% Arabica is an international coffee shop/roaster chain which, like Omotesando Koffee, has its origins in Japan. In the case of % Arabica, it started in Kyoto, rather than Omotesandō, before spreading around the world, although so far I’ve only visited its locations in Kyoto and Shanghai. Today’s Coffee Spot, in Arashiyama, on Kyoto’s northwestern edge, has a stunning location on the edge of the Katsura River as it gushes out from a narrow valley through the mountains.
It’s an amazing location, both in which to enjoy your coffee and for the baristas, who share the spectacular views with their customers. It is, however, a tiny spot, little more than a counter in a single room, with limited seating, most of which is outside. There’s the usual concise espresso menu, with the option of the house-blend or a single-origin, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffee Adado, but the usual filter options are missing.
Sentido Speciality Coffee is in the heart of Kyoto, south of the Imperial Palace and east of Nijō Castle. It’s also a few blocks from Weekenders Coffee, so it’s in pretty good company! I visited in 2017, during my first trip to Japan, tipped off by both Commodities Connoisseur and Double Skinny Macchiato. However, I didn’t have time to properly write it up, so a return visit was top of my list when I got back to Kyoto last weekend.
Down a side street off Takamiyacho, the main east-west artery, you’re unlikely to randomly wander by and, even if you do, you might well miss it, given its relatively small façade, set back slightly from the street. Inside it’s slightly larger than it seems, going back a long way, but it’s not what I’d describe as large.
The coffee, roasted by Cafetime Kyoto, is packaged/sold under the Sentido label, with all the beans available to buy in retail bags. There’s a blend and single-origin on espresso, while all the coffees, including the blend, are available through the cafetiere, with samples to try on the counter-top. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and cake, with plenty of vegetarian options.
Yesterday I took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, on my way towards Tokyo, stopping en-route in Hamaya to visit Dark Arts and in Zushi (Breather Coffee). It therefore seems fitting that today’s Coffee Spot is the Kyoto Station branch of Ogawa Coffee. I had my first-ever Kyoto speciality coffee there on arriving from Tokyo in April 2017, and on my return, I had my final coffee (along with my breakfast) before leaving Kyoto yesterday morning. Not that 2017 was my first experience of Ogawa Coffee. Rather that came a year earlier in 2016, at Ogawa Coffee in Boston. Naturally, when visiting Kyoto, the home of Ogawa, I had to try at least one branch of Ogawa, and where better to start (and end), than at the station?
Despite being what could be described as a station takeaway café, Ogawa doesn’t compromise when it comes to coffee. There’s a concise espresso menu, offering espresso, cappuccino or latte, the latter being available hot or iced. There’s also filter, with a choice of the house-blend on batch-brew, and two single-origins as pour-over or Aeropress. You can either sit-in or have your coffee to go, which you can order from the separate retail counter.
A relative newcomer to Kyoto’s speciality coffee scene, Kurasu only opened in 2016. It seems a tad harsh to call it a chain, but shortly after my visit, in 2017, a second branch of Kurasu opened. In Singapore. While an excellent coffee shop in its own right, Kurasu also champions Japanese coffee products, such as pour-over filters, kettles and crockery, operating a worldwide mail order business, which is where Kurasu had its roots, starting in Australia in 2013, before the owner returned to his home town in 2016.
A five-minute walk from Kyoto’s main station, the coffee shop is a modest affair, long, and thin, with the counter on one side and minimal seating at the back. There’s a house blend from Single O, an Australian-based roaster, while the pour-over and batch-brew feature single-origins from roasters around Japan, who change every month. There’s also a small selection of cake.
Vermillion is a chain of precisely two in Kyoto, with an espresso bar next to the Inari train station and, five minutes’ walk away, by a large pond at the foot of Mount Inariyama, is the Vermillion Café, subject of today’s Coffee Spot. I didn’t spend long enough in Kyoto, Japan’s old Imperial capital, nor did I get to many coffee shops, but with my visit to Vermillion, I definitely saved the best until last!
Vermillion Café has a small outside seating area at the front (northern) end, which catches the evening sun, while inside, it’s long and relatively wide, with a couple of large tables. However, the best part is at the back, where the south-facing wooden terrace overlooks the pond. Here you’ll find the best views and perhaps my favourite spot for coffee in the whole of Japan.
Vermillion serves coffee roasted by the local Weekenders Coffee, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso and a choice of a blend or single-origin on pour-over through the V60, all of which can be had hot or over ice. There’s also a limited range of tea, beer and soft drinks, plus, if you’re hungry, a small selection of sandwiches and cake.
Tucked away in the back of a car park (something it shares with the Acme Coffee Roasting Company, of Seaside, California), Weekenders Coffee is Kyoto’s hidden gem. It’s definitely in the “you don’t need to find my coffee shop do you?” school, typified by the original (and now closed) Flat Caps Coffee in Newcastle.
However, it would be a shame if you let any difficulty finding Weekenders put you off, since it really is a gem. Roasting all its own coffee, which it serves from a ground-floor counter in a beautiful, wooden building, there’s a choice of house-blend or single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over, all supplemented with a small collection of excellent cake. You can also buy the beans.
There’s seating, in the shape of a two-person bench at the front. Unusually for this sort of operation, proper cups are available for those who aren’t going anywhere.
% 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!