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.’
You’re probably already aware that a large amount of independently-run donut shops in California are Cambodian-owned. What you may not know is that the donut shop industry is an integral part of the Cambodian immigration story.
In honor of National Donut Day, we decided to look into the history of hardworking, Cambodian donut shop owners:
1) Finding a donut in Cambodia is harder than you think.
There may be donuts if you look hard, but if you thought you’d find streets lined with donut shops in Cambodia, you’re in for a let-down. While donuts are a large part of the Cambodian American culture, many can tell you that this is purely an American tradition. Allegedly, there is only one donut shop in all of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
2) It all began with a man named Ted Ngoy.
Before donut shops were associated with the Cambodian American culture, there was Ted Ngoy paving the way. He arrived in the U.S. in 1975 and two years later, he began his own donut shop. Clearly, his legacy continued.
3) “The American Dream”
“Ngoy is the one who found a way for Cambodian immigrants to become part of the American dream of owning their own business,” said Dennis Wong of the Asian Business Association. “Taking a loan from an Asian loaning society, Ngoy was able to buy two stores, operate them for awhile and then sell to someone in the community or a family member who wanted to buy them. That’s how they got into it.”
4) Running a donut shop is hard work.
You’ll often hear about these donut shops having only a few workers in order to save money. In fact, many of the workers are family members who must find time within their day to help the family business. As a result, many owners will work long and tiring hours to make sure their shop is functional. Additionally, many donut shop owners have voiced that the long hours have made it difficult to assimilate into a new society.
5) They have thrived.
An estimated 80% of donut shops in the Los Angeles area are owned by Cambodian Americans. In Houston, Texas, the percentage is an even larger 90%.
Japan sure knows how to elevate its food to an unparalleled level of art, and today we’d like to introduce you to the works of another master Japanese craftsman of sweets. His life’s passion is creating exquisitely detailed animal-shaped candy, which are so astoundingly intricate that it probably won’t be long before a museum asks to put them on display!
Shinri Tezuka is the artist behind these incredible edible creations. Born in 1989 in Chiba Prefecture, Tezuka states that he loved to sculpt anything he could get his hands on from a very young age. That childhood passion translated into a full-time career for him, and he now spends his days traveling across Japan to participate in all sorts of events and parties, and also offers hands-on workshops to teach people of all ages about his craft. As a result of these expeditions, he’s been featured on numerous Japanese television shows to date. And get this–despite being only 25, he’s already taken on three apprentices who are eager to carry on his tradition!
▼ Shinri Tezuka, the man behind the craft
Since 2013, Tezuka has also overseen his own shop called Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin (amezaikurefers to the art of making candy into human and animal-shaped forms). The shop is fittingly located in Tokyo’s traditional Asakusa district, only a short walk away from the popular tourist destination of Senso-ji Temple.
▼ Exterior and interior views of the shop
While browsing through some of his breathtaking creations, it’s easy to forget that they are indeed candy and are meant to be eaten. In fact, some people find the distinction between the art and food so fine that one of the questions in the Q&A section of Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin’s official site asks, “Can I really eat this candy?”
The answer is a resounding “yes,” by the way. In addition, Tezuka uses only naturally occurring dyes to color his creations, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re not eating any artificial pigments.
Let’s take a look at some of his animal-shaped candy creations now:
▼ The caption says that these goldfish are the two most popular designs among shop customers.
▼ These gorgeous cranes were crafted using real gold leaf on their wings.
▼ Here are some candy creations crafted in Tezuka’s Asakusa studio…
▼ …and here are some he created at various public demonstrations.
Tezuka does take orders for customized candy creations at his shop, but he is unable to accept requests for popular characters due to copyright laws. Guess we’ll just have to wait and hope for a deal to come through with Nintendo so that we can see Tezuka’s version of Pikachu in candy form!
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.
Kit Kats in Japan are well-known for their creative designs and flavors, includinglimited releases for annual events and holidays such as Christmas, Halloween and even the cherry blossom viewing season.
Until now, there was one special holiday that always went unnoticed: Easter. This year, Nestle Japan are releasing their first ever Easter range, with a clever play on words that ties the religious festival to the month of April, the start of the Japanese school and business year.
According to Nestle, Easter is an ii sutaato, which means “good start” in Japanese. And with these gorgeous apple pie and carrot flavored chocolates on the market, it looks like it’s going to be a very good start indeed.
On sale from March 16 for 540 yen (US$4.45), the mini Kit Kats come in a pack of 12 and feature cute bunny packaging.
For the first time in the company’s 42-year history in Japan, bunnies will appear on the chocolates. There will be 13 different designs in total, although it’s not guaranteed that all of them will be in one pack, which means we may have to indulge in a spot of bunny hunting to collect them all…
To top it all off, one in every 30 chocolates will feature this special Lucky Easter design. Unfortunately the only prize for finding this is the actual chocolate itself. When it’s this cute though, we’re not complaining!
We can’t wait to get our hands on these limited edition Kit Kats when they’re released today in Japan. Here’s hoping they give us an ii start to spring!
Some of our readers are undoubtedly aware that we here at RocketNews24 are quite fond of Kit Kats. And while we’re used to seeing the popular chocolate snack in an array of interesting flavors, we have to say we were genuinely intrigued when we heard about “bakeable” Kit Kats last year, as were many other Kit Kat fans across Japan, judging from the fact that the unique sweet attracted enough attention to be turned into pizzas. Now, the bakeable Kit Kats have returned, and in a new flavor to boot! Of course, we weren’t about to be kept away from such sweetness. Join us as we try the new “Bake ‘N Tasty Mini Kit Kats Cheesecake Flavor” (Kit Kat Mini Yaite Oishi Cheesecake Aji)!
When we heard that a new version of the bakeable Kit Kats had come out this week, we naturally rushed to the local supermarket in search of the snack.
▼ Sure enough, we found the new Kit Kats being sold for 256 yen (US$2.15) for a bag containing 13 mini pieces.
▼ Last year’s bakeable Kit Kats were in a custard pudding flavor, and this time, as it says on the package, it’s cheesecake! The illustration of the toaster oven also makes it clear that these Kit Kats are meant to be baked.
▼ Toasting the Kit Kats should turn them golden brown like this:
▼ On the back of the package, there were instructions on how to bake the Kit Kats.
▼ You place the Kit Kats on the toaster tray after covering it with aluminum foil …
▼ … and turn the toaster on to heat for two to two and a half minutes. Once the surface starts to turn brown, the Kit Kats apparently can get burned quite quickly, so you’ll need to be careful not to heat it for too long.
▼ We opened the bag …
▼ … and the mini Kit Kats came individually wrapped in cute green and white checkered packages.
▼ The Kit Kat looks like just regular white chocolate before it’s toasted.
▼ We turned on the heat and waited …
▼ … and they were done in just minutes!
▼ Beautiful! Now we were ready to taste them.
So, now that the Kit Kats were toasted, how did they taste? They had a delightful texture, crispy and light, and although we maybe could taste the chocolate more than the cream cheese, the flavor was definitely enjoyable. And the sweet smell of warm toasted chocolate and cheese was indeed wonderful enough to make our mouth water even before tasting the actual treat.
Nestle Japan had actually previously sold a baked type cream cheese Kit Kat from the Kit Kat Chocolatory shop, which we tasted last year along with the pudding flavored bakeable Kit Kats. Having tried both, we thought that last year’s Chocolatory cream cheese Kit Kats had more of a cheese flavor, while these new cheesecake flavor bakeable Kit Kats seemed to be sweeter, and perhaps closer to how you might expect a typical “chocolate” snack to taste.
That doesn’t change the fact that we think the new Kit Kats still make a highly tasty treat. Plus, their small size makes them very convenient to eat as a quick snack. There’s apparently also a smaller package containing just three of the mini Kit Kats available exclusively at convenience stores, so if you’re in Japan this spring, you may very well come across this newest offering from Nestle Japan, in which case we wish you sweet and happy toasting!