Kyoto is a truly magical place. I could spend days, maybe even a lifetime, walking through the streets and taking it all in. There are so many little shops where the owner is one of generations of family members making the same thing, in pretty much the same way for many years, and doing it perfectly. We bought chopsticks from a chop stick store, tried milk skins from a man who just lifts the solid skin that forms on the top of hot milk all day, every day. We ventured back and forth through Nishiki market admiring hundreds of different sorts of pickles, every vegetable and every colour imaginable. Don’t even get me started about the basement food flour at Daimaru….
At some point you need to peel yourself away from the downtown area and take a bus out to some of the different temples around Kyoto. We spend a beautiful rainy day in Arashiyama. Because of the rain, most of the rest of the tourists didn’t follow us so we were able to enjoy this peaceful bamboo forest basically alone. We passed through the Okochi Sanso Villa gardens and ate tofu and soba nearby.
Our time in Kyoto was more focused on tea than on hot chocolate. By this point we had become tea and sake drinkers and I was keen to learn everything I could about those two drinks (and then later and home played around with how to add them to my hot chocolate). We stopped at Ippodo, a famous tea house in Kyoto where you can not only buy teas but you can taste them too. When you order a tea the hostess will walk you through how to best prepare and drink your tea, which is a nice touch. We ventured into a few other tea houses where no one spoke English. After a lot of smiling, nodding and pointing, we were always presented with beautiful teas and plates full of sweets we had never seen or tasted before. It was heaven.
But while all I wanted to do was drink Hojicha tea and eat wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), the locals were all lined up to have a hot chocolate at Mariebelle. Located right at the intersection between the Kamo river and little side river that winds its way into Gion, its light blue window shutters and large clock face welcome you. Mariebelle is originally from the US and I have been to Mariebelle several times in New York City. We managed to find a time when the line was very short (everyone here seems to think about hot chocolates at the same time of the day so the line was either incredibly long or non existent). There are several choices including spicy, dark and milk but also the thicker European version or a slightly more diluted American version. The hot chocolate, depending on what you order, is a mix of either single origin chocolate or cocoa powder and is served in a tiny paper cup that costs too much (about 800 yen almost 8USD). We discovered later that there was a seating area above the shop but never quite figured out how people got up there. Stop for a photo op next to the large wings painted on the side of the building before making your way into Gion in search of geisha’s.
Verdict: Too expensive for what it is but what a location! There are several beautiful chocolate shops in Kyoto and more opening everyday that you should visit but unfortunately many of them don’t serve hot chocolate (including Cacao 365 and Dari K). Cacao Market Maribelle, 165-2 Tokiwacho (Yamatoojidori), Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi