I went to Japan for spiritual renewal. I came back home with the best-ever stash of Kit-Kats.
Let me explain: Last spring I embarked on a soul-searching, 11-day sojourn with REI Adventures. Most of the trip was spent hiking, tracing the routes ancient emperors took for spiritual renewal and then soaking in onsens — hot springs — at night. It was the exact reset I needed in my hectic life, to go from zero to zen. The highlight reel included plenty of life lessons and a deep appreciation for the culture, as well as the country’s beauty (my trip synced up with the cherry blossom bloom).
But, also … OMG THE KIT-KATS!
During one of the hikes, our knowledgable guide Fumiko Koike — who also happened to have the best snacks, too — pulled out a stash of green matcha Kit-Kats and dispersed them to the group. Cue the “Give me a Break” Kit Kat jingle, Japanese edition. Koike nonchalantly mentioned Japan has all types of flavored Kit Kats.
Our group’s interest was piqued: What other cool Kit Kat flavors could be discovered in Japan and that we were being deprived of in the United States?
The answer? Around 350, though new flavors are constantly being invented and replacing prior ones. For example, since I’ve been back home, Japan has come out with volcanic KitKats, made with a rare cacao that grows on volcanic islands. Much like winemakers, the chocolate makers are considering terroir in the process. But other flavors include sweet potato, wasabi, grape, sake, strawberry, apple, lemon, sakura (cherry blossom) and more.
Here’s what else you need to know about Japan’s innovative Kit-Kat stash, including what it’s like to go inside one of Tokyo’s famed Kit Kat stores.
Why Are There So Many Kit Kat Variations In Japan?
We had a couple of big city days in Tokyo at the end of our REI hiking trip, which had mostly taken us through quaint mountain towns. Our group was split on whether we should spend any of our tourist time seeking out these storied Kit Kats. Was this akin to tourists coming to America and wanting to go to Target to find all of the different flavors of Oreos?
Maybe, but for the record, I was lobbying for the Kit Kat discovery team the entire time. One hiker in our group told his wife, a U.S. chocolatier, about the Kit Kat split and she swayed his vote, exclaiming that it was a must-do because we’d be treated to the elusive Ruby Pink Kit Kats, made with ruby beans, which are a big deal in the chocolate world.
So, our guide wrote a note for us in Japanese that we could hand to our cab driver. It read: “Take me to the Kit Kat store, please.”
While I love chocolate and was excited to bring home some unique souvenirs, I was also on a fact-finding mission. Why so many Kit Kats in Japan?
Every year, Japan comes out with 20 to 50 new flavors. Many are limited-edition. But in Japan, there’s an appetite for new products, I was told, and tourists also want to know where to find these special Kit Kats.
New Kit Kat flavors are developed in a Japanese product testing kitchen, through partnerships with other food brands, and also dreamed up by a classically trained pastry chef that Nestle brought on in 2003 after the strawberry Kit Kat had become so popular.
The inventive Kit Kats can be found in convenience stores as well as a store within Narita International Airport in Tokyo.
But the Kit Kat paradise that I was headed to was a special chocolatory (think Kit Kat boutique) in Ginza, a high-end shopping district in Tokyo. There are eight of these specialty shops. I set out to discover the gourmet world of Kit Kats.
The Kit Kat Chocolatory in Ginza
I knew I had arrived when I saw paneling on the outside of the Kit Kat Chocolatory and Cafe that resembled the chocolate wafer bars. Inside, the chocolatory felt almost like a high-end boutique, with individually packaged Kit Kats wrapped and packaged in boxes and arranged in drawers.
From here, I bought several of the ruby Kit Kats for $4 a piece to bring back home as souvenirs along with the sake I had been stockpiling. The ruby chocolate bars were a beautiful shade of pink and tasted like a berry-flavored Kit Kat. (I broke into the souvenir stash!)
Also standing out in the chocolatory was an Instagram-ready Kit Kat display that looked like a seven-tiered cake.
Upstairs was the Kit Kat café, where chocolate lovers could order Kit Kat ice cream sundaes and gourmet Kit Kat dishes gussied up with jams, nuts and even served with liquid nitrogen.
From the airport and a convenience store, I also gathered up some sake Kit Kats that were white chocolate and had a subtle sake flavor. The sakura Kit Kats had a nice cherry flavor like chocolate-covered cherries with a crunch. The banana ones tasted a tad too artificial for me, almost like you were chewing banana taffy and a chocolate bar simultaneously. Do I sound like a Kit Kat connoisseur, yet?
Where To Find Japanese Kit Kat Flavors
If you’re craving some various flavors of Kit Kats, and you’re not headed to Japan anytime soon, you can still get your hands on some.
You could try your luck at the online chocolatory, but the products are oftentimes sold out.
On Amazon, I spotted some Kit Kat variety packs with everything from rum raisin to pancake to wasabi Kit Kats.
Expect to pay around $1 per small, sample-sized Kit Kats and more for the ones made with premium chocolates, like the ruby chocolate bars.
Have you tried any of Japan’s wildly inventive Kit Kats? If so, which are your favorites?
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