Being best friends with a barista at a hip Chicago coffee shop, I unfortunately have become a coffee snob. I hate to admit, but I am. When I told my best friend that I was leaving for Japan to teach, she asked, “What the hell are you going to do about coffee? You do know that they are famous for tea, right?” She is right. Japan is famous for tea, but they do have coffee. They actually do it well.
Artisanal, high quality, and grower to roaster type of coffee has only appeared in Japan in the past few years. Coffee shops that roast and brew their own coffee are making its presence in Tokyo; but in Kansai where I was placed to teach, it was not the case. Osaka served gourmet coffee with an unwelcoming atmosphere. Kobe served coffee in cafes but to offset the sweetness of their famed pastries and cakes. Finding a coffee shop that brewed great coffee and welcomed people to stay proved difficult until I found myself behind Nishiki Fish Market standing outside a parking lot.
Weekenders Coffee is one of many machiya-style coffee shops in Kyoto. Traditional tea houses—machiyas—are repurposed into coffee shops to give a homey appeal to visitors. The white interior, the wooden paneling, and the clear glass doors provide a bright and welcoming feel. Weekenders Coffee is a safe haven from the bustle and tussle that is Kyoto. You can enjoy a latte sitting on their one bench that is prettily situated under a gingko tree or cozying up at the bar where the barista will offer some advice in beans. Their house blend has a rich and mellow milk chocolate flavor which will energize you for the day ahead.
Another wonderful café is Arabica in Arashiyama. If you visit during momiji around November, you will see the leaves changing color as you cross Togetsukyo “Moon Crossing” Bridge. If you’re lucky to snag one of the few coveted seats, you can drink a macchiato while watching the vibrantly red and orange leaves fall into the water and flow down Katsura River. Arabica boasts a house espresso that has notes of burnt cane sugar and roasted hazelnuts. It is worth to note that Arabica has another location in Higashiyama, one of the best historic districts in Kyoto. It’s a little more crowded, but there are more seats to rest your weary feet.
The coffee scene in Kyoto is humble but can compete with the international scene. Their growers, roasters, and baristas take extreme care in handling and preparing their beans like they would with their beloved tea. I still remember standing in that parking lot outside Weekenders Coffee with a latte in hand and asking myself “How could I ever leave Japan?” You might find yourself asking the same thing when you visit Kyoto and try one of their espressos.
About the author and photographer Hello everyone! My name is Ruby, and I am a native Chicagoan who has just returned from a year in Japan. I fell in love with the Japanese food culture when I began exploring the Kansai region during my time as an assistant language teacher for the JET Program. I’m proud to be a blogger for Kokoro Care Packages where I can share some tidbits about Japanese culture, food, and travel. I hope your care packages and reading the blog posts will inspire you to visit Japan one day.