Blue Bottle coffee enthusiasts would seek out the nearest outlet when travelling, just for that familiar and comforting taste for their morning boost of energy. The flavours aren’t the only ones coherent throughout the outlets of this Californian-based company – Blue Bottle makes it a point to introduce similar interiors throughout all their stores so that customers can sense this familiarity in the space. But that’s not fully the case for its first Kyoto outlet and the eighth in Japan that opened in early 2018.
The ancient capital city of Japan has its own take of its coffee culture, showcasing what the city collectively prides itself in; craft, tradition and precision. Blue Bottle combined the city’s beliefs with their own by opening a cafe in a 100-year-old kyomachiya, a traditional Japanese townhouse made of wood and featuring unique details.
I had the pleasure of dropping by the cafe when I was in town a few months back, and it was as peaceful as it looked in the pictures. To be fair, I visited during a global pandemic in a city that used to attract a great number of tourists every day — the serenity I experienced was probably due to luck. I went with a friend, Nana, who was born and raised in Kyoto. According to her, after 10 AM every day, regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, this outlet would be jam-packed. So we went at 9 AM.
Nana was proud of the traditional representation of this outlet. Other Blue Bottle outlets would have the brand’s logo plastered on walls and cups. This one barely had any — I wouldn’t have known it was Blue Bottle if I didn’t know any better.
We went through a white-gravelled alleyway that led into an open courtyard in between two buildings. This style of architecture was nicknamed “eel’s nest” in Japanese culture because of the narrow opening.
The interior of the cafe was mostly wood, and the original structure of intricately carved beams, wooden pillars and wall frames with straw-mud-bamboo composition are kept. Amidst the old was some new — modern features including concrete countertops and transparent glass windows only amplified the cultural essence of the building.
Jo Nagasaka of Schemata Architects led the design of the space, and he stated:
Our subtle modifications to the building marry the tranquillity of traditional Japanese architecture with modern comforts. The entryway and the floor were rebuilt lower in the ground, enabling people wearing shoes to enter the café seamlessly.
Outside, spreading paths of terrazzo mixed with crushed white gravel echo the neighbourhood aesthetics of old Kyoto.
While the unique space is already reason alone to visit, I noticed that this Blue Bottle cafe had pastries that no other outlets have. Falling in line with the rest of the cafes and coffee shops in the city, this Kyoto Blue Bottle outlet offers seasonal pastries to have with your coffee as well as on their merchandise rack. green tea mint cookies. When I was there, the polite barista introduced me to the seasonal dessert at the time: a matcha cheesecake. Of course, I had to try it.
I’m not a big matcha or green tea fan, so as soon as I ordered it, I had a tang of regret. But then I had my first bite after a sip of Blue Bottle’s classic iced latte, and I was pleasantly surprised by how the flavours complemented each other so well.
It’s a similar positive emotion when seeing the fusion of old and new for the cafe’s architecture. Blue Bottle’s first Kyoto outlet is an ideal cafe to pop by for a cup of joe that we’re familiar with while still experiencing the local culture oozing through the walls, maybe quite literally.