Kenneth Shoji opened the first % Arabica coffee shop in Kyoto, Japan, in 2014. But his ultimate goal was always to open in Paris and New York because he sees them as “iconic amazing locations.” Paris became a reality in 2019, with a shop in the Second arrondissement’s Passage des Panoramas and a kiosk in the Seventh arrondissement. Now % Arabica—pronounced without the % when spoken aloud—finally has made its way to the United States with the June 11 opening of its first shop in Brooklyn.
“It’s a dream come true,” Shoji said on the opening day of the % Arabica New York Dumbo Roastery.
The brand’s 88th shop in its 17th country serves the same simple espresso drinks and pour over drip coffees that are known for attracting lines at its original location in Kyoto. While the lines haven’t appeared—yet—in Brooklyn, Shoji’s “less is better” ethos is still the same in New York. With a small selection of pastries from Balthazar, the most elaborate drink it offers right now is a matcha latte.
Initially, Shoji scouted New York locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. But after a stay at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, he settled on the waterfront Dumbo neighborhood. “I knew this was the perfect location,” Shoji said. Eventually, he secured a storefront mere steps from the hotel in a building with arched windows that frame the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
In a city with thousands of high-quality coffee shops, the % Arabica opening is special for several reasons beyond its delicious, yet simple coffee. Here’s why it’s worth seeking out the next time you’re in New York, especially since a trip to Japan is off the books for a while yet:
1. The Slayer espresso machine inspired by Dieter Rams
The shop’s beautiful design—executed by the French design firm Cigue—extends far beyond the clever Chemex light fixtures and arched windows with about a dozen places for people sit on stools and enjoy the view (there’s plenty of outdoor patio seating as well on the sidewalk). Even the espresso machine looks like it belongs in MoMA. Shoji said the custom Slayer espresso machine is an homage to the German industrial designer Dieter Rams. In particular, the machine’s glossy-white facade, wooden paneling, and brushed metal base bring to mind the SK 4/10 record player Rams designed for Braun in the middle of the 20th century. Of course, it’s not just about good looks: Dubbed the Lamborghini of espresso machines, Slayers are known for turning out some seriously high-quality espresso.
2. Japanese-style soft serve ice cream
The new Brooklyn % Arabica location serves a creamy Japanese-style soft serve ice cream—dubbed % Soft Cream—that Shoji said is inspired by his childhood beach vacations. In the spirit of simplicity, there’s only one flavor: coffee. For now, it’s served in cups for $5.50, but cones are coming later this summer.
3. The green bean roasting counter
In the far right corner of the airy, Japanese minimalist-chic space, you’ll find the Green Bean Roaster Counter. In addition to roasting and selling its own beans on site, % Arabica takes it one step further and allows you to customize your own small batch blend of green coffee beans, which it will roast on the spot for you. After you look through the menu of green bean options, your selection is roasted in a small-batch roasting machine called the Tornado King. And in 10 minutes, you can take your roasted beans home with you. They advise letting your beans sit for three to four days before grinding them to let them age properly (if you don’t have a grinder at home you can bring them back to the shop and they’ll grind them for you free of charge.) While this isn’t exclusive to the Brooklyn location, only half of % Arabica stores offer it. Prices range from $12 for 8 ounces to $93 for 32 ounces of beans, depending on which type you choose.
Bonus: A public Toto toilet
High-end Toto toilets complete with bidets are commonplace in public restrooms in Japan. But in Brooklyn? It feels like a true luxury. While you might not go out of your way for a public toilet, one with a heated seat and options for extra cleanliness are a huge plus. And when you open the door to the restroom, the toilet seat opens on command—like it’s almost saying “hello, welcome.” After you do your business, there’s Aesop hand soap to make you feel even fancier.
Eventually, Shoji wants to open additional % Arabica New York shops and is currently eyeing space on Elizabeth Street in the West Village. The plan is to then expand throughout the United States with shops in cities like Portland and San Francisco.
The % Arabica New York Dumbo Roastery is located at 20 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn, and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.