Cuisine

ISSAI CACAO
Stone-milled Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
Yakage Town, Okayama, Japan

2022-01-19

 

The charming town of Yakage in Okayama Prefecture does more than remember its glorious past as a postal town for travelling samurai.

 

The townsfolk have been quite ingenious in reviving forgotten crafts (paper milling, brush painting), re-discovering hidden historical gems (museums of art, history, culture), converting old buildings into places of accommodation and embracing new businesses that have set afoot in the town – all the while maintaining the traditional atmosphere of the place.

 

view of shop from the street

view of shop from the street

 

One such addition is Issai Ishibiki Cacao, also known as Issai Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolatery that transforms cacao beans into chocolate using a mill made out of granite stone from Yakage town, in the tradition of chocolate refining by ancient civilizations in the Americas, where chocolate was first discovered.

 

side view - Issai cacao

side view – Issai cacao

 

chair made out of Yakage granite stone

chair made out of Yakage granite stone

 

shop door

shop door

 

shop window - Issai Cacao

shop window – Isai Cacao

 

All production is done by hand, and the cacao beans come from all over the world (Latin America, Africa, Asia), yielding a wonderful chocolate plethora of flavours.

 

chocolate disk

chocolate disk

 

bean-to-bar process

bean-to-bar process

 

Cacao Belt (regions where cacao chocolate is grown)

Cacao Belt (regions where cacao chocolate is grown)

 

The chocolate stone mill used in the shop is a first in Japan, and possibly the world. It was designed by Japan’s godfather of chocolate, Professor Emeritus Kiyotaka Sato (Sato-sensei) of Hiroshima University, a chocolate expert.

 

What makes the mill even more special is that the stones come from Yakage town itself, complementing the entire chocolate experience.

 

Yakage is not only a post town where samurais spent the night, it is also home to a stone and granite quarry famous since the Edo period (17th century).

 

The idea of a stone mill for chocolate came about when Professor Sato was looking for high-quality stones to make chocolate the old-fashioned way, stone-ground, which brought out the full flavour and aroma of the cacao bean.

 

This brought about a collaboration with Ishiyama Yuen (the company behind Issai Cacao in Yakage Town), various companies and craftsmen, unveiling the world’s first chocolate stone mill in 2017.

 

Professor Sato - Chocolat Mill designer

Professor Sato – Chocolate Mill designer

 

stone mill for chocolate

stone mill for chocolate

 

To date, Professor Sato regularly holds workshops all over Japan, in a bean-to-bar project utilizing the Chocolat Mill.

 

The Chocolate Mill grinds the cacao nibs into fine chocolate where it is further refined and processed by hand, before finally yielding the precious product of pure chocolate, no additives. Issai Cacao specializes in 100% dark chocolate, as well as a 70% blend with a fine balance of sweet and bitter.

 

Stone cube - 303

Stone cube

 

Chocolat Mill

Chocolate Mill

 

The name “Issai” is actually a play on the word for a cube measuring one isshaku: (about 303mm per side) –  meaning a company that values and respects people, the material (cacao beans and granite stone), and relationships.

Yakage granite - stone mill base, metate, stone disk

Yakage granite – sone mill base, metate, stone disk

 

Inside the shop, there is a stone mill on display where one can actually try grinding the cacao nibs (seeds) into a fine mass of chocolate. The white and round stones, shaped like the ones in a soba mill, are stacked one of top of the other. One can also see a “metate” made of out Yakage granite stone.

 

mortar and pestle grinder made of stone

Mortar and pestle grinder made of stone

 

A metate is a mortar and pestle contraption, commonly used to grind beans, corn and cacao in Mexico, where the Aztec empire first introduced cacao (the raw chocolate bean) to Spanish explorers. The Europeans took this discovery and added milk and sugar to the mix, coming up with the chocolate we now know today.

 

chocolate sampling

chocolate sampling

 

It was a wonderful experience, tasting chocolate and comparing flavour profiles of beans from various countries and continents (Peru, Colombia, Mexico, the Solomon Islands, Ghana) – some chocolates had a fruity accent, others were more on the deep and rich side, and there was even spiced chocolate with chili!

Yakage granite stones and sack containing cacao beans

Yakage granite sones and sack containing cacao beans

 

Issai Cacao

Issai cacao

 

chocolate shake

chocolate shake

 

I literally felt like a child in a candy shop, seeing the chocolatiers temper chocolate and create new products, sampling chocolate, churning the chocolate stone mill, and having a chocolate shake after.

 

Even more delightful was that Issai Chocolate was located in the historic postal town of Yakage, where each nook and corner had something popping out to attract the curious eye – traditional craft shops, inns, cafes, noodle houses, pleasant sights everywhere.

 

products - Issai Cacao

Products- Issai Cacao

 

Yakage town

Yakage town

 

Issai Chocolate sits just behind the Yakage Folk Art Museum, a few meters’ walk from the Yakage Honjin Former Ishii Residence, a historical place which housed samurais and other high-ranking officials on their way to Edo (Tokyo), the capital of the Tokugawa shogunate.

 

Visit Yakage Town and enjoy the charm of a true bean-to-bar chocolate experience complete with stone mill and more at Issai Chocolate, Issai Ishibiki Cacao.

 

Address

3074-1 Yakage, Yakage Town, Oda County, Okayama Prefecture 714-1201

 

Access

Train / Bus / Taxi

  • 8 – 10 minutes on foot from Yakage Station (Ibara Railway)
  • 20 minutes by taxi from Shin-Kurashiki Station (JR Sanyo shinkansen)
  • 1 hour by taxi from Okayama Station (JR Sanyo line)

 

Car / Self-drive

  • 20 minutes by car from Kamogata Interchange
  • 1 hour drive from Okayama City on the Sanyo expressway

 

Hours / Information       

  • Store hours: 12:00 – 17:00 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

 

Telephone / Contact details

+81 0866-63-4245 (Japanese – Ishiyamayuen – IssaiCacao)

+81 0866-83-0001 / +81 0866-82-2110 (Japanese – Yakage Sightseeing & Tourism association)

 

Website

http://www.ishiyamayuen.jp (Japanese)

https://www.yakage-kanko.net/spot/5/ (Japanese)

Facebook / Instagram issaicacao

 

Writer:  CKS

 

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