeropress, strong espresso, and baristas that can walk you through your order.
― Wanderers Stand
West from Walden Woods across Karasuma Dori, Wanderers Stand strikes a balance between hard-edged avant design vibes and the wood-and-smoke atmosphere of the local kissaten. Like all third wave shops in Kyoto, Wanderers Stand is fairly young, with only a few years under its belt. This is ideal neighborhood cafe or a great place to drop in on, if you just happen to be in town, with banana sandwiches, espresso, and baristas that look like they’d have an encyclopedic knowledge of Touch and Go Records releases or the films of Bruce LaBruce. Order a drip coffee to enjoy alongside an order of pizza toast, and watch the baristas go to work.
- WANDERERS STAND
- 京都府京都市下京区八百屋町58 イチハタビル1F
― Blue Bottle
It seems perverse to queue for Blue Bottle in a city like Kyoto. By comparison, the many Tokyo locations of the shop are usually fairly busy but you can still get a cup of cold brew at the branch in Shinagawa Station and still make your train on time—not to mention, there are plenty of coffee shops in the city! But it is very good, the line moves quickly, and Japan does host the only overseas Blue Bottle outlets. The opening of the Kyoto shop, near Nanzenji, is a sign that Kyoto coffee culture is coming into its own.
― Sarasa Nishijin さらさ西陣
Sarasa Nishijin is one of a half-dozen Sarasa-branded shops in Kyoto but is perhaps the microchain’s most iconic location, in a former bath house a brief stroll west of Kuramaguchi Station. The shop’s regularly rotated set lunch menu is popular, and there are also modern takes on kissatenclassics like Napolitanand omurice. Sarasa also offers vegan and vegetarian options.
Sarasa is as far as one can get from chain shops like Starbucks (or smoky salaryman hangouts like Doutour and Excelsior). The charming interior is unique and inviting, and there are many hints at the former use of the space, like the tile mosaics and rough walls. Spending an afternoon in Sarasa, it’s impossible not to imagine dropping everything to take up a new life as a Kyoto hipster.
WIFE & HUSBAND is an antique cafe located near the Kamogawa river where you can feel the warmth of trees.
Like the store name, it is owned and operated by a couple and offers a particular coffee.
On sunny days, the shop will prepare a mug, a cup of coffee in a thermos bottle, and a basket of small sweets for a picnic on the riverside of the Kamogawa river. If you would like to spend a slow time, why not stop by once by all means.
― Omo Café
A lovely café and restaurant located in an old townhouse (Machiya) that dates back over 100 years. The interior has been tastefully renovated, keeping many of the original details intact including a tiny garden next to the windows at the back of the building. Omo serves delicious traditional Japanese food. We strongly recommend their “omo plate” for 1550 yen. The contents vary depending on the season, but we can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
― PHILOSOPHERS KYOTO
Philosopher’s path is one of Kyoto’s most famous districts.
Situated near the renowned temple Honen-in 法然院, PHILOSOPHERS KYOTO is a stylish coffee truck style stand that’s located on this path.
Walking around Kyoto in the hot and humid summer months might make you tired but this is an ideal oasis! Order one of their popular drip coffees to recharge your energy. Their fruit soda (which is available only in certain seasons) is another great choice. They also offer snacks and alcohol drinks if you’re in the mood. There are a couple of seats available in front of their truck but you can, of course, take your drinks to go.
― Café Bibliotic Hello
This spacious café is located a few blocks away from the most crowded shopping areas, yet still in the heart of Kyoto. Set in an old traditional wooden building, filled with books, plants, stylish furniture and the smell of delicious coffee, this place is worth taking the small detour. The books are focused on art and design, and of course all patrons are welcome to take their time reading
them while slowly sipping on a coffee.
― Salon de Royal KYOTO
The history of Salon de Royal began with its establishment in 1935. What’s gorgeous about this sophisticated chocolatier is not only its delightful chocolate but also its location by the Kamo River where you can enjoy the shower of sakura petals during spring. You can enjoy their chocolate with a cup of coffee or champagne on the terrace during the warmer months. The views from the terrace seats will surely entertain you whenever you visit. Feel the nice, refreshing breeze in early May or enjoy the sound of water cooling you down during the summer.