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I went to Japan for spiritual renewal. I came back home with the most amazing 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 consisted of hiking, tracing the routes that ancient emperors took for spiritual renewal and then soaking in onsens — hot springs — at night.
It provided 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 — pulled out a stash of green matcha Kit Kats and dispersed them to the group. Cue the “Gimme a Break” Kit Kat jingle, Japanese edition. Koike nonchalantly mentioned that Japan has all types of flavored Kit Kats.
Our group’s interest was piqued: What other cool Kit Kat flavors would we discover in Japan that aren’t available in the United States?
The answer? Around 350, although new flavors are constantly being invented and replacing prior ones. For example, since I’ve been back home, Japan has come out with volcanic Kit Kats, made with rare cacao that grows on volcanic islands. Much like winemakers, the chocolate makers are considering terroir in the process.
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 initially couldn’t decide 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. She swayed his vote, exclaiming that it was a must-do since 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 types of Kit Kats in Japan?
Every year, Japan comes out with 20 to 50 new flavors, including many limited edition ones. But as explained to me, residents of Japan have a high appetite for new products, and tourists also want to know where to find these special Kit Kats.
The development of these new New Kit Kat flavors happens mostly in a Japanese product testing kitchen and through partnerships with other food brands. They are also dreamed up by a classically trained pastry chef who Nestle brought on in 2003 after the strawberry Kit Kat became wildly popular.
Visitors can find the inventive Kit Kats in convenience stores, as well as a store within Narita International Airport in Tokyo.
But the Kit Kat paradise that I visited 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 in boxes and arranged in drawers.
From here, I bought several 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. (Yes, 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 desserts, like 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. I also experimented with some other flavors. The sakura Kit Kats had a nice cherry taste similar to 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 more varied flavors of Kit Kats and won’t be visiting Japan anytime soon, you can still get your hands on some.
You could try your luck at the online chocolatory, but the products are often 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, such as the ruby chocolate bars.
Have you tried any of Japan’s wildly inventive Kit Kats? If so, which are your favorites?