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Jun 28, 2019

The Story of Dandelion Chocolate Japan: The Shops, The Culture, and The Secret Ingredient to Japan’s Hot Chocolate

Hi! It’s me, Karen S., and I’m the content manager and the editor of the blog. I’ve been in love with Hello Kitty since 1976, I lived in Japan in the late 1990’s and I’ve returned to visit a couple of times, I studied taiko drumming for several years under Seiichi Tanaka, the man who brought the martial art of giant drums to North America, and I can roll an avocado maki like a champ. In short, I am a lifelong Japanophile. Pair this with my deep love of chocolate, and you can see why I would want to learn all that I could about Dandelion Chocolate Japan. 

When I started my job here, I was entirely delighted to learn about our multiple locations in Japan. But when I started poking around on our website and such, I realized it was really hard to get info about our business across the Pacific. I’ve always wanted to know more, and I was beyond delighted when Tomo, one of our partners, recently spoke in depth on our Japanese presence at a company meeting. I quickly asked Elaine for an introduction, and over green tea and dried edamame snacks, he and I spoke for over two hours, with me taking notes as quickly as possible, to get a better understanding of Dandelion Chocolate Japan.



This is our first and flagship location in Japan that opened in 2016, and it contains a full factory, as well as a café, a retail shop, and the Bean to Bar Lab next door. 

A lot of thought went into choosing the location for this first store. It would have been easy to plunk an American chocolate shop into the middle of a high-traffic modern touristy area, but Seiji, who brought Dandelion Chocolate to Japan, wanted the shop to feel like it belonged to the local community, and for it to be a mixture of old world and new. This area of Tokyo, south of Asakusa, is near a large temple that attracts many visitors from outside Japan. But it’s also quite close to an elementary school and a park frequented by locals. Seiji really loves this spot because of its blend of traditional culture and modern day life, and its outdoor café is very popular.

Kuramae is the only place to tour our factory in Japan. And as of March, 2019, they are making about 3,000 bars a month. They have made several single-origin bars, all sold in the shop along with about the same amount of our bars made in SF.

On these retail shelves and in others across the country, there are collaboration products that you can only find in Japan, including a mochi made with cocoa nibs, ground chocolate, and sweet red bean paste, and a chocolate tile made with pressed sugar.

This is also home to the production kitchen that bakes pastries for most of our other cafés in the country (though Kyoto and Ise also have kitchens). And, since its expansion in December, 2018, the kitchen also creates the retail products sold in the Japanese stores, including the shortbread cookies served with hot drinks, and the gâteau au chocolat. 

Guests can sign up for a factory tour to learn how we make chocolate, or sign up for classes like Chocolate 101 and 201. And, guests can also find events like taste pairing sessions, interesting talks from chocolate industry leaders and scientists from all over the world, and occasionally, even local musicians.

In December, 2018, the Bean to Bar Lab opened up next door, and this is our showplace of chocolate education from all over the world. Not only is this where the classes and talks take place, but this is a second retail shop featuring a curated selection of well-made chocolate from about eight or nine other makers. Here we also teach hands-on classes such as baking with chocolate and ground chocolate taught by professional pastry chefs. Read more


The famous chalkboard: Elaine is the original artist of the beautiful chalkboards in our San Francisco shops. She helped launch the chalkboard in Kuramae in collaboration with Tomo, and Tomo went on to design the chalkboard displays in the Ise, Kamakura, and Kyoto locations, as well as some pop-up shops.


This was the next Japanese location to open in December of 2016, and it contains a retail shop and café. This cool, old building features some exposed brick in the interior—just like we have on Valencia Street—and it used to be the office of the post office and telephone company. 


This area is a destination for local and global tourists alike who visit the area for the iconic Ise Jingu shrine—many of whom, as is the custom, come here to buy small gifts to take home. Seiji was immediately inspired by the building and the holy power of the shrine. Both Tomo and Seiji love to come and visit this shop because of the general feeling of the building; it feels cozy and harmonious with its lush surroundings. We have a good partnership with the building owners and some really kind and regular customers. There is a general peaceful feeling about the place. Read more

Hot chocolate in Japan: We are certainly known for our hot chocolate, and in Japan, that same beloved drink has a little twist. Each of our Japanese locations adds just a dash of a special elixir to make their hot chocolate unique. In Kyoto, we add just a bit of honey and ginger to make the flavor more complex. Our other shops add their own signature black tea to the house hot chocolate to make it less sweet and more thirst quenching. And some of our locations, like Kuramae and Kamakura, use tea from local tea houses and producers. Tomo says it’s just a splash of tea—just enough to give the drink a bit of complexity and bitterness (much like the way bitters are used in cocktails).


Tomo feels that this location is probably the one most similar to West Coast culture, with its ocean views and mellow surfers and swimmers who stop by to fuel up. Opened in February, 2017, this café and retail shop is in the oceanside Shonan area of Yokohama—a place that’s warm with a good beach for those escaping Tokyo for the weekend. Kamakura is also an old samurai town, and as a result, there are many Zen temples to visit, and it gives the region a very simple and clean vibe. 

This location is our only one in Japan to have a separate breakfast menu, and the popular chocolate croissant is a hit with commuters into the capital who stop by on their way to the morning train. There are also plenty of locals who linger at the tables long into the morning. This is also the location of the Zen and Chocolate class (which helped inspire the Mindfulness Tea class at our Los Angeles pop-up). The city is working hard to present itself as the “mindfulness city”, and we are so happy to be a part of that. Kamakura is also known as a city of flowers, as evidenced by the many hydrangeas that bloom in June and July. Read more


The café and retail shop in Kyoto is something of a tourist attraction, as local and international tourists visit the area to take in Japanese culture, including the numerous temples. In June of 2018 this location opened its doors. And to make it feel like it’s part of its community, there’s also a Zen garden on premises.

The Cacao Bar of Kyoto

Kyoto is also home to the Cacao Bar, a sit-down space for special menu items, events, and educational opportunities, and we opened that in August, 2018. Expect more classes and workshops in the future, as Cacao Bar may soon be under renovation to make room for more types of experiences. Read more


Welcome to Harajuku! This high-speed, high-fashion, and high-traffic area of Tokyo is known for its clothing and design industry. And since February, 2019, those in the know step down the pink staircase into the Bean to Bar Lounge basement for mochas and much more. This small shop is very popular for its café and retail items, and there’s usually quite a crowd hungry not just to eat and drink, but to learn more about the diversity and origins of cocoa. And, its location next to the stylish Hay furniture shop has more people “discovering” us every day.

Food nerds, take notice: this is the only location in Japan serving our single-origin soft serve ice cream (from Zorzal Estate). And if you’re a fan of our café’s brownie bite flights, you’ll also want to know that this is the only place to find the macaron bite flight: three small macarons with three different single-origin chocolate creams inside. Read more


Dandelion Chocolate Japan, I cannot wait to visit! And, of course, to embark upon the Nippon hot chocolate tour (not possible…yet!). Anyway, I’ve learned a lot, and I thought that some of you might want to hear about it, too. Oh, and Tomo casually mentioned putting together a Japanese tour that takes guests from one Dandelion Chocolate location to another. If you think this sounds like a good idea, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

1 Comment

  1. Cristina Arantes

    The Japanese tour from store to store is definitely a good idea! Hope to partake one day 🙂


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