Unlike the Japanese capital, Kyoto isn’t exactly known as a bastion for specialty coffee. Well-preserved machiya (traditional townhouses)? Check. World heritage sites, from Buddhist temples to Shinto shrines? Check. Single origin pour-overs? Well, that’s more of a rarity here. So it is a pleasant surprise to discover a gem of a café, not in the bustling city centre but further north near the grand Nijo Castle, hidden away in an alley-way. Clamp Coffee Sarasa was founded by barista-roaster Tomonori Kanbara after he was invited to…Continue Reading “Clamp Coffee Sarasa, Kyoto”

Art is something that Kyoto-born Junichi Yamaguchi understands very well. Yamaguchi is not only the winner of the Tokyo 2014 Latte Art World Championship Open, he is also the co-founder (together with businessman Kenneth Shoji and architect Masaki Kato) of % Arabica Coffee, a small chain of specialty coffee bars with outlets in Kyoto, Hong Kong and Kuwait City.

Pulling shots of espresso before foaming milk to create his Instagram-friendly latte art, Yamaguchi is a vision of confidence in his Higashiyama café, located near Hokanji Temple, a Kyoto heritage site. The beans are roasted on the spot at % Arabica Coffee and you can request your preferred level of roasting, from light to dark.

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This café takes some searching; it’s hidden away in one of the small streets in the old neighbourhood of Nijo-Yanaginobanba in Kyoto. But once it’s sighted, it’s impossible to mistake it for anything else — it’s the only machiya (traditional Japanese townhouse) on the street with the large banana plants in the storefront (the thick cover of wide green leaves themselves almost eclipsed by a row of neatly parked bicycles).

The interior of Café Bibliotic Hello! is certainly most awe-inspiring, even for a specialty café — a book café — the requisite wall of books do not stop when they reach the ceiling but instead continue stretching up to the second floor, where we hover over metal walkways and look down past the wooden rafters upon the other patrons lost in their reading. It is almost as though we are transported to a library designed by industrialist architects.

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