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The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

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10 Top Japanese Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Brands

A look at some of the best artisanal Japanese chocolate brands

By Kim Kahan

Since 2015, when Meiji Chocolate — one of the most popular chocolate brands in Japan — found success with the relaunch of its own bean-to-bar range, Japan’s artisan chocolate industry has been booming. Here are the top independent Japanese bean-to-bar chocolate brands, for when you need to indulge in velvety treats. 

1. Vanilla Beans

One of the oldest bean-to-bar chocolate brands in Japan, Vanilla Beans has been around for over 20 years, with humble beginnings in a small workshop in Yokohama. In 2007, it switched to fair trade chocolate, with the motto: “Chocolate to make everyone smile,” aimed at farmers through to consumers. Originally simply an online store, Vanilla Beans opened its first café in Minato Mirai, Yokohama, in 2014. 

Via its webshop, Vanilla Beans sells a range of tried-and-tested tablet chocolate, including a beautiful flower shower flavor, which has an edible viola flower resting delicately on the top of the bar. Other flavors, aside from the classic single-origin varieties, include espresso, chai and yuzu. 

2. Dari K 

Kyoto-based Dari K has been working directly with farmers on an island in Indonesia since its launch. In June 2022 it opened a new, beautifully-designed store called Beyond C Lab, which serves a variety of chocolate-based products, including handmade cashew milk shaved ice.

3. Craft Chocolate Works

With a delightful shop located in Ikejiri, Tokyo, Craft Chocolate Works has become known as much for its delicious ice cream, as it has its chocolate. During summer, visitors flock to the small factory café to sample an Instagrammable cone.

The online shop is worth a look, with the most popular product a taster selection featuring 12 mini bars, each packaged with a different type of paper. The result looks like a gourmet teabag selection and makes for a great present.

One for the chocolate purists, CCW (as it is affectionately known), bases each bar around the region of the cacao beans.

4. Minimal Tomigaya

Despite the minimal packaging, these chocolates offer nothing short of complex, rich flavors. It’s easy to see why Minimal Tomigaya has earned the approval of so many since its launch in 2016. Operating from shop-cum-café in Shibuya’s fashionable Tomigaya district next to Yoyogi Park, Minimal has become popular thanks to its transparent bean-to-bar process. 

It hosts workshops during which participants can make their own chocolate. Also, in keeping with Japanese style, there are limited flavors that change with the seasons.

5. Saturdays Chocolate

This Sapporo-based craft chocolate maker is flying the flag for Hokkaido’s craft chocolate industry. In 2015, it opened a shop next to its factory in the center of Sapporo, offering tours to visitors. 

Saturdays uses cane sugar from Kagoshima and has collaborated with various other chocolate brands including Dari K, keeping the Japanese craft chocolate community alive.

 

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6. Coco Kyoto

Kyoto’s signature bean-to-bar chocolate brand, Coco Kyoto (stylized as COCO KYOTO), which has a branch in Paris, France, was started by an ex-Route de Chocolat and Century Hotel chef.

Coco Kyoto is consistently in the top three in the International Chocolate Awards, due to its emphasis on healthy, natural ingredients. Next to the chocolate roaster is the restaurant, which serves a range of chocolate-inspired desserts and is a must-visit for gourmet chocolate lovers in Kyoto.  

7. Nel Tokyo

Nel Tokyo is an artisan chocolate brand started by Kyoto native, Yuki Murata. 

A former pâtissier who learned his craft in France and Luxembourg, Murata utilizes his extensive experience in the chocolate and gourmet dessert world to create unique flavor pairings with a distinctly Japanese flavor palette. His bonbons, for instance, feature shiso herbs and ume while other products include popcorn and hot Japanese pepper. 

 

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A post shared by MAMANO CHOCOLATE (@mamano_official)

8. Mamano Chocolate 

Mamano is special because it only uses cacao beans from one farm in Ecuador. It has a very close relationship with Arriba cacao producers and often updates its social media with the latest trips to visit the farms. It also hosts seminars featuring the chocolate producers, opening up to questions from viewers who are interested in the process. 

Mamano has an online shop and a physical store in Asakusa where it sells chocolate tablets and accessories. 

9. Bean to Bar Chocolate Nagano

Kobe’s first craft chocolate shop and self-proclaimed research center, started by a local chocolate enthusiast in 2020, aims to create chocolate in compliance with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Using cane sugar from the Japanese Amami Islands and only single-origin chocolate, Bean to Bar Chocolate Nagano is introducing the craft chocolate model to the Hyogo region.

10. Green Bean to Bar Chocolate

Wrapped in beautiful Japanese paper, the packaging of Green Bean to Bar Chocolate, based in Nakameguro, Tokyo, epitomizes Japanese tradition in a modern style. The well-established brand has spawned a book and even a documentary.