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[Cafe Review] Cafe Arabica | Kyoto, Japan

Getting coffee is considered a formal travel activity for us. We spend more time researching cafes that have great coffee, reliable wifi, and hip interiors than we do planning actual tourist attractions. While this is totally normal for us, it’s rare that we see coffee shops creep into the list of must-do attractions in a city.

When I was planning Kyoto, I kept reading about a coffee shop called Arabica. I couldn’t get through a suggested itinerary without hearing that you had to stop for a coffee at Arabica. So obviously, it was on my list of things to do our first afternoon in town.

We got off the bullet train which brought us from Tokyo to Kyoto (452 miles apart) in an impressive 2 hours 20 minutes. We dropped off our bags, slurped some vegetable tempura udon and made our way to the adorable neighborhood of Higashiyama. We figured we’d grab a coffee at the famed Arabica, maybe get some work done there, and than wander through the old town streets.

Ninnen-zaka, in the Higashiyama neighborhood, might be one of my favorite streets in the world. This historical street is filled with darling shops, stunning temples, and beautiful women in traditional Kimonos.

If I didn’t have my eyes glued to the GPS on my phone, I would have been able to spot Arabica from a block away. It was the place with the line of people wrapping out the door and around the building. That, my friends, is what a coffee shop destination looks like.

The line at Arabica’s flagship Higashiyama location at 3PM on a Saturday

We decided not to wait in line that day, and planned instead to come back the next morning. The cafe opens at 8AM and we arrived shortly after. Even at that time, there was a line and hardly any seats available at the small shared table. We immediately fell in love with the place and understood all the hype.

The first thing we loved was the simple menu. It included a handful of core espresso beverages, each with the option of hot or iced, and single origin or a blend. I choose a single origin hot latte, and Kenny had a single origin iced Americano.

The coffee was just as good as everyone says. I must admit that even at my coffee prime, I was never Coffee Master certified at Starbucks, but I do know enough to confirm that it was the best latte I’ve had in a good long while.

At Arabica’s Higashiaya location, you will find famed barista Junichi Yamaguchi, the 2014 Latte Art World Champion. I’ve heard he’s incredibly humble and kind, though he did not seem to be there during our visit. Arabica’s founder actually spent a full year trying to get Junichi to join Arabica as the head barista for it’s flagship store. It’s a cool story; check it out!

The cafe itself is simple and modern, with clean white walls, exposed wood, industrial metal accents, and a beautiful display of an ombre spectrum of coffee beans against the wall. We went to two of the three Kyoto locations (Higashiyama and Arashiyama). Both were beautifully designed, both were small, and both were jam-packed. This is the kind of coffee shop that we love, and feel so at home in (even if we couldn’t sit and stay as long as we’d have liked).

The line out the door at one of their other Kyoto locations in Arashiyama at 11 AM on a Friday

If you’re looking for a place to work, Arabica is not that place. I’m not even sure  ifthey had wifi. It’s too small and too popular that you’re lucky to get a seat at all, and if/when you do, you certainly can’t be the kind of person who pulls out your laptop and hogs it for hours.

You come here for the coffee. You come here for the conversation it brings, even if it’s not in the store. You come, as founder and owner Kenneth Shoji says, to enjoy our time together over an amazing cup of coffee.

It wasn’t until after we left Kyoto that we actually researched Arabica as a brand. Arabica’s story is truly inspiring and reinvigorated our love for both travel and coffee. It’s a story of passion: finding it, working at it, and sharing it. It’s about seeing the world through coffee.

Since it’s founding in in 2014, Arabica has become an an international brand, with locations open and opening all over the globe. We’re anxiously awaiting arriving in our next Arabica city, which looks like is going to be Abu Dhabi. They also have plans to come to the States and our fingers are crossed that it means Chicago.

See you soon, Arabica!

UPDATE: We Made it Back!

In case you were wondering, we did make it back to Arabica! We just visited their location at Dubai Mall and were excited to chat with the barista about the Kyoto location. The first thing he said: “The queues in Kyoto were crazy, right?” Absolutely, sir. Absolutely.

Arabica Dubai