I have a hot chocolate bucket list and I plan trips around this bucket list. My family is ok with that…in fact they are pretty happy about this obsession of mine. There are a handful of spots in Japan on that list and I have slowly been making my way through them. The next on my list was Green Bean to Bar.
So, on this latest trip to Japan (which we took just before COVID) we actually chose our accommodation to be close to Green Bean to Bar. It’s not as crazy as it sounds actually because the neighbourhood, called Naka Meguro, is filled with things to do and is very central. There are some amazing ramen joints, beautiful bookstores, traditional sweets and a fantastic buzz of activity at all hours of the day really. The Meguro river has stunning displays of cherry blossoms every spring and Green Bean to Bar is right on the riverside.
My husband said I looked like a kid in a candy shop when we walked into Green Bean to Bar. To the left there are tables set out with displays of all of their bars, made right here in the shop with beans sourced from around the world. Each has its own flavour profiles. The candy in this candy shop isn’t just the chocolate, it is the information because they give consumers lots of bits and pieces about each of their bars. There is a long and fascinating story behind every chocolate bar you buy (both here and any bar you buy in any store). Some of the stories are better than others.
Take their Chuao 70% bar for example. This famous cacao comes from Venezuela, from the state of Aragua just northwest of Caracas. It is a small isolated valley between the mountains and the Caribbean waters. There are no roads to get in. Instead, one must take a 25-minute boat from the town of Choroni to the beaches of Cuao. The “Cacao Route” then crosses peaks surrounding the Mt. Turico National Park. The valley has an incredible amount of genetic variation, maybe 25 different varieties. This bean is a blend of Trinitario/Criollo with up to 32% Criollo. It has a rich chocolate taste with burst of tangerine and even some prune (naturally found in the cacao, not added in). Chuao cacao has been famous for over 450 years, since the Spanish colonial settlers arrived in the 17th century. Today, cacao workers here are mostly women and farms are owned by the community and managed by a cooperative with all income from the sale of the beans returning to members of the cooperative. The women sing a “cocoa song” while working, perhaps one of the reason this cacao is so good. Don’t judge a chocolate bar by its cover. They often look the same on the outside, but the inside is a whole different story. And that is why a beautifully made and ethically and directly sourced chocolate bar is nothing like a flashy cheap chocolate bar you buy at the store often made using bad quality cacao covered up with sugar and vanilla to taste the way one thinks a chocolate bar should taste. A good chocolate bar will bring out the tastes in the cacao, very much like coffee or wine taste different in different parts of the world. The talent is in bringing out and showcasing those flavours. Wrap it in stunning hand made Japanese paper and I’ll buy it any day.
So, after bouncing around the store like an excited child, looking everything over twice, we ordered a lot of things to enjoy in their café. We had hot chocolates, chocolate cakes, bonbons. It was almost a “one of each please” type of moment. Even my 5 year old reminded me that we should control ourselves. I was younger than him that day and enjoyed every minute of it.
From your seat in the café, you can watch them making their chocolate from bean to bar. They have a room behind the counter with glass windows. You can even set up right next to the window and watch the process unfolding. If you choose you need more hot chocolate when you get home, they sell cute little jars of their chocolate with cocoa powder, white chocolate, milk chocolate, organic sugar and a touch of cornstarch to thicken it up. They also have another version with star anise and another spicy version.
I enjoyed every minute of my time here but I would have loved a hot chocolate option using one of their single origins, maybe with water.
Verdict: Stay a while. Between Green Bean to Bar and the neighbourhood of Naka Meguro, you’ll have plenty to do. Green Bean to Bar, several locations but my favourite was the Nakameguro store, 2-16-11 Aobodai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo.