Japanese Kit Kats: The Tastening
February 13, 2016 by David T. Allen
I walked past our hoard of Japanese Kit Kats this week and noticed, according to the dates, that some had “expired” in January. I knew we had to eat them soon, in order to get the best results. So, on Friday, February 12th, we had The Tastening, in which Leslie and I sampled nine flavors and crowned a champion.
My only regret is that we didn’t buy every flavor that we encountered.
Acquiring Kit Kats
Our first purchase happened during our visit to Uji.
Uji is one of my favorite places, and I’ve been there a few times. Uji is the tea capital of Japan, and the aroma of freshly ground matcha wafts over you as you walk down the main street. They also carried two tea-flavored Kit Kats. One was Uji Matcha flavor, and the other was Hojicha. That’s right, the city has its own brand of green tea Kit Kats, but I only found it in one store.
For those that aren’t familiar, matcha is a finely ground green tea, and hojicha is roasted green tea.
Our second batch of purchases came from the basement of the Daimaru Department Store in downtown Kyoto. They have a Kit Kat Chocolatory, which contains many unique varieties.
We picked up five flavors:
- Chili & Passion Fruit
- Orange Cocktail Noir
- Sublime (dark chocolate)
- Sakura Green Tea (cherry blossom + green tea)
On our last day, when we checked out of the Tanaka-ya Guesthouse, the owner gave us a gift of Matcha Green Tea Kit Kats. I’ve had these on numerous occasions, and they are a favorite. I don’t know if she gives this gift to all of her guests, or if she liked me because I spoke a little Japanese. Regardless, it was an incredibly thoughtful, appreciated, and unexpected gift.
Finally, I purchased one last flavor at the Narita International Airport: Wasabi. There were many more options, but our bags were checked, our carry-ons were full, and I only had enough yen for one.
What’s incredible is, at this point in our journey, my reaction to Strawberry Cheesecake Kit Kats was, “that’s not exotic enough.”
You read correctly: Strawberry. Cheesecake. Kit Kats. Weren’t exotic enough.
I can’t believe that that was my reaction. But, the competition is steep when your siblings are Rum Raisin, Wasabi, Hojicha, and Butter.
(Cue wrestling music) The competitors hail from Uji, the Daimaru Depachika in Kyoto, the nice woman that owns the Tanaka-ya Guesthouse, and the Narita International Airport!
We tried to follow a rigid system:
- Each pair of Kit Kat bars was broken in half with a knife.
- Leslie and I picked up our respective bars, pinky up, smelled it, then clinked the bars like a glass of fine wine.
- If the aroma was significant, we noted it.
- We nibbled, paying attention to how the flavor changed over time.
- Between bars, we swished water in our mouths to clear the palette.
- We tried them in different orders then ranked them in order of our favorites.
I’ll consider it a great success if the bullet points above made us sound pretentious (^_^).
Round 1: Green Tea Flavors
Our first round is green tea flavored Kit Kats because they are so prominent.
Our contestants are:
- Matcha Green Tea
- Uji Matcha
- Sakura Green Tea (cherry blossom green tea)
Even though hojicha is roasted green tea, we did not enter it in this competition because hojicha has a significantly different taste.
Matcha Green Tea Kit Kat:
- Initial flavor is strong, but after taste is weak.
- (Leslie) Can easily and happily eat both bars; it’s sweet but not too sweet.
- (Dave) Perfect balance. I expect green tea flavored things to be more tea than sweet. I’d love to try a less sweet version.
Uji Matcha Kit Kat:
- Even sweeter than the regular green tea version, but has a fuller green tea after taste.
- (Leslie) A single bar is good enough; eating both bars would be too much sugar.
- (Dave) I was really looking forward to this one, but it’s sweeter than regular Matcha Green Tea Kit Kats and not different enough.
Sakura Green Tea Kit Kat:
- This is the sweetest yet, but not much sweeter than the Uji Matcha Kit Kat.
- The flavor is complex. Not as floral as expected.
- (Dave) For some reason, the flavor is reminiscent of cinnamon. I don’t think it has cinnamon, it’s just hitting the taste buds the same way cinnamon does.
We tallied our votes, and, to our surprise, the Matcha Green Tea Kit Kats we’ve tasted many times before won!
Round 2: Chocolate Flavors
The next round was devoted to chocolate flavored Kit Kats.
Competing this round are:
- Orange Cocktail Noir
- Chili & Passion Fruit
Sublime Kit Kat:
- (Dave) That’s as not-sweet as I would like any of the green tea flavors to be.
- (Leslie) The wafers are crispier, drier, and more prominent than in other flavors. But, I’d prefer just a hunk of dark chocolate.
Orange Cocktail Noir Kit Kat:
- (Dave) I like the smell, but I didn’t care for the blend. Eventually, it “got there.” It reminds me of an orange flavored chocolate I had in France. I wonder if this blend is a European thing.
- (Leslie) It might work if it was white chocolate. Regular chocolate and citrus doesn’t seem to go together.
- We wouldn’t buy this one again.
Chili & Passion Fruit Kit Kat:
- (Dave) I tasted the passion fruit immediately, but it quickly slides into a chili/chocolate flavor. Barely a tingle registers on the tongue from the chili.
- (Leslie) I don’t taste the passion fruit at all, though I do taste a faint tartness and acidity. I agree that there’s no spiciness to it, but it’s a pleasing balance.
Chili & Passion Fruit won by a land slide, and Orange Cocktail Noir at the far bottom of our list. However, none of the contestants came close to any of the Green Tea flavors.
Round 3: Exotic Flavors
Our final round was the most exciting, and composed of:
- Hojicha (roasted green tea)
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the arrangement was gorgeous. Leslie commented that she would paint a room in these colors.
Butter Kit Kat:
- (Leslie) It has a pleasant aroma, and smells like sweet cream.
- (Dave) It has the sweetness of Uji Matcha and Sakura Green Tea, but it goes better with the flavor.
- We were both highly impressed, but Leslie enjoyed it more than Dave did.
Hojicha Kit Kat:
- (Leslie) It surprisingly tastes of actual hojicha. I almost forgot what hojicha tasted like, but after one nibble, I remembered. It’s not super sweet, which makes it easier to enjoy. The flavor and complexity is prominent, and not a result of too much sugar.
- (Dave) This tastes more like actual hojicha than the green tea flavors tasted like green tea. I think this is better than the butter, though that might be from the novelty.
- It starts strong and ends strong.
- Incredibly complex flavor.
- Amazing aroma.
Wasabi Kit Kat
- Not a strong aroma.
- (Leslie) The initial taste was “Eh? What’s this?” Then, the wasabi flavor came through the white chocolate.
- (Dave) Once you’ve finished eating it, the flavor is over. Like the Chili & Passion Fruit flavor, there wasn’t much, but it hit the right taste buds on the back of the tongue. There’s no lingering after taste, though. In many ways, the experience is similar to eating wasabi: it surprised you, then vanishes.
We got creative and mixed some of the flavors. Leslie tried combining Hojicha and Butter, but the Hojicha overwhelmed the Butter. However, Butter and Wasabi made an interesting blend.
This round really was the clash of the titans. All were excellent.
Before we tasted any of them, I thought Wasabi was going to win, but we put it in third place because the smell, first taste, and aftertaste were mild. Just like actual wasabi, the flavor strikes you and disappears.
Side note: Wasabi ice cream is an amazing experience, and if you ever get the chance, definitely try some.
I really enjoyed Butter, but once I tried Hojicha, it became first place for me.
After much deliberation, Leslie eventually sided with Hojicha because it wasn’t as sweet and had a much more complex flavor.
So, this round goes to our number one choice, Hojicha!
We only sampled nine Kit Kats, but according to kit-kat-flavors.com, over 200 flavors have been produced in Japan. Some are regional, some are seasonal, and some were released for only a short time.
Sometimes, I find the Matcha Green Tea in a chocolate store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District but, for the most part, I think you have to buy online if you don’t have a trip to Japan scheduled. Even if you’re in Japan, finding a specific flavor can be difficult.
Here are some of the flavors I found on Amazon:
Have you ever had a Japanese Kit Kat, or a unique flavor from another country? What would you like to try?