Kyoto's top 5 cafes and tea shops

From traditional tea houses to roast-their-own coffee shops - Kyoto serves the perfect brew (and bite).

  • Kirsty Munro
  • March 2020

In a region famous for green tea, Kyoto holds its own in the café culture stakes. But the best reason to visit Kyoto cafés is for the amazing desserts and pastries you can down with your drink.

Koé Donuts

This striking shop lives up to its motto, “Life happens, donut helps.” While the doughnuts themselves are beautiful and clearly aimed at the young women wielding phone cameras, they’re also (relatively) low-calorie, organic and delicious. Try unique Japanese flavours such as red shiso, sesame and candied beans or the more familiar tastes of lemon meringue and strawberry and cream.

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Tsuruya Yoshinobu

This confectioner has served the Imperial Palace and many of the most prominent tea masters since it was established in 1803. The traditional wagashi are super-sweet concoctions of sugar and pounded rice to balance the bitterness of green tea and each is an exquisite jewel. Sit at the counter and order a matcha and sweet set, then watch a master craftsman concoct your chosen sweet right before your eyes.

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Slow Jet Coffee

It’s not all about green tea – Kyoto is also a cool coffee town with independent roasters setting up in the historic narrow wooden townhouses known as machiya. This airy, caffeinated space right outside Kodaiji Temple is also known for its spectacular parfaits. Tall glasses stacked with mountains of matcha ice-cream, sweet azuki beans, handmade cookies and seasonal fruits rival the views of Yasaka’s towering pagoda.

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Slow Jet Coffee is famous for serving mountains of matcha ice-cream.

Tasuki

In summer, when the long, hot and humid days sap energy, locals seek out cool spaces and icy treats for relief. Retreat to Pass the Baton, a gorgeous vintage store in a renovated machiya right in the middle of the geisha district, for shopping, then head up to its café, Tasuki, for shaved ice. Flavours change monthly to mirror the seasons – it could be plum in early spring to bracing citrus in summer; each presented in a unique and quirky dish.

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Itoh Kyuemon

Uji, south of Kyoto, is Japan’s most famous region for green tea. At Itoh, one of the country’s most respected tea producers, the main tea shop sells the most amazing parfaits, combining green tea with seasonal tastes, from spring’s sakura to autumn’s sweet potato jelly.

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