Kyoto-style slow drip, also known as Japanese-style cold brew slow drip, is one of the most artistic ways to brew coffee, and it produces one of the best brews when executed properly. If you’d like to begin making coffee this way at home, here’s a complete guide to Kyoto-style slow drip coffee — including how you can make it.
In This Guide:
- What is Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee?
- How Does Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee Taste Compare to Other Brew Methods?
- What Coffee Works Best for Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Brewing?
- What’s the Best Way to Drink Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee?
- What to Look for in a Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee Maker?
- How Do You Brew Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee at Home?
What is Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee?
Kyoto-style slow drip coffee is a cold-brew method that extracts coffee drip-by-drip rather than through immersion, which is the extraction method of standard cold-brew or toddy. The Kyoto-style is almost exclusively enjoyed cold, and it may be considered a Japanese version of iced coffee.
Japan’s coffee culture has given rise to several unique innovations. And indeed Japan is where the earliest records of any cold-brew coffee are found, and it’s well documented that coffee was being brewed via slow drip by the 1600s. The brew method increased in popularity, especially in Kyoto, and hence became known as Kyoto-style slow drip.
Official records from before the 1600s are scant, but the Japanese most likely learned of cold-brew coffee from Dutch traders. The Dutch certainly were familiar with coffee, and a cold-brew method would’ve been the easiest way to make coffee aboard ships. Once the Dutch introduced the coffee into Japan, the Japanese perfected the method into an art form.
The much more recent rise in Kyoto-style’s popularity throughout the specialty coffee world can largely be attributed to the brew method’s artistic nature. This may be the most visually enthralling way to brew coffee, and towering slow-drip apparatus draw attention in coffee shops and cafes. They’re a statement piece that adds to a place’s atmosphere.
The slow-drip apparatus also give the illusion that the cafe is making an excellent version of coffee that can’t easily be replicated at home, which is further incentive to make a trip to your favorite coffee shop. This isn’t true, though. If you have a Kyoto-style coffee maker and some basic knowledge, it’s actually quite easy to make this type of coffee at home.
How Does Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee Taste Compare to Other Brew Methods?
Kyoto-style slow drip is one of the most aromatic and flavorful ways to brew coffee. It’s known for producing bright, clean and crisp brews when the drip speed is correctly calibrated (and colored water or muddled sludge when the speed isn’t calibrated).
Here’s how a well-brewed cup of Kyoto-style slow drip coffee will compare to other brew methods:
Standard Cold Brew / Toddy
The standard cold brew method of immersing grounds in water overnight muddles high notes, losing nuanced flavors in exchange for a full body and general smoothness.
Kyoto-style brewing uses a slow drip method that captures the high notes of a coffee, including those delicate aromatics and flavors that are lost in standard cold brew. The Kyoto style tastes much more like a hot-brewed coffee, even though it uses lots of time rather than lots of heat to pull out those complex characteristics.
Vacuum / Siphon
Kyoto-style coffee can be fairly comparable to a vacuum brew, although there will be some slight nuances depending on what type of filter is used.
A Kyoto-style with a paper filter will remove some oils that a vacuum brewer retains, and this will result in some aromatics and flavors being slightly less vibrant. A Kyoto-style with a metal filter will not only allow oils into the final brew but it’ll let fines (small sediment) in too, creating a brew that’s has a slightly larger body than a typical vacuum brew.
Regardless of filter, both brew methods will produce something that’s bright, aromatic, flavorful and a pleasure to drink.
Kyoto-style coffee is also quite similar to the manual pour-over method of brewing, especially when Kyoto-style is made with a paper filter. Both brew methods will highlight acidity, aromatics and delicate flavors, while downplaying the body when brewed with a paper filter.
Using a metal filter will introduce more body thanks to the oils and fines that are allowed through, but a metal filter is only advisable for the Kyoto-style brew. Although they’re available, metal filters reduce quality in manual pour-overs because they don’t adhere directly to the cone and allow some water to run down outside of the grounds.
Kyoto slow drip brewers will draw out more delicate aromatics and flavors than French presses’ immersion extraction will, although presses are quite capable of producing a complex brew. The body of a Kyoto slow drip won’t be quite as large as that of a press, even when a metal filter is used.
Kyoto-style slow drip is substantially different from espresso (as is almost every other brewing method). The two are similar in that they can each produce exotic flavors, though. While the flavors you get from a single coffee through each brew method might be different, both are capable of bringing traits out of a coffee that no other brewing technique will capture.
What Coffee Works Best for Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Brewing?
Any coffee can taste good when brewed Kyoto-style, but the brewing method is most well-suited to coffee lots that are highly complex. High-quality Central American, South American and African coffees will taste particularly good when made Kyoto style, and doubly so if their notes are a natural fit for iced coffee.
Lower-quality coffees that don’t have complex notes or are far past their ideal date are better made via standard cold brew, as the method will mask deficiencies and produce a generally rich and smooth cup. Reserve the additional work that Kyoto- style requires for only the finest coffees you have.
What’s the Best Way to Drink Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee?
Because Kyoto-style slow drip coffee brings out so many aromatics and flavors, it should be tried black before adding anything to it. If you still want to add in cream, non-dairy or sweetener afterward, feel free to. Simple syrup will dissolve in the coffee much more easily than standard sugar.
What to Look for in a Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee Maker?
- Classical cold brew coffee maker set in wooden frame
- Including glassware, filter and adjustable valve to perform dripping
- Easy to assemble and clean after use. Brief instruction included.
- It makes slightly sweeter, a bit milder, and way less acidic than your average iced joe
- Good for 25 cups of coffee. Max 2500ml
Brewing Kyoto-style slow drip coffee requires a Kyoto-style coffee maker, and these coffee makers are neither small nor inexpensive. To make sure you get one that’ll work well, there are several factors to consider:
Most Kyoto-style slow drip brewers make more than one cup at a time. You can enjoy the coffee over a few days if it’s kept refrigerated and covered, but the coffee will eventually lose those more delicate notes. Consider how much coffee you’ll realistically drink within two or three days, and look for a brewer that’s appropriately sized.
Glass Kyoto-style brewers look much more elegant than their plastic counterparts, and aesthetics are a major aspect of this brew method. Glass also shatters, though, and these can be prone to breaking when in a home kitchen where they may tip over or be knocked accidentally. Decide whether you want to prioritize aesthetics or durability, and choose a brewer accordingly.
While not absolutely necessary, this style coffee tastes best when made with ice-cold water. Look for a brewer that has a water chamber large enough to hold both ice and water. The size of the chamber necessary will depend on how many cups it makes and how large the grounds chamber is.
Kyoto-style slow drip brewers can use either a paper or a metal filter. Some models will use only one type of filter, while others allow you to use either type. A paper filter will produce a slightly cleaner cup, and a metal one will produce a cup that’s somewhat fuller-bodied and more flavorful. This is a minor difference, but you may already have a preference for one or the other.
Many fancy Kyoto-style brewers have coils that twist and turn as the water flows through them. These are purely for aesthetic purposes, so consider them only so far as you like the look of a particular model.
How Do You Brew Kyoto-Style Slow Drip Coffee at Home?
All Kyoto-style slow drip coffee makers are separated into three chambers: the water chamber, grounds chamber, and coffee chamber where the brew collects. Different slow-drip models will call for slightly different amounts of water/ice and coffee, but the method essentially is as follows:
- Measure: Measure out coffee and water according to the maker’s suggested ratio. Weigh your coffee for consistency and accuracy, as using a volumetric measurement can vary depending on a coffee’s varietal, elevation and roast.
- Grind: Grind the coffee on a medium grind, similar to what you’d use for a standard automatic drip coffee maker. A burr grinder will yield a much more consistent grind than a blade grinder.
- Prepare Coffee: Place the coffee filter in the bottom of the coffee chamber, and add the grounds.
- Prepare Water: Fill the water chamber with the appropriate amount of water/ice. The water should be as cold as possible, although room-temperature water also works.
- Start Drip: Use the valve that controls water flow to attenuate the drip speed. Start with a speed of one drop per second, although some extend that to one drop every 1.5 seconds. Total drip time will likely be anywhere from 6 to 24 hours, depending on your model’s size and flow rate.
- Dilute: Kyoto-style brewers make an iced coffee concentrate. Dilute this to taste with cold, filtered water.
- Enjoy: Pour your Kyoto-style coffee over ice, and enjoy!
Make Kyoto-Style Cold Brew at Home
No coffee is quite the same as Kyoto-style slow drip coffee. If you regularly get this at cafes and coffee shops, purchase a Kyoto brewer for home use. You’ll be able to make great iced coffee anytime you want a cold, refreshing drink.
Scott M. Brodie has over 20 years of professional experience working in coffee shops and writing about coffee (including selling superautomatic machines). When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work.