% Aribica is a Kyoto-based roaster/coffee shop chain which was one of Caffeine Magazine’s top recommendations. However, I couldn’t make it to either of its main stores. Instead, I’m indebted to Commodities Connoisseur for the heads-up about the branch inside the Fujii Daimaru Department Store, which, for my purposes, had the advantage of being open until eight o’clock in the evening.
Serving the house-blend and a single-origin on espresso from a very limited menu, it’s a surprisingly pleasant environment in which to sit down and rest your weary legs between sight-seeing stops. You can also buy beans and a small range of merchandising, including branded cups and containers, while if you’re hungry, there’s no problem picking something up from the food hall in the basement and munching it at % Arabica with your coffee. A word to the wise: it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
A convenient spot for coffee right in the heart of Kyoto, % Arabica is on the ground floor of the Fujii Daimaru department store, just south of the covered market. It’s not the easiest place to find, since it’s not visible from the street, although in fairness to Google Maps, it exactly where the map has it, albeit inside the store!
The front of Fujii Daimaru faces the covered market, with % Arabica about halfway back. Head for the stairs/elevators in the centre of the store and it’s hidden behind a pillar to the left of the stairs down to the basement. Once you’re there, it’s relatively easy to spot, the striking Slayer espresso machine taking pride of place on the counter.
The best way of describing % Arabica is as an exclamation mark (!). The counter, a stand-alone square, forms the full stop of the exclamation mark, while the two parallel bars behind it form the upstroke. Approaching from the front of Fujii Daimaru, you reach the counter first, with the grinders (house-blend and single-origin), Slayer espresso machine and till in that order on the left-hand side. The front of the counter is actually a wall and holds three Chemex fitted into a shelf, with bags of coffee below and a retail grinder off to one side. Meanwhile, on the right-hand side, opposite the espresso machine, is a Marco Beverage Systems Über Boiler, complete with built-in scales, making it look as if % Arabica is all set up for pour-over, only there’s only espresso on the menu.
Next is the seating, a neat row of two parallel bars. These have fixed white stools, 12 on the left, 10 on the right. They’re comfortable enough, but built for Japanese people. At 6’2”, I had just enough room to get my knees under the bar without any discomfort. The two bars have a curved metal lattice overhead, joined by a central beam. This houses the lighting, a series of exposed bulbs, each of which hangs inside a Chemex. The whole set-up looks like it was designed for outside use and could easily be glazed/roofed, but of course, being inside, it doesn’t need to. At the far end is a mirror, while two seats along on the right is a concrete pillar (part of the structure of the building!) which takes out two of the right-hand seats.
Turning to the coffee, the house-blend looked very dark in the hopper, so I went for the single-origin, a Guatemalan. The barista had trouble pulling the first shot and so discarded it, something I always appreciate. The second shot came out just fine, a rather nice, well-balanced espresso that I had in my Kaffeeform cup.
% Arabica has two other Kyoto stores, the original in Higashiyama and a second in Arashiyama. Don’t worry if you can’t get to Kyoto, though: % Arabica has a global footprint. As well three stores in Kyoto, there are more across Asia, the Middle-east and Europe. What’s more, as of 2019, the website promises more to come, including the US and London! Impressive for a company that only opened its first store in 2014!
March 2019: I’m still waiting for the promised UK store, but % Arabica has since reached Shanghai, where, as you will see, I found some familiar themes. I visited the original store on Ferguson Lane, a very similar branch to this in the Xintiandi Plaza, and the flagship Shanghai Roastery branch.
|FUJII DAIMARU DEPARTMENT STORE • SHIJOTERAMACHI SHIMOGYO-KU • KYOTO • 600-8031 • JAPAN|
|http://arabica.coffee||+81 (0) 75-746-5995|
|Monday||10:30 – 20:00||Roaster||% Arabica (espresso only)|
|Tuesday||10:30 – 20:00||Seating||Two Bars|
|Wednesday||10:30 – 20:00||Food||No|
|Thursday||10:30 – 20:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||10:30 – 20:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||10:30 – 20:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||10:30 – 20:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||International||Visits||24th April 2017|
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