By Rey Waters
Kenji Milton Takahashi built his bean to bar chocolate factory and cafe bar, GBC Grabbag, in a place you would least expect it, miles from the nearest city, in the densely-forested mountains of Kiriyama, Shikoku. If you can find your way to this stunning overlook just off the sinuous, tree-fringed highway you will understand why. Enjoying coffee and craft chocolate al fresco, with the scented breeze and birdsong all around, makes the most exquisite flavors taste even better.
A beautiful and rarely seen world
But there is another reason why Milton built this redoubt of cacao appreciation; he wanted to entice visitors to this beautiful and rarely seen part of Japan. The history and spirituality of these mountains is known to few, but dates back to the mid-700's, where the eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail were founded, in the very early days of Buddhism in Japan. Just up the highway is the nearest of these temples, Sankaku-ji.
A treasure of Japan's bygone days
And deep into this valley is where many of the Taira clan fled in 1185, after their defeat by the Minamoto in the Gempei War. Shikoku's oldest home, the Manabe House, is just down the highway from GBC; it is said that this 400 year-old thatch-roof and mud-walled home was built by descendants of the same ill-starred clan. A treasure of Japan's rustic past, it offers a rare glimpse into the rural way of life centuries ago.
Supporting small farming in distant places
Perhaps this bygone world has something to do with Milton Takahashi's love of cacao. Like other Japanese chocolate artisans, he travels the globe in search of the tastiest beans, and discovered one of his favorites on the small farm of Ambanja, in the acclaimed Sambirano cacao producing region of Madagascar. Now he works with this farm to create much of his finest small-batch chocolate.
A unique roasting process
Because GBC does predominantly single origin, 70/30 dark, you can really compare the flavor of his Madagascar bean with others, such as his excellent Vietnamese, Brazilian or Peruvian varieties. Moreover, GBC utilizes a unique "steam roasting" process to create an especially pure chocolate; even compared to the very best Tokyo craft entries, award-winning GBC easily makes the short list of must-try Japanese chocolates.
A new factory in Shikoku
Milton is also an experienced baker, and a certified arabica bean grader who makes an unforgettable cup of coffee. GBC Kiriyama is a hidden gem in a forgotten world; get there if you can! If you can't, you can still visit Milton's shop in the town of Shikokuchuo, and note: GBC will soon open a new factory in the same town, after which the GBC website will restart online sales of this delectable chocolate. Order yours soon, and see Milton's blog of his travels in Madagascar on his website.
GBC Kirayama is located approximately a fifteen minute drive from Kawanoe Station, on the JR Yosan Line.
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