A chocolate revolution comes to Tokyo, and it couldn’t be any sweeter.
By Sarah Custen
Bean-to-bar chocolate is the new standard for cacao aficionados and chocoholics alike. This single origin sensation has already become as commonplace in the US as high-end coffee shops and specialty grocery stores. Now it’s making its way to Japan, one hip little shop at a time. Like its caffeinated cousin, bean-to-bar chocolate centers on single origin beans, from one estate in one carefully selected region. Where a Hershey’s—or Cadbury’s or Meiji—bar is made up of a mishmash of mass-roasted beans, combined with refined sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers like soy lecithin, bean-to-bar chocolate prides itself on using nothing but the basics: carefully selected beans and natural sweeteners.
Minimal, in Tomigaya, uses only those two ingredients. This streamlined operation—founded by Takatsugu Yamashita and his university friend, Kosuke Tabuchi—achieves an unbelievable array of flavors, without any natural or chemical additives whatsoever. Their “Fruity” bar, for example, tastes astonishingly like tangy, sweet, fresh blackberries, a flavor imparted exclusively by the Vietnamese cacao beans. Haitian-sourced “Nutty” tastes of toasted almonds and a bit of booze, while the ironically-titled “Bitter” boasts 85% Madagascan beans, but is incredibly mild and sweet, like banana.
“The flavor comes just from the beans,” said Yamashita, whose original creations never dip below 70% cacao content. “Everyone thinks it will be too bitter,” said Tabuchi, “But it’s sweet, because of the quality of the beans.” The two young entrepreneurs, along with local designer Soshun Saeki, finish each other’s sentences and move about the small shop with a familiarity and fluidity that belie the novice operation, opened just two months ago. Yet already Minimal is showing signs of great things, including weekly workshops where you can make your own chocolate by hand, from bean to bar.
In addition to seven unique varietal bars, which run in price from ¥900 to ¥1300, they sell chocolate flakes (perfect for making hot chocolate, or as a sweet topping) and cacao nibs, a crunchy, nutty offering that can be used in everything from granola to yogurt, even as an addition to salads. “The chocolate you always eat is just sweet,” Tabuchi explained, “But cacao has many possibilities. You can pair it with alcohol or coffee, or snack on it during work, to help concentration.” “Cacao is very good for your health,” Yamashita added, citing its minerals and feel-good, caffeine-like theobromine. “We wanted to make something new with chocolate in Japan.” You can experience the possibilities for yourself with a free, friendly tasting at their bean bar.
Or, for a less hands-on experience, you can have raw, all-natural, artisanal chocolate bars and bonbons delivered to your doorstep in about three days, courtesy of Choco Reko. The Saitama-based online shop, founded in 2012 by Reiko Kano, creates small batch chocolates using traditional techniques without any artificial preservatives: just raw Ecuadorian cacao, organic palm sugar, and natural additives, like matcha, nuts, or berries.
One popular option, says Kano, is “Cashew Strawberry Milk,” which—despite its name—contains no traces of dairy. In fact, every item Choco Reko sells is hand made to ensure that it’s milk and egg free. For coloring, she uses natural seaweed and fruits, such as goji berry or mango powder, making for sumptuously mouth-watering hues. Bars sell for about ¥1,300 each, and the quirky and colorful bonbons—think green algae four-leaf clovers and bitter Buddha’s heads—will set you back ¥3,600 for a box of nine. It seems that’s the price you pay for chocolate that’s “gentle on the body,” according to Kano.
Inexplicably, as with so many trends (think Wifi, cupcakes, food trucks, and tapas), bean-to-bar chocolate arrived late to the party and has been slow to take hold in Japan. However, we predict that it won’t be long before this uniquely delicious chocolate explodes into the boutique-loving, sweets-obsessed Tokyo market.
Minimal Chocolate Open: 11:30-21:00 (closed Mondays)
151-0063 Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Tomigaya 2-1-9
ChocoReko Saitama City, Saitama (Order online)