Tea reigned supreme in Japan long before coffee-drinking became popular here. As the reigning cultural capital for over a thousand years, Kyoto was at the heart of tea culture and its myriad developments over the centuries. This is where the art of matcha (powdered green tea) and wagashi (tea sweets) reached its zenith. It’s very different from Western-style tea, and an unmissable experience when you’re visiting Kyoto. As a bonus, Japanese sweets are mostly vegan, containing primarily beans, sugar, and rice flour, and no dairy.
Toraya teahouse in Kyoto – image © Chris Rowthorn
Today, the city is home to hundreds of excellent teahouses and tearooms. Duck into any one of these for a spot of Japanese tea and sweets. These are just a few of our favourites.
- Kasagiya (Southern Higashiyama; budget)
The most atmospheric little tea house in Kyoto, we never pass this way without stopping in for a hot cup of matcha tea and a sweet.
- Kagizen Yoshifusa (Southern Higashiyama; budget)
Kagizen Yoshifusa is a traditional sweet shop in Gion with a serene tea room where you can enjoy traditional sweets with cups of thick matcha tea.
- Toraya Ichijoji (Central Kyoto; budget)
For some serious Kyoto sweets and wonderful matcha in elegant surroundings, a short walk west of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, head to Toraya Ichijoji.
- Marukyu Koyamaen Nishinotoin Tea Shop and Teahouse Motoan (Central Kyoto; budget to mid-range)
At Teahouse Motoan, you can have your cake and eat it – along with a cup of green tea.
- Zenkashoin (Central Kyoto; budget)
For some wonderful Japanese takes on Western pastries paired with excellent green tea, check out this gallery/café on Muramachi, a short walk northwest of downtown.
- Saryo Housen (Central Kyoto; budget to mid-range)
You’d have to know where to go to find Saryo Housen. One of the city’s finest shops for tea and sweets is located in the suburbs of Central Kyoto, and it’s well worth seeking out.
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Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy - here's how.
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)