A Taste of Japan—in Chocolate: Patissier es koyama's Kuromoji
I recently encountered some chocolate whose flavor had a visual component. As soon as I tasted it, I had a vision of trees swaying in the wind. Within this freshness was a faint hint of citrus.
I was enjoying a tasting of one of the four new creations in Susumu Koyama’s Chocology 2017 from Patissier es koyama—specifically, a chocolate bonbon flavored with kuromoji (Lindella umbellata). A member of the laurel family similar to the shrub known as “spicebush” in English, kuromoji is well known in Japan as the source of the finest yoji toothpicks for the tea ceremony. Its role in Shinto ritual has also seen it called the “Tree of the Kami” (gods).
A very well-informed lady who lives near my holiday home on the Izu Peninsula is always happy to teach me about the wild flora of the area. One day, she broke off a small branch of the kuromoji growing in her front yard and handed it to me, explaining that it had been said to have medicinal powers since ancient times. In Izu, she added, they called it monja. Its fragrance alone was so bracing and fresh that it had a soothing effect of its own.
That fragrance is even stronger in Koyama’s kuromoji bonbons—perhaps because they are eaten rather than just smelled. According to Koyama himself, it also has to do with when the bush is harvested. Kuromoji smells richest at the new moon, and harvesting it at this time is called shingetsu-kiri, or “new moon cutting.”
The leaves and branches harvested in this shingetsu-kiri are dried using two separate processes: vacuum drying at room temperature, and plasma drying. The fragrance of the dried material is then transferred to fresh cream by simmering, and the cream is combined—along with kuromoji oil—with milk chocolate from Peru.
The more I learned, the more impressed I was by how much effort lay behind the vivid flavor I had encountered. Koyama’s single-minded pursuit of fragrance as well as taste was richly evident in the finished product.
Cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, was essential to the religious ceremonies of the ancient civilizations that flourished in Central and South America. I could not help reflecting on this connection—two different plants with links to the divine, brought together by a chocolatier. Susumu Koyama’s Chocology has been an annual tradition since 2011, and could be called the most daring of Koyama’s creations. The series first came to widespread attention in France.
Susumu Koyama’s Chocology 17 and “Chocolate Shosa,” a knife born of a collaboration between Koyama and Ryusen. Chocolate Shosa was designed especially for chocolate bonbons and comes with a leather case and cutting board.
I am a member of a French chocolate-lovers’ association called the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat. One of the Club’s unique activities is the publication of a guidebook each autumn ranking the various chocolatiers. Those who rank the highest receive a commendation at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris.
Upon the release of his first Chocology collection in 2011, Koyama immediately soared to the highest rank. This soon became a double award when he received the highest commendation in the international category. His achievement was unprecedented, especially since most of the chocolatiers recognized by the Club until then maintained stores within France itself.
Susumu Koyama examines the berries in a Peruvian cacao orchard
Some of those represented in the Club’s guide are so determined to showcase their genius that they err on the side of doing things differently for the sake of it. Koyama, however, presented three of the basic types of chocolate bonbon, without which no set would be complete, along with two original ideas. The extremely simplicity of his ideas and the painstaking care he had taken executing them were as evident in the beauty of his creations as in their magnificent flavor.
One of his originals, named “Ikkyu” after the famous Zen priest, incorporated Daitokuji natto, said to have been introduced to Daitokuji Temple by Ikkyu himself. Daitokuji natto is not like the natto with long, sticky threads that most people know; if anything, it more closely resembles Hatcho miso, a kind of savory fermented bean paste. The genius of bringing Kyoto flavors hitherto unknown in France to the world of chocolate—combining them using the same technique as salt-butter caramel—captured the hearts (and taste buds!) of the judges. The flawless realization of this never-before-seen idea brought Koyama his double prize.
Text © Mika Ogura 2018
Essayist, Food Culture Researcher
Returned to Japan after more than ten years living in Paris. In 2008, she was recognized for more than a decade of work as a writer with the Distinguished Service Press Award by Atout France’s Paris Tourism Office. Member of the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, a French chocolate-lovers’ association. Publications include All About the Finest Chocolate (Kokyu Shokora no Subete), I Love Chocolate! (Shokora ga Daisuki!), Alain Ducasse: Banquets with an Evolving Chef (Alain Ducasse: Shinka suru Shefu no Kyoen), and Paris on Foot: Mika’s Guide to Paris (Pari o Aruku: Mika no Pari Annai).
Susumu Koyama’s Chocology 2017 (Patissier es koyama)
Contains the following four varieties:
1. Haru (Spring): When Red and Green Intersect (strawberry and butterbur bud)
2. Kuromoji, Tree of the Kami (Gods)
3. Praline Yuzu—with a Spark of Piment d’Espelette
4. San Martín: The Never-Ending Quest for Cacao
Price: 1,728 JPY (including tax)
or at the es koyama online store:
Patissier es koyama
Tel: +81 (0)79-564-3192