Now you can enjoy a break with a Kit Kat and a shot of Japanese rice wine all rolled into one.
Japan is well-known for its huge variety of Kit Kats, with flavors ranging from wasabi to soybean and purple sweet potato to red bean sandwich. While most are developed as regional souvenirs, representing delicacies of the area, there’s one particular variety that says “Japan” like no other, and appears at the top of the must-buy souvenir list for many foreign visitors: the Green Tea Kit Kat.
Nestlé Japan says the exclusive variety remains a popular choice with foreign tourists, with sales for 2015 up by 20 percent over the previous year. The product’s huge popularity encouraged the company to develop another Japan-exclusive flavour, this time based on the country’s well-known traditional brew, nihonshuu, or sake as it’s known internationally.
▼ Aimed at the foreign tourist market, the packaging features a beautiful pink sakura cherry blossom design, along with an image of the well-known liquor.
The new Kit Kats contain sake powder which has been kneaded into the white chocolate-encased wafers, giving the chocolates all the flavor and aroma of a top-quality rice wine, while providing a light and refreshing aftertaste. Available from 1 February this year, the new variety will come in three-pack boxes for 150 yen (US$1.24) at convenience stores, while the specially designed nine-piece box will be available for 700 yen from souvenir stores around the country.
▼ The nine-piece packs feature a beautiful package in the shape of an Isshobin, 1.8-litre bottle.
If you’re in Japan and would like to try a sample, Nestlé Japan will be featuring the sake Kit Kats at a booth at the upcoming event, which will be held from February 5-14 at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo.
Chef Yasumasa Takagi is hard at work. With a furrowed brow and a meditative air, he stands at his kitchen worktop and surveys a row of glass jars, each containing a rainbow-hued ingredient – green pistachio paste, pink strawberry powder, yellow yuzu citrus fruit. He sprinkles deep-pink raspberry powder into a bowl containing melted white chocolate, before dipping bite-size wafers into the mix and ceremoniously placing them inside a small mould.
The scene unfolding in the kitchen at the back of his upmarket Tokyopatisserie may seem fairly standard for the famed creator of luxury artisan sweets. But closer inspection reveals that the chef is making something perhaps more ordinary than imagined, for he is, in fact, experimenting with flavors for one of the world’s most popular chocolate bars: the humble KitKat.
Few could dispute Britain’s enduring love of – and appetite for – the iconic wafer-finger bar. Launched 80 years ago by Rowntree’s, and touted as the workman’s perfect companion to a cup of tea, KitKat revolutionised the nation’s biscuit-loving society and within two years was a bestseller. Now it is sold in more than 100 countries; 700 KitKat fingers are reportedly consumed every second (totalling 22 billion a year), according to its current owners, Nestlé.
But there is one country in particular, 6,000 miles from its English origins, that stands out in its reverence for KitKat – namely Japan.
Since the first KitKat went on sale there in 1973, the nation has embraced it, making it one of its top-selling chocolate brands. While Japan’s KitKat retail sales are a fraction of the UK’s – Y17 billion in 2014, equivalent to £96 million compared to the UK’s £243 million – they have risen steadily since 2011, in contrast to a decline for the past two years in the UK, according to market-intelligence firm Euromonitor.
Such success is clearly tied to the country’s penchant for weird and wonderful flavours – 300-plus exotic varities have been created, from wasabi to melon. Then there are the quirky initiatives: the postable KitKat with a space on the wrapper for messages, the KitKat-cum-train ticket, the KitKat croissant…
KitKat is regarded as a premium confectionery brand in Japan – as reflected in its KitKat Chocolatory stores. Since the launch of the first of these branded boutiques in Tokyo in January last year, a further seven have opened across the country, attracting nearly one million customers, who have spent close to Y2 billion (£10.9 million-according to current exchange rate) on luxury KitKat confectionery masterminded by Chef Takagi.
How has a nation more famed for its appetite for sushi than sweet treats, not to mention its perfectionism in terms of quality and presentation, become one of the protagonists of the KitKat world? The story begins, it seems, with a stroke of luck that is the stuff of marketing dreams: KitKat sounds similar to the Japanese phrase kitto katsu: ‘you will surely win’.
The impact of its fortuitous name became clear around 14 years ago, when Nestlé noticed surging sales every January as customers bought KitKats as good-luck presents for students sitting university entrance exams. Tapping into this trend, Nestlé collaborated with Japan Post to launch the postable KitKat in 2009 – resulting in about half of the nation’s 600,000 annual exam-sitting students now receiving the chocolate for good luck every year. The customer-led initiative is one of a string of innovations that have meant the Japanese KitKat bears little resemblance to its UK counterpart, according to Ryoji Maki, marketing manager for confectionery at Nestlé Japan. ‘We had to differentiate the brand from the start when we realised that the global slogan, “Have a break, have a KitKat”, does not have the same meaning to the Japanese.’
A clue as to just how big the gap is between KitKat in Japan and the UK can be seen on a recent Thursday morning in the basement food hall of the department store Daimaru in Tokyo. A steady stream of people pause in front of the Kitkat Chocolatory concession, which is hard to miss with its red wall of KitKat motifs and sparkling red chandelier fashioned from KitKat moulds. ‘It’s busier at other times,’ says shop worker Mariko Suto, 28, in a cap and striped apron. ‘Queues can last 30 minutes at the weekend.’
Luxury KitKat creations by Chef Takagi take centre stage, among them the decadent single-finger Sublime range, which includes ingredients such as raspberry-infused 66 per cent dark chocolate (Y324). Orange Cocktail Noir, a heady mix of orange-scented chocolate and rum powder mixed into the wafer layers, sits alongside Sakura Green Tea, containing Uji tea leaves and powdered cherry-leaf extract (both Y432).
Kenichi Seimiya, a 47-year-old sales and marketing executive, sweeps in and chooses four Special boxes in minutes before presenting his gold credit card for the Y3,672 (£20) bill. As staff gift-wrap the chocolates, he says, ‘I’m going on a business trip next week to Malaysia and Thailandand I need to bring some gifts. KitKat is very famous and the flavours available here are popular outside Japan.’
Another customer, Noriko Inomata, 46, a chic television presenter, takes her time perusing. ‘I came here today because this morning my husband gave me a Sublime chocolate – and I was so surprised at how delicious it was. I had to come and have a look.’
Takagi rustles up such creations several miles across the city at Le Patissier Takagi in Aoyama, a neighbourhood famed for its fashion flagships and high-end eateries. Here, as well-heeled locals tuck into aromatic teas and carefully crafted cakes in the cafe, Takagi explains his unlikely union with Nestlé. ‘At first I refused, because I was approached by many different companies with offers and I wanted to keep my independence. But they were very convincing.’
Key to Takagi’s acceptance was the agreement that his creations would represent the most exclusive end of KitKat Japan. He set to work in his kitchen – which, as he later demonstrates, involves measuring samples (no colourings or artificial flavourings) into bowls of chocolate, before testing them on wafers.
In 2005 his first creation – a passion-fruit KitKat – was selected by Nestlé from 30 new flavours submitted by the chef, with dozens more following since, including plum, passion fruit and chilli, ginger and kinako soybean powder. ‘The challenge is how to make something handmade out of an industrial brand,’ he says. ‘The KitKat has three perimeters: the chocolate, the wafer and the cream. The chocolate and cream are where we can be most creative. For me, my goals are the same as in my work as a patissier. I want to surprise people, I want to make them happy and I want to somehow create an emotional reaction. I’m always looking for new textures and new flavours.’
When asked about the less successful flavours, he ponders briefly. ‘Watermelon is too light. And chestnuts, sweet potatoes and pumpkins are very difficult as their taste is too soft to mix with chocolate.’ His face brightening, he adds, ‘I’d like to do Kyoto pickles next.’
Despite KitKat Japan’s luxury innovations, its successes are not confined to the high-end. Hidden among the heaving shelves of the Shinjuku, Tokyo, outlet of Don Quijote, a 24-hour bargain- store chain, a basement corner appears to have been transformed into a KitKat shrine – with rows of special-offer treats, from rum and raisin flavour to sweet potato.
Yuuma Hirata, the floor manager, says, ‘Lots of Chinese tourists come here, also Koreans and Europeans, to pick up bags of KitKat. The most popular are the matcha green tea – it’s the balance between bitter green tea and chocolate, a good taste for foreigners.’
A short distance away in the calmer confines of Pronto coffee shop near Shibuya station, customers are enjoying KitKat croissants. Available in chocolate, sweet potato and green-tea varieties, the Y180 (£1) pastry, which contains a two-finger KitKat, was introduced in September. It has sold out daily since then according to Pronto, which has 300 cafes across Japan.
The croissant joins a string of KitKat innovations. A KitKat that doubles as a train ticket was launched last year with Sanriku Railway in northeastern Tohoku to support regional recovery following the 2011 tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster. Then there is the e-commerce store, with customers able to customise KitKat packets with photographs and messages for parties and weddings. KitKat Japan is showing no signs of slowing down: this month, it is launching a run of 500 luxurious KitKats covered in gold leaf.
Even the size of normal KitKats are different in Japan (there are six little fingers rather than four). It is the country’s unconventional relationship with chocolate that enables such innovations to flourish, according to Alex Villela, the French business executive manager for confectionery at Nestlé Japan. ‘Chocolate is a very recent concept in Japan,’ he explains, at the press launch of the eighth Chocolatory boutique in Tokyo’s Takashimaya department store.
‘Dutch sailors first brought it into Japan hundreds of years ago, but it really only caught on after World War Two, during the American occupation. The way of consuming chocolate in Japan is quite different from the UK. Because chocolate is very sweet compared to traditional Japanese confectionery, it’s normally only consumed in small amounts and it is still regarded as a treat.’
Sliced ham? Sliced cheese? Sorry, but sliced chocolate is about to make everything else you can put on bread seem like chopped liver in comparison.
Despite its alcoholic-sounding name, Japanese company Bourbon actually specializes in chocolate. Still, its latest product seems like the kind of so-crazy-it’s-brilliant idea born out of a flash of heavily inebriated inspiration.
Behold: sliced chocolate!
Each pack contains five two-millimeter (0.08-inch) thick slices of what Japan calls “nama chocolate,” a rich, creamy confectionary that’s not as sweet as fudge, but more intense in flavor than ordinary milk chocolate. The unique shape allows Bourbon’s inventive new treat to be used in a variety of ways.
Bourbon offers a variety of recipes on its website, including chocolate banana rolls…
and super simple crepes.
For extra visual appeal, you can grab a cookie cutter and stamp out accents to add to chocolate-layered crackers…
…or sliced fruit.
And if you want to serve your next group of houseguests something even fancier, the sliced nama chocolate’s flat form makes it easy to employ in preparing fruit truffles…
…or beautiful chocolate roses.
In addition to being sold in super markets, sliced nama chocolate is available through Bourbon’s online shop here. Online orders can only be placed for bulk bundles of a dozen five-slice packs (which cost 3,240 yen [US$27]), but somehow we imagine customers will have no trouble finding 60 occasions on which to enjoy this clever new take on chocolate.
Chocolatier BbyB just opened its first overseas shop in Tokyo, and tapped Japanese designer Nendo to design a space as unique as the Belgian-based confectioners treats themselves. The chocolates all look the same from the outside, but come in 30 distinct flavors including strawberry, pepper, lemon, passion fruit and basil. The sweets are housed in modular packaging resembling a drawer, designed to create an element of surprise with each bite.
Nendo kept this process at top of mind when concepting the shop’s space, creating a three-dimensional version of the packaging. At the center of the retail space is a floating, transparent “chest of drawers” that holds the confectionaries from which customers can choose their desired flavors. The front of the store is entirely white with the rear cafe being decked out in all-black, a color scheme that mirrors BbyB’s signature packaging cube.
Chocolate lovers around Japan were understandably thrilled when the Kit Kat Chocolatery, the world’s first Kit Kat specialty store, opened in the SeibuIkebukuro Department Store about a year ago. Of course, we were pretty excited too, and when we visited the shop on opening day, we could see from the crowd that plenty of people felt the same way.
After a year, it seems the Kit Kat Chocolatery has been a success so far, as they’ve just opened their fourth shop in Japan, this time in Kyoto. And what’s even better, this Kit Kat Chocolatery comes with a cafe attached! Plus, they’ve released some new Chocolatery products as well, so we thought we’d share the news with all our sweets-loving readers!
As we’ve previously reported, the Kit Kat Chocolatery features items produced by renowned pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi, and his special creations exclusively for the Chocolatery were certain to attract attention, particularly as Kit Kats have always been popular in Japan. But just how successful has the Kit Kat Chocolatery been since its launch a year ago?
Well, according to Nestle Japan’s recent press release, the two Chocolatery shops in Tokyo (the Seibu Ikebukuro and Daimaru Tokyo stores) and the third shop in Nagoya (the Matsuzakaya Nagoya store) so far have welcomed over 400,000 customers and generated roughly 900 million yen (approx. US$7.6 million) in sales. No wonder they decided to open a fourth shop! And the historic city of Kyoto, which attracts a huge number of tourists from both within Japan and abroad, certainly seems an excellent choice of location.
As a matter of fact, Kit Kat actually already has ties with Kyoto, as one of its products, the “Kit Kat Matcha Green Tea for Grown-ups (Kit Kat Otonano Amasa Matcha),” has been designated a “PR Partner” by the Prefecture of Kyoto for promoting the Uji Matcha green tea, which Kyoto is known for.
▼Here’s an image of what the new shop in Kyoto looks like. It just recently opened on January 28 on the B1 floor of the Daimaru Kyoto Department Store.
Now, as we’ve already mentioned, this is the first Chocolatery shop with an eat-in cafe, and their menu definitely sounds tempting. On offer at the cafe are: the “Kit Kat Sablé” and “Kit Kat Sablé Matcha Flavor” cookies, both baked with rich dough containing crushed Kit Kat crumbs (350 yen [US$2.96] a piece); the “Kit Kat Parfait” consisting of chocolate flavored soft serve ice cream made with chef Takagi’s original chocolate topped with Kit Kats (600 yen [$5.08]); the “Café Affogato (Affogato al Caffè) Chocolat” made with NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto® Espresso poured over chef Takagi’s original soft serve chocolate ice cream (300 yen [$2.54]); and the “Café Mélange,” a beverage consisting of NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto®’s Lungo regular blend coffee topped with whipped cream (350 yen [$2.96]). Goodness, just introducing the menu makes us seriously crave sweets and coffee! And if you just want something simpler, they also have regular NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto®’s line of Lungo coffee, Espresso, Cappuccino, Tea Latte and Uji Matcha Green Tea Latte available for approximately $2 to $3.
And now, let’s take a look at the new Chocolatery items that have just recently been released.
● The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Kyoto Assort” (1,350 yen [$11.43]/12 pieces)This package containing 3 pieces each of the “Strawberry Maple,” “Plum,” “Matcha Greent Tea and Kinako Soy Bean Powder” and “Ginger” flavors, comes in an original package decorated with an illustration of Kyoto’s famous five-story pagoda and is available only at the Kyoto Daimaru Store.
● The “Kit Kat x DISH Special Collaboration Kit Kat with CD” (Special Kyoto Package Version)” (600 yen [$5.08])These Kit Kats come with a CD of the tie-in song “Kit” featured in the short musical film “Your Story” which stars the four-man rock band DISH. The box has a blank space on the bottom where you can write a personalized message if you’re giving it to someone as a present. The package pictured above is a special edition box sold only at the Kyoto Daimaru store, but a regular version will be available at all Chocolatery shops from February 2.
● The “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Plum (Ume)” (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)The slightly sour flavor of plum makes a refreshing combination with the sweetness of chocolate in these KitKats. They’re currently available only at the Kyoto Daimaru store but will be sold at the rest of the Chocolatery shops too from February 2.
●The “Kit Kat Sublime White” (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)These Kit Kats made with quality white couverture chocolate are rich, yet not too sweet. They’re now available at all Chocolatery shops, but only 300 are sold each day, and each customer is limited to a purchase of three pieces.
And for your reference and enjoyment, here’s a recap of the other choco-licious items available at the Chocolatery shops:
▼The ever popular “Kit Kat Sublime Bitter” made with bitter couverture chocolate containing 66% cacao (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)
▼The ”Kit Kat Sublime Raspberry,” which also contains couverture chocolate with 66% cacao combined with the refreshing flavor of raspberry (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)
▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Ginger,” made using cream containing ginger powder (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)
▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Cream Cheese,” which contains powdered cheese in between the wafers (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)
▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Matcha Green Tea and Kinako Soy Bean Powder,” which uses quality Uji Matcha green tea (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)
▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Strawberry Maple“, made from white chocolate containing strawberries, with a touch of maple flavoring added (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)
▼The “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Special Orange Cocktail” with a refreshing orange flavor (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces, 1,200 yen [$10.19]/12 pieces, available only in Tokyo)
Well, the folks at Nestle Japan must have a ball thinking up special Kit Kat flavors to drive chocolate lovers mad with craving. Not that we’re complaining, as long as they continue coming up with delectable looking treats for us! We can never have too many choices of chocolates, after all, can we?
[Details for Kit Kat Chocolatery Daimaru Kyoto Shop] Business Hours: 10am to 8pm
(Closed when Daimaru Kyoto is closed) Address: 79 Shijo Street Takakura Nishiiri Tachiurinishimachi, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi Daimaru Kyoto Department Store B1 Floor Access: 1 min from Hankyu Kyoto Line Karasuma Station 2 min walk from Karasuma Subway Line Shijo Station
Recently named “M&O’s Designer of the Year,” Japanese firm Nendo has created nine pieces of chocolate art to furnish a lounge it designed for the furniture and design showMaison&Objet. The creations look more like miniature sculptures than confectionaries, with each one measuring the same dimensions at 26 x 26 x 26mm. Each one takes on a different shape with distinctive textures, such as hollow centered cubes, pointed tips, smooth and rough surfaces, each corresponding to a Japanese expression — for example, “zara-zara” has a rough, file-like surface whereas “poki-poki” is an Escher-esque box frame.
The composition of ingredients for all nine designs, meanwhile, remain identical. The chocolates are being produced in a limited quantity of 400 hundred sets and will be available to guests at the Nendo lounge at Maison&Objet from January 23 to 27.
Remember the Kit Kat Chocolaterie, the world’s first Kit Kat specialty store that opened in the IkebukuroSeibu Department Store back in January this year? The shop sells limited edition Kit Kats produced by celebrity patissier Yasumasa Takagi, so it’s not surprising that huge crowds of Kit Kat fans have been making their pilgrimage to the store in search of unique Kit Kat products.
Since then, the Kit Kat bandwagon has apparently been going strong, as two more Chocolaterie shops have opened in Japan, one in the Daimaru Department Store at Tokyo Station and another at the Matsuya Department Store in Nagoya. And now, they’ve announced that they’ll be coming out with a special “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Patissier Gift” set for Christmas, and we can’t wait to see what goodies it contains. Plus, there’s even a Kit Kat inspired Christmas cake created by chef Takagi that they’re now taking orders for — who knew that Christmas could be so much fun for Kit Kat lovers?
The gift set, which contains special Kit Kat Chocolaterie products and chef Takagi’s original baked confections, is a dream collaboration for any sweets fan.
For 4,500 yen (US$37.92), the set contains one piece each of the “Kit Kat Sublime Bitter” and “Kit Kat Sublime Raspberry“, a box of the “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Special Strawberry Maple” and also the “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Special Ginger“, plus five madeleines and four cookies from chef Takagi. A delightful added touch is that the madeleines have a whole Kit Kat baked into them, giving them a crunchy texture, and the cookies also contain crunched Kit Kat bits — they definitely aren’t your ordinary baked treats!
You can now also pre-order this delectable looking “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Noel” cake covered in shiny chocolate, available for 5,000 yen ($42.13).
The cake too is the work of chef Takagi and was created as an homage to the well-loved Kit Kat snack. The cake, made from layers of caramel butter cream, crispy fiantine cookie and biscuit, is designed to recreate the look and texture of Kit Kats without actually using the snack as an ingredient. Now, that certainly makes for a unique Christmas cake!
Chef Takagi commented that he wanted to include items in the gift package that would offer a sense of genuine surprise, which is why he came up with the idea of baking an entire Kit Kat into the madeleines, and as for the cake, he made an effort to create his own rendition of a Kit Kat using original ingredients, resulting in what he hopes is a delightfully surprising and fulling cake.
The “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Patissier Gift” will be available at all three Kit Kat Chocolaterie stores for just one week from December 19 to 25, but they’ll be selling only 20 sets each day, so they may very well sell out. You can also place orders now for the “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Noel” cake at the Ikebukuro Seibu store and the Tokyo Daimaru Store until December 20 for pick-up on December 24, but these are also limited to a total of 75 cakes, so anyone intending to order one may want to hurry.
So, if you’re celebrating the Holiday Season this year in Japan with someone with a fondness for Kit Kats, these could be the perfect treat. Here’s to a chocolatey, crunchy Christmas!