The Complete History of Kyoto-Style Coffee

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What if I told you that the cup of coffee you’re enjoying is more than just a caffeine fix, but a story written in a cup? Kyoto-style coffee might sound like a novelty for the uninitiated, but it’s a centuries-old tradition passed down through generations. Intrigued? Buckle up because we’re about to embark on a journey into the world of Kyoto-style coffee.

The History of Kyoto-Style Coffee

In the 16th century, Dutch merchants brought cold brew coffee to Japan3, packing it in barrels for their lengthy sea voyages. However, it wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1868) that coffee consumption began gaining popularity in Japan. It was during the 19th century when the distinctive brewing technique known as the Kyoto style emerged.

History Of Kyoto-Style Coffee Dutch Trading Vessel
The Dutch introduced coffee to Japan in the 1600s

During the Edo period, traditional brewing methods relied on heat, which was often impractical or unsafe. The ingenious Japanese, who were already skilled in the art of cold-brewing tea, applied the same technique to coffee. This led to the birth of what we now know as Kyoto-style coffee.

Kyoto-style coffee uses a special brewing method with a unique slow-drip coffee maker. This coffee maker is often called an “elegant tower” due to its tall and stylish glass design. The brewing process involves one droplet of water at a time, slowly dripping through a bed of coffee grounds over the course of approximately 16 hours. The result is a cold coffee with a dense, rich body, low acidity, no bitterness, and a complex flavor.

Kyoto-Style Coffee Maker Tower
Yama Glass Co.’s Slow-Drip Tower | $280 on Amazon

Oliver Strand, a New York Times reporter specializing in food and fashion, shared his observations of the slow-drip coffee maker:

“Japanese slow drippers are different. They’re beautiful objects… and the form has a function… the slow dripper metes out water so that for every drop that falls onto the saturated grounds, a drop of coffee spirals down the hand-blown glass tubes into the waiting carafe4.”

Oliver Strand

The Flourishing Coffee Culture in Kyoto

In Kyoto, a city famous for its tea culture and temples, there has been a noticeable increase in privately-owned cafes prioritizing both the quality of coffee and the atmosphere in which it is served. This growing trend reflects the charm of Kyoto, with its old buildings and the meticulous craftsmanship that local artisans have always valued.

These traditional cafes, often known as ‘kissatens‘, serve coffee in delicate cups along with saucers and small cream pitchers, honoring the city’s historical legacy. Some of these cafes are located in buildings with intriguing histories, like former bathhouses or traditional two-story wooden merchant houses, adding to the unique coffee culture that thrives in Kyoto.

Coffee Kissaten In Kyoto, Japan
A “kissaten” serving coffee in Kyoto, Japan

Merry I. White’s book, “Coffee Life in Japan,” gives us insights into the fascinating history of cold brew in Japan. In her research, White points out that the fancy techniques used in making cold brew, like the use of glass tubes and flasks that resemble scientific experiments, are actually a clever marketing strategy. These methods not only attract customers but also remind them of the traditional and elaborate siphons used in the past.

In addition, coffee made in more elaborate systems, or cold-brewed for iced coffee in an imposting laboratory-like set of glass tubing and flasks, is both novel as a marketing device and evocative of the more elaborate siphons of the past.

Merry I. White, “Coffee Life in Japan”

An interesting example of this can be seen in the Korean coffee chain Holly’s. In their stores, you’ll notice cold-brew tubes displayed prominently, even though they’re rarely used. These tubes are there to show off their modern and scientific vibe, while also paying tribute to the coffee traditions of the past.

Another interesting case is Hanafusa, a famous coffee shop in Kyoto. Since 1955, they’ve used this fascinating glass siphon as their signature style. The siphon system, which is similar to the careful preparation of filtered coffee, represents their commitment to preserving traditional methods and serving each customer with care, one cup at a time.

The Modern Influence on Kyoto’s Coffee Culture

Kyoto’s coffee scene is a fascinating mix of old and new, combining traditional customs with modern trends. You can find cafes in Kyoto with a charming vintage vibe, while others have a sleek and contemporary look. The city’s coffee culture captures the essence of Kyoto’s dynamic atmosphere.

History Of Kyoto-Style Coffee
A building in Kyoto with coffee mugs as architecture

Unique Japanese methods of coffee brewing, such as slow-drip coffee, have become more accessible thanks to innovations in coffee production. Now, even small-scale coffee shops can create these incredible brews.

Kyoto’s coffee culture strikes a perfect balance between preserving its historical roots and embracing change, which is a big part of what makes it so appealing to people worldwide.

The Modern Influence on America’s Cold Brew Culture

The popularity of Kyoto-style coffee, or Kyoto Black as it’s sometimes called, has resurged in recent years, bringing this brewing process from Japanese coffee shops to the public spaces of the Western world.

In her book “Coffee Life in Japan,” Merry I. White explores the fascinating history of cold brew in Japan and its influence on the American coffee scene. According to White, the emergence of cold brew in America can be traced back to the impact of Japanese coffee culture (White 114).

White mentions an intriguing example of this influence, highlighting the Blue Bottle cafe in San Francisco. Inspired by the 1683 Vienna Coffeehouse, the cafe has acquired specialized coffee equipment, for $25,000, from Hario and Ueshima Coffee. They now offer a unique product known as “Kyoto Iced Coffee,” prepared using a mesmerizing slow-drip method (White 114).

Kyoto-Style Cold Brew Towers
Kyoto-style cold brew towers | Photo by Scott Beale

Justin Doggett, a prominent figure in the coffee industry, has been pivotal in this resurgence, spreading the appreciation of Kyoto-style coffee’s unique flavor and history, which you can see on his official Kyoto-style coffee website.

The Japanese innovation behind this process has captivated American coffee shops, with White noting that “new trends in America might well come from Japanese coffee rather than the other way around” (White 114). This observation underscores the significant role of Japanese coffee culture in shaping the development of cold brew in the United States.

American Cold Brew: The “Toddy”

Another cold brewing method gained traction in the US in the mid-20th century. Todd Simpson, a chemical engineering graduate, developed the Toddy Cold Brew System after being introduced to cold-brewed coffee (drank hot5) during a trip to Peru in 1963.

Inspired by the smooth flavor and low acidity of the coffee he tasted there, Simpson patented a system that simplifies the cold brewing process, making it accessible to anyone from coffee shops to home brewers.

Note: The Toddy Cold Brew System is available for purchase on Amazon for $49.

Toddy Cold Brew Coffee System The History Of Cold Brew
The Toddy Cold Brew System | Spirit Animal Coffee’s Espresso Roast) are generally recommended for Kyoto-style brewing, while the Toddy method can work well with various coffee roasts.

Kyoto-Style Cold Brew Coffee
Kyoto-style cold brew coffee | Photo by Yuyang Liu on Unsplash

Kyoto-Style Coffee: An Enduring Legacy

The growth of Kyoto-style coffee over the past decade is a testament to its enduring appeal. From its origins on Dutch trading ships to its presence in modern coffee shops, Kyoto-style coffee has a rich history that is as fascinating as its flavor.

The next time you find yourself in a grocery store or café, consider trying a cup of this remarkable coffee. You’ll not only be enjoying a delightful drink but also partaking in a centuries-old tradition of brewing excellence.


How long does it take to brew Kyoto-style coffee?

Brewing Kyoto-style coffee can take anywhere from 3 to 16 hours, depending on the desired strength and flavor profile.

Why is it called Kyoto-style coffee?

It’s named after its popularity in Kyoto, Japan. The Japanese were brewing coffee this way, even in the 1600s, possibly having learned this method from Dutch traders​6

What is the best coffee bean for Kyoto-style coffee?

Spirit Animal Coffee Review

Based on experimentation with hundreds of roasts, medium-to-dark roasts, especially espresso roasts, are recommended for Kyoto-style cold brewing​​. My personal favorite is the Espresso Blend from Spirit Animal Coffee.

What makes Kyoto-style coffee unique?

Kyoto-style coffee is unique due to its intricate and slow brewing process. One drop of water at a time is used over 16 hours, creating a dense body, a complex flavor profile, and a drink that remains low in acidity​7.

Where can I buy Kyoto-style coffee online?

Kyoto-style coffee can be bought from various online platforms, such as Amazon, Zingerman’s Coffee, Good Eggs, and Kyoto Style Coffee’s official website​.

Where can I buy the best Kyoto-style coffee in Japan?

For the best Kyoto-style coffee in Japan, check out these top shops:
1. Kurasa Kyoto Stand: Visit Kurasa Kyoto Stand in Kyoto for a high-quality Kyoto-style cold brew.
2. Smart Coffee: Experience meticulous brewing at Smart Coffee in Kyoto.
3. Blue Bottle Coffee: Discover a unique twist on Kyoto-style coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee Kyoto.


Kyoto-style coffee is a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the artisans of Kyoto. It’s a brew that speaks of tradition, patience, and an unwavering commitment to quality. Unveiling the Origins: Kyoto-style Coffee has been an enchanting journey, one that is as fascinating as the brew itself. Next time you sip on a cup of Kyoto-style coffee, remember you’re not just tasting coffee. You’re savoring a piece of history.


Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.

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