I’m back in Tokyo this week and had chance to pick up some real Japanese chocolate. It seems that the trend towards premium and single-origin chocolate has finally reached Japan’s shores. Meiji Milk Company has been around for almost 100 years and makes various inexpensive chocolate bars that can be found in the ubiquitous Seven-Elevens and Lawsons stores throughout the country. Now, for the first time, I’ve come across a Japanese-made dark chocolate bar that uses single-origin beans and is marketed as a “premium” chocolate.
Can the Japanese really make great chocolate bars? After all, the food of the gods has its origins in Mesoamerica and was first transformed into drinking chocolate and what you would recognize as chocolate bars in Europe. In fact, chocolate making seems to be far more intertwined with European culture which boasts easily over one hundred makers of bars alone – from Amedei to Zotter, never mind truffles and all the rest. Europe has more practice and more history with refined chocolate than anyone else in the world. So, can a Japanese company really learn how to make a world class chocolate bar?
I will answer my own, intentionally naïve, question. Yes, in my estimation, the Japanese are capable of making pretty much any fine or gourmet food you can think of. When I lived in Japan with my family, we were delighted to hear that Tokyo had been deemed by Michelin to be “… a shining star in the world of cuisine.” It’s an international city on par with any other and clearly people here get the concept and techniques behind fine food.
One of my favorite comfort foods when we lived here was the chocolate croissant. When the walls of our tiny apartment started to close in, I would lead my then three-year-old son by the hand down to street level and around the corner to a delightful little bakery that might as well have been in New York or Paris. The perfect little airy, buttery pastries made a lasting impression on both of us. These are one of the few things my son can still remember from his time in Tokyo: the “chocolate ‘a-sants.”
So, I have no doubt that Japan is capable of producing great chocolate, but Meiji Milk company? Let’s taste some and see.
WHAT: Meiji The Premium Single Dark Chocolate – Dominica. 61% Cacao. 58g. Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, trehalose emulsifier (soy lecithin, sucrose esters of fatty acids), artificial flavor.
Where to buy in USA: H-Mart Stores.
WHEN: September 25, 2011
OVERALL RATING: 73
AROMA: Heavy roast, smoked ham, roasted fig, green beans, vanillin.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Malt. It takes a while to open up, so not much else initially.
MIDDLE TASTE: Raspberry, oak, pine, cacao fruit. I have to give them some credit for bringing out a bit of cacao fruit.
FINISH: Cedar, caramel, wax beans. Simple, not complex, but gets a few points for a long finish.
TEXTURE: A little dull, but melts fine.
LAST BITE: Sorry guys, this is not a great bar. Meiji is sort of the Hershey’s of Japan, so what can we expect? Well premium should be premium, but to be fair and compare to something clearly not premium, I bought some “garden variety” Meiji chocolate from the closest Lawsons. I found a pack of little dark chocolate squares called Meiji Black. In Japan, they seem to like products with the simple designation: “Black”– noting some pure extreme or trying to draw in a masculine audience like the popular chewing gum called Black Black.
Well, the Meiji Black was as bad as the Hershey’s we all know – with an unnatural aroma of church-lady perfume and a flavor profile that boasts notes of salad oil, tomatoes, vanilla ice cream and marshmallow. When you compare The Premium Single to that, then yes, these guys have made an honest effort, but they have a way to go yet. Here’s my advice to Meiji: you’re on the right track, but please get rid of all the artificial flavors – probably vanillin – and pay some closer attention to fermentation and roasting and you will have something closer to world class. I’ve read that the quality of beans from the Commonwealth of Dominica can be excellent, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with the bean source. You just need to work out some bugs the way you know best – practice, refine, purify, repeat.
 I paid for these bars myself.
 Some doubted the validity of Michelin’s praise, but they did award 3 French restaurants their highest honor of 3-stars.
 Meiji is pronounced “may gee.” Well, technically, “may ee gee” spoken quickly as “may gee.”