Monday, June 22, 2015
When I was in New York City earlier this year, I wanted to take advantage of the chocolate. I saw online that the Japanese chocolate company, Royce’, has several locations in Manhattan and offers tastings of the chocolate and Nama, truffle-like product. I don’t know that much about Royce’, but my experience with Japanese chocolate up until then was with mass-produced brands like Meiji, so I wanted to see what a single origin upscale brand might be like.
I stopped by a location on Madison Avenue, and was greeted promptly and offered some tastings. It’s a standard panel of tastings that focused on the Nama but also a few pieces of their plain chocolate disks. The chocolate was exceptionally smooth, flavorful but not intense. Since I was traveling and the fellow insisted that the truffles must be refrigerated, I bought a box of the Royce’ Pure Chocolate Venezuela Bitter & Ghana Sweet. This box contains two rows of rippled chocolate disks, one of 68% and one of 60% of two separate origins.
I wasn’t thrilled when I read the ingredients, finally after I left the store. I didn’t realize that a dark chocolate product would have milk in it, as if it were some Ghirardelli or Dove product. But it was really the artificial flavor that I thought was odd ... I can only assume them mean vanillin, in addition to real vanilla.
The little disks are individually sealed in cellophane. They’re a little over 1.5 inches across. It’s a nice, two bite piece.
The Ghana is quite sweet, very smooth and with a typical chocolate flavor profile. It’s brownies and chocolate milk and cocoa. There’s a little acidic note to it, but for the most part it’s woodsy and smoky and toasted. The melt is good, very smooth with an odd grit every once in a while.
The Venezuela has an immediate green note to the scent, a little like olives or boiled peanuts. The melt, again, exceptionally smooth. This is a bit more buttery though. The flavor is more acidic, less sweet with some stronger tannins. There are some red berry notes, more olives, black tea and tobacco.
I absolutely preferred the Venezuelan over the Ghana.
The box was price at $17 for only 7 ounces. The packaging is pretty spare looking, though the reality is there’s a lot of it. The paperboard box is wrapped in brown paper, but inside the box is a plastic tray for each of the chocolate disk rows. Then there was the individual wrappers. It all traveled well, and stores nicely. It’s been months and they’re still fresh and shiny, though there are only about 5 left.
Royce’ also makes chocolate covered potato chips, chocolate covered nuts, and chocolate bars with inclusions.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Bourbon, a Japanese snack company, has been making Everyburger for at least 11 years (previews review). They’re an ingenious little snack ... a sesame cracker that looks like a bun filled with a chocolate cream (to look like the burger patty) and a vanilla cream (to look like the cheese). The cookie part is quite savory with a strong sesame flavor and the cream filling is sweet.
The Everyburger is similar to Pocky, a combination of a less-sweet cookie or more European-style digestive combined with a creamy coating.
I bought my package of Everyburger Black Cocoa & Vanilla in Little Tokyo at Nijiya Market, which has a good selection of Japanese candies (if you’re in Los Angeles). The package was, however, priced at $2.99 for only 64 grams. Kind of steep for what are sandwich cookies. Bourbon has introduced a “bitter” version before (photo evidence)
The box is quite enticing, it’s very dark brown with a friendly Everyburger logo on the front and enough images that non-Japanese readers can figure out what’s inside.
Part of what prompted me to buy this, aside from my love of Japanese candy, was the internet tizzy generated earlier this fall when Burger King released their Black Burger in Japan. This burger, if you don’t want to look at the photos in that link has a black bun and black cheese.
One thing I noticed I have not been saying is “I wish Oreos were more like burgers.” If I was saying that, I would think that Everyburger is the answer to that request.
The black cocoa flavors, which are very similar to the Oreo cookie, are wonderful. It’s crisp, it has some bitterness and a rich sort of brownie flavor. The center is another story. The texture of the creams is fantastic, it’s like a white chocolate truffle ... but then there was a plastic outgassing note. I thought maybe it was me, but I saw other comments on the internet that mentioned the same thing with all the Everyburger varieties. If I ate them quickly, one after the other, it wasn’t noticeable. But with only eight of them in the package, that can’t go on very long. The other differentiating factor are the little “sesame seeds” on top, which do taste like sesame and add a smoky, nutty note.
They’re cute ... but I’ll probably just stick with Oreos.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Though Mentos are a little less boring in the United States than they used to be, some of the most interesting flavors come from overseas.
I ordered a package of Mentos Tropical Rainbow from Japan (through Napa Japan, my new alternative to JBox.com).
The flavor array is interesting, you get just two of each flavor, they’re all lined up with the flavors listed on the package. Of note:
Passion Fruit - it’s a little bit on the metallic side. It’s quite tangy and has a sort of black currant note mixed with pineapple, but still a bit of authentic passion fruit flavor.
Mango - less peachy than some others I’ve had, but still not convincing. It lacks that pine flavor that many mangos have, it’s more like a very sweet peach crossed with pineapple.
Kiwi - a cross between green apple and strawberry. Kiwi is usually more about the texture than the flavor anyway, so a fruity candy that’s supposed to be a kiwi is at a disadvantage.
Other flavors included were also:
Strawberry - fresh and sweet, but less tangy than a Skittle.
Green Apple - tart without too much of the artificial note in the American green apple candies.
Grape - wonderfully round, tastes like a concord grape.
Pineapple - an incredible mix of tart and floral.
I can’t see myself ordering these again, but I do like some variety in my package from time to time ... still, I think the classic Rainbow Mentos suit my flavor preferences better.
Mentos Lemon Cola (also from Japan) are just a little more tangy than the Fresh Cola Mentos that are already widely available. I like the hint of zest and more intense flavor. It would be nice to see these in a mix, perhaps Cola and Cherry, Cola and Lemon and Cola and Lime all in one cola rainbow package.
Mentos Mintensity are available in Europe and are kind of like a Mint Rainbow, except that there aren’t just 2 of each flavor. Instead it’s like a sliding scale of intensity. None of the flavors are new, I’ve had them all in other packaging forms in the past. There are 2 Air Action, 2 Strong Mint, 4 Spearmint, 6 Mint chewy candies.
Overall, the Air Action delivers a potent mix of menthol and mint. It’s not so different though, from the Strong Mint, which is also sold as Xtreme Mint in Southeast Asia. Strong is, well, a chewy Altoid. It’s refreshing but doesn’t exactly burn. The Spearmint were very good, and just the right amount. The Mint are, well, the standard Freshmaker. If you start with them, it’s a nice progression, if you end with them, they taste kind of like sugar.
If you dump the package out, it’s hard to tell the pieces apart, they’re all white, grey or slightly tinted blue or green, but in low light situations, you’re not going to be able to tell.
My final item is that Spearmint Mentos are now available widely in the United States. The flavor has been popular in other parts of the world for years, including Australia and Europe, but not here. So it was great to see them at 7-11 recently. I’ve picked them up on Europe before, and tried the Xtreme Spearmint version before as well.
It reminds me of toothpaste but also has a good, fresh green tea note to it. They’re light green, so they do have some coloring to them, unlike peppermint Mentos. I’d definitely pick these up regularly.
As much as I like Mentos, their freshness varies. Unlike most candies sold today, they’re not sealed in plastic, but instead just wrapped up in foil. So, I do get about a third of my packages where the candies are quite hard, often brittle instead of chewy. They’re still edible, but not quite as good as the fresh and chewy ones.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Morinaga’s has created a morsel version of their popular HiCHEW candies. They’re called HiCHEW Mini and feature four flavors to the cute little 1.4 ounce box.
There are four flavors: pineapple, green apple, grape and strawberry. The box is a great design, it’s overwrapped with cellophane to keep the contents fresh, once opened there’s a little perforated tab that opens a dispenser to get one candy at a time. The pieces are chunky, a little larger than Skittles, and kind of drum shaped.
The green apple is like most of the apple candies from Japan. It’s more about the flavor of apple juice than the artificial thing typified by Jolly Ranchers in the United States. These are sweet and tangy, the chew lasts a long time and doesn’t descend into a grainy mess.
The pineapple is the star, partly because there are no regularly found pineapple Skittles. It’s immediately floral and tangy with that deep honey note. It’s quite intense.
The candy shell, though, is lacking something. There’s no crunch, there’s no boost of texture from the shell. Instead the shell becomes tacky and kind of waxy, like it’s just shellac (though it is a little tangy and does seem to have the same flavor as the chew).
The grape is lovely and reminiscent of concord grapes. It has those skin flavors of a concord grape and the green fruity note of the juice.
The strawberry was the least impressive of the set. It’s not floral or jammy, just kind of tangy but lacking any different levels.
I wanted to love these. I wanted them to be everything that Skittles aren’t: naturally flavored, more intense chew with great packaging. Instead they’re expensive and leave a weird waxy residue in my molars. I still might buy them again if I see them in another flavor assortment. I like the assortment notion, as most HiCHEW are single flavor packages (unless you get the bagged candies) and the fact that there’s less packaging overall.
Note: I ordered these from JBox.com (or JList.com, as they’re also known) and found the experience to be unsatisfactory in enough different ways (payment is taken immediately even if the items aren’t shipped for a month, lack of communication via email and their twitter account, slow & conflicting information and unilateral cancellation of one of the items I’d ordered) that I do not plan on shopping with them again.
Friday, April 26, 2013
One of my favorite items I picked up for Candy Blog review early on were some chocolate sticks from Japan. I thought their packaging was so clever and chic, I’ve been hoping to find them again. (Mostly I find they package their chocolate in little squares like the US.)
I was excited to see Meiji Dark Rum Milk Chocolate on eBay, so when my friends Robin & Amy were going to Japan, I put it on my wishlist. I got two boxes, which is good, because I ate the whole first box before even doing this review.
The box has a curious design, featuring a cut crystal goblet with rum as the main element below a medallion with the name of the candy. I’m not that familiar with how to serve rum straight, as I usually mix it, but in a goblet or even a more petite appertif size would still not be the way I’d go. (I’d probably serve it in a snifter or a lowball.)
Inside the box, each stick of chocolate is in a little individual wrapper. The box is not really full, they’re loosely packed in there and the whole thing weighs barely more than an ounce, so there’s no way to overindulge here.
Most of the package is in Japanese, so I can’t say for sure what the weight actually is but the figure 2.2% is mentioned on the front, I’m guessing that’s the alcohol content ... and there is real alcohol in here.
The sticks are three inches long and an ideal size (about 3.3 grams) for a very light treat.
One of my favorite candy bars is the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss, which also has real rum in it. This is a bit more pure, as it doesn’t have any fussy nuts or dried fruit in it. The sticks have a soft bite to them, this is not a dense or intense chocolate, though the rum notes are quite apparent when I opened it.
The chocolate has a quick and oily melt, a smooth and slick texture and a strange warm and cold sensation all at once. The oils in the chocolate (I suspect there are some other tropical oils in there) give it a cooling effect on the tongue, but the rum has a sort of warming effect on my throat. The chocolate isn’t very strong, it’s not terribly sweet and has a well rounded woodsy and milky profile.
I like my rum dark, I go for blackstrap because it has more of the smoky and toffee flavors. The rum here was more medicinal, more light, not quite smooth.
It’s not a candy for everyone, I find them pretty indulgent and a little weird, but I also enjoy rum balls.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Monday, September 17, 2012
A few months back I went on a little buying spree on eBay for some Japanese candies I was having trouble finding here in the United States. I paid far more than I usually would for mass-produced candies, but I also haven’t bought much candy on eBay and wanted to see what that experience was like so I could share it.
I did a “buy it now” purchase from the storefront of jappy11. The prices were steep, about $2.00 to $2.50 per item and then there was the international shipping, which averaged out to about $1.10 additional per item. These were the small HiCHEW packages, something that I usually spend about $1.25 for here. The key to value for me is to find a seller with a large enough selection that buying multiple items that I simply can’t find anywhere else makes sense. Invoicing, payment and shipping was quick and easy. The items arrived quite quickly (but I’m on the West Coast).
Grape was always my favorite soda flavor as a kid. I love to drink Shasta Grape from a matching purple anodized aluminum tumbler at my grandmother’s house. There’s nothing quite like fake grape soda.The HiChew Fanta Grape is achingly close. The tangy start has some actual authentic notes of concord grape at first. In addition to the layered look of the pieces (a light colored center and a creamy lavender colored outer layer, there are little crunchy bits that emulate the pop of effervescence.
The chew is smooth and lasts a long time, without losing its flavor at the end. I enjoyed these so much that I was sure to pick up another package when I finally found them at a local Japanese grocery store.
Orange soda was probably my second favorite as a kid. The HiCHEW Fanta Orange is less distinct than the grape, but still fun and refreshing. The citrusy taste is a mix of Tang drink mix and orange SweeTarts. It has a little bit of zest in it, but it’s mostly a juicy flavor, also with the little crunchy pops of candy inside.
Even though it’s not a Fanta flavor, I’ve been aching to try the HiCHEW Cola flavor for a long time and could never find it in the States.
These pieces look more mundane, a dull brown that could well be a caramel. The flavor is deep and well defined. What I like about Japanese cola candies it that they’re more intense and concentrated than actual cola soda. This version is actually quite caramelly, with some good lemon/citrus note and a hint of cinnamon. I would definitely buy these more often if they were part of the American release of HiCHEW flavors. (They aren’t they?)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.