koe donuts – an Ethical Donut Shop in Kyoto Designed by Kengo Kuma

  • ART
  • FOOD
  • SPOT
  • Donuts have become a staple in people’s lives as an easy to go-to dessert and meal in one. Due to the dessert’s popularity, there has been a flux of donut specialty shops flooding the streets of every major city worldwide. However, many of these are casual shops focused on convenience and the donut’s image as just a “nice treat”. However, koe donuts, a donut specialty store that opened in Kyoto in March 2019, is an attempt to change the narrative of the donut itself from casual street food to a special delicacy. The store itself was created through the cooperation of many designers and creators, resulting in a gorgeous and modern, yet traditionally Japanese interior, providing donuts made from only the most carefully chosen ingredients.

    So, how are these donuts ethical?

    With the slogan: “life happens, donut helps”, koe donuts is a part of the global brand koe, which is a brand widespread in various fields such as fashion, food, and music. The brand’s philosophy is centered around the ethics of its products. What this means is that every product offered by the brand, when bought, is supposed to change both environmental and societal problems for the better and help create a better world. Under this philosophy, koe donuts is extremely conscious of the global environment and people’s health. The three concepts koe donuts operates under are: organic, naturally derived, and local production for local consumption. This results in donuts that are low in calories, organic, and health and environment friendly.

    Donuts and Interior Design

    As someone who studies architecture, my personal reason for interest in koe donuts was the fact that the store is designed by the world-renowned Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. The interior of the shop features a dome-shaped ceiling of hanging bamboo baskets, which serves as an allusion to the tradition of hanging bamboo baskets on ceilings in the kitchens of old traditional homes in Kyoto. It may have crossed your mind that the use of bamboo just for decoration is wasteful and harmful for the forests, but the bamboo used in these baskets are actually ones that would have been thrown out after they had been weeded out in the process of maintaining bamboo forests. The theme of the bamboo baskets is “a space of bamboo baskets that lead you deeper”. The 572 bamboo baskets that decorate the space create an intriguing crisscross of shadows sweeping across the floor.

    The architecture and design is not the only designer element of koe donuts. The donut shop has its own mascot called “Doctor Donut”, a simple yet cute character created by the designer Yu Nagaba, that has become popular with all generations of customers. The shopping bags and napkins all feature Doctor Donut on them, creating a pop, yet classical design. The packaging and graphic design is by Shun Kawakami, a creator from artless Inc., the company in charge of all of koe’s branding. All of these designers and creators have come together to create koe donut’s narrative and brand, redefining what donuts mean to the everyday consumer.

    Now finally on to the donuts themselves!

    The unique element of koe donuts is that you can see all of the donuts’ production stages through the large glass wall that connects the shop area to the factory. This is all possible because koe donut takes pride in their ingredients and methods, displaying them for their customers. The donuts at koe donuts are made by grinding flour in a stone mill and are then combined with other ingredients and sent off into a conveyor-belt type fryer, specially made for this shop.

    Some of the flavors available at koe are: plain, lemon meringue, red shiso, gold sesame seeds old-fashioned, and financiers donuts five-colored bean. Apart from these, koe donuts always has a range of donuts made using local traditional Japanese ingredients such as roasted green tea, white miso, black beans, and Kyoto ginseng, which are all ingredients local to Kyoto or Japan, making these donuts extremely popular as a Japanese gourmet experience or Kyoto souvenirs.

    The one eat-in menu that I highly recommend is their donuts melt. This menu item is definitely a large part of koe’s goal to elevate the position of donuts within the food world and to turn it into a special delicacy instead of a simple dessert. This donuts melt cannot be eaten by just grabbing it on the go, so you have to properly sit down and use a knife and fork to cut into it like you would for a cake.

    The eat-in menu also contains a wide range of drinks such as teas made in Kyoto, Rainforest Alliance approved coffee, and original bubble teas. All of the drinks are topped with a rich foam, adding to the creaminess of the drink and richness of flavor. Bubble tea and a donut sounds like an amazing combination you can treat yourself to. I personally prefer drinking black coffee with anything sweet, so you’ll find me sipping on one of their signature Rainforest Alliance approved coffees with one hand and eating a lemon meringue donut with the other.

    Another thing that is available in-store is a wide range of collaboration merchandise. This merchandise is a collaboration between Yu Nagaba, the designer who made Doctor Donut, and koe donuts. These items are only available at the Kyoto shop. The range of items available include, organic cotton t-shirts, “new hattan” cap, organic cotton bags, rubber key holders, e coffee cup coffee tumblers, and MINORe mug cups. All of the items feature Doctor Donut, depicted in a simple line art form, making these items the perfect blend of simple, minimalist, and pop. These items are sure to remind you of the amazing donuts at koe donut and their commitment to ethics, health, and transparency.

    koe donuts kyoto is a 1 minute walk from the Kawaramachi Station’s exit #9 on the Hankyu-kyoto Line. It is open every day from 8AM-8PM so it is perfect as both a morning pick-me-up and a post-work/school treat.

    If you are in the Kyoto area, I highly recommend visiting koe donuts. I am sure you will have your preconceptions about donuts changed once and for all once you take a bite of these delicacies at koe.