“Bean-to-bar” is a back-to-basics, artisan-style approach to making chocolate that is catching on with hipster types in the world’s major cities. One of Japan’s very best places to sample this delectable confectionary, though, lies a whole world away from the clamor of Tokyo, Osaka, and the rest. Ushio Chocolatl is a combined atelier and cafe on the chilled-out island of Mukaishima, in southern Onomichi. Here, you can enjoy small-batch chocolate elevated to an art form, all lovingly made right on the premises, while gazing out over the tranquil, island-dotted Setonaikai sea and the surrounding mountains.
Ushio Chocolatl was founded by three young friends back in 2014, and is located on the second floor of a charming old wooden building. The premises previously housed a museum, though some visitors compare it to an elementary school house. The abundant natural beauty that pans out before Ushio Chocolatl has proved a great fit for this method of chocolate making, which is focused on preserving, rather than artificially modifying the natural taste of high-grade cacao beans. As Ushio Chocolatl’s homepage puts it, the cacao plantation itself is “the foremost artist.”
Purity is a key element of the bean-to-bar concept, with Ushio Chocolatl’s products made with nothing other than cacao beans and sugar (since milk is not used, the chocolate is vegan-friendly). The finest cacao is sourced from plantations in Guatemala; Trinidad and Tobago; Honduras; Ghana; Papua New Guinea; Haiti; and Vietnam. Each of these has a distinct character, with Vietnam’s cacao beans being quite fruity, and those from Trinidad and Tobago having hints of herbs and strawberry.
Large hemp sacks full of beans, freshly arrived from these far-flung plantations, can often be spotted around the premises. Ushio Chocolatl has a direct fair trade relationship with the Papua New Guinea plantation, and is working towards similar agreements with its suppliers elsewhere.
The sugar, meanwhile, comes from two sources – an organic variety is imported from Brazil, while a second type comes from Ehime Prefecture, in central Shikoku on the other side of the Setonaikai (the “Ushio” of the brand name refers to the tides of the Setonaikai, by the way).
Once these two ingredients have arrived, Ushio Chocolatl’s small team (the three founders plus a coteir of cacao-fixated kindred spirits) handle the entire manufacturing process in-house. Several dedicated machines, diligently overseen by the young artisans, are used to transform beans and sugar into smooth and rich-tasting chocolate, with the process taking up to two days. The result is a confectionary with a real depth to its taste, which is very different to both the mass-produced chocolate sold in supermarkets and the “luxury” brands found in department stores.
Ushio Chocolatl’s dedication doesn’t end here. The finished signature product, available in five varieties as flat hexagonal shapes stamped with an art deco-style emblem, showing the sun floating above the waves of the Setonaikai, are finally hand-labelled and packaged by several hip, design-conscious young ladies. The illustrated wrappers have a storybook-like charm. Also available are chocolate crumbles which come in packaging reminiscent of retro tobacco cartons.
These items are all available to take away with you, but, for the full experience, we recommend grabbing a drink (a cocoa soda in the warmer months or hot chocolate in fall and winter) and tasting your choice of Ushio chocolate, as you gaze out over the sea from the roomy cafe space’s perfect-picture window.
Ushio Chocolatl in Mukaishima
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR