Tag Archives: Japanese Chocolate

Royce’s Nama Chocolate from Japan

Nama Chocolate – “Maccha”

Royce' Nama Chocolate

Green tea chocolate from Japan – Royce’ Nama Chocolate

I came across these chocolates in a gift shop at Tokyo’s Nartia airport and given my love of both matcha and chocolate, I had to grab a box for myself.  One of the most delicious deserts I’ve ever eaten was daifuku (a “cake” of glutenous rice surrounding sweet bean paste) dusted with matcha (green tea powder intended for tea ceremony)[2].  The sweetness of the daifuku contrasted with the gentle fragrant bitterness of the matcha was incredible. It may have helped a bit that I was eating the stuff among the maple trees in the shadow of kinkaku-ji, AKA the golden pavilion, of Kyoto.  Still I wonder, could the same sweet-bitter balance work for these chocolate treats even if chocolate is already a combination of bitter and sugar?

Tasting and Review of Royce’ Nama Chocolate from Japan

Nama chocolate Maacha

Several layers of packaging protect the chocolate and a miniature fork is included

The taste was definitely milky and dominated more by matcha than chocolate, but it brought me to a different place than the daifuku of Kyoto.  The rich milky sweetness and bitter tea brought me to Tokyo and the ubiquitous Tully’s Coffee.  Yes, Tully’s makes consistently great coffee drinks, but I sometimes get their hot or cold Matcha Latte – some green tea powder whipped up with a bunch of milk and more than enough sugar to get me through a few meetings at the office.  It’s a bit decadent, but I like to treat myself when I travel far from home – throwing the rules out the window since I’m usually enduring some level of physical discomfort pretty much 24-7.

It turns out that this is white chocolate flavored with matcha - something I learned only after finding a translation of the ingredients

Soft tablets of Nama Chocolate Maccha cut in two to expose a creamy interior loaded with matcha

Nama chocolate reminded me of those milky bitter-sweet flavors of Tully’s Matcha Latte and what I like about Tokyo, and there’s a lot to like.  This is a fun and unique confection that’s set up nicely for sharing with pre-cut squares.  I had tasted the chocolate before I found an English translation of the ingredients, but was not surprised to find that this is white chocolate.  This explains the lack of any distinct cocoa flavor – white chocolate is simply cocoa butter and sugar.  Royce’s approach makes perfect sense because the matcha tea brings in the bitter flavor to fill the void left by removing the cocoa solids from the chocolate.

Ingredients: Fresh cream, cocoa butter, sugar, skim milk powder, whole milk powder, lactose, powdered green tea, cherry brandy, soy lecithin, artificial flavor.

I’m not happy to find artificial flavor on the ingredients list, but this chocolate is more about having fun than eating health food.  Still, I hope they can find away to remove artificial flavor from the recipe  even if it adds cost.

Last Bite – Nama Chocolate “Maccha”

I paid about 800 Yen in the airport, but for another 100, they wrap it up in a little cold pack so that it can survive the 14 hour ride back to the US in good condition.   Royce’ makes chocolate on Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, using local cream from the region.   Royce’ has three retail shops in New York City, so check it out if you’re looking for something unique, on the sweet side, but with balance and attention to detail that you’d expect from a Japanese product.

Notes:

[1] I paid for this chocolate myself

[2] The most common roman-alphabet spelling for ceremonial green tea powder is “matcha.”  I assume Royce’ spells it as “maccha” as a stylized product name and indirect reference to matcha.

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Japanese Premium Dark Chocolate – Meiji The Premium Single

Meiji Dark Chocolate Squares on Package

The Chocolate is molded with precision into deep squares

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.

The box explains single-origin chocolate

The box explains single-origin 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[2].”  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.

Dark chocolate from Dominican cacao beans

Dark chocolate from Dominica cacao beans

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.

Meiji Black is their basic dark chocolate

Meiji Black is their basic dark chocolate

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.

Notes:

[1] I paid for these bars myself.

[2] Some doubted the validity of Michelin’s praise, but they did award 3 French restaurants their highest honor of 3-stars.

[3] Meiji is pronounced “may gee.”  Well, technically, “may ee gee” spoken quickly as “may gee.”