Bean-To-Bar—A Story Of Niseko's Own Nicao Chocolate

The local bean-to-bar movement has spread from Europe to the United States and now has come to Niseko, Japan! Find out all about Nicao, Niseko's very own.

Happy Valentine's Day!

As today is Valentine's Day it only feels right to post something that is somehow related and what better than a story about chocolate? There is a new local item making rounds and turning heads and it is no other than some good old Niseko manufactured chocolate! If you've looked into chocolate bar creation, you might have come across the phrase 'bean-to-bar'. The phrase refers to the chocolate manufacturing process of turning raw cacao beans into a plate or bar of chocolate. Throughout the entire process, there are a number of decisions and actions which will affect the overall quality of the final product. Everything from the bean selection, style of roasting, method of grinding, way of blending and the means of molding are considered when deciding level of quality of the chocolate produced. In a nutshell, every little detail matters. Not an easy world to step into.

Of course, because all of the little details in each step of the process matters, even a minor change in any one of them can affect the taste or texture of the final product. Something as small as altering the roasting temperature or time by a fraction can change the overall taste and bitterness. Amending the ratios used to blend the ingredients can change the texture and flavour as well.

A few years ago, bean-to-bar workshops started cropping up in the United States. The sudden surge of popularity was partly due to its already enormous presence across Europe. While large chocolate companies and manufacturers are still the staple, it seems that specialty chocolate shops specializing in their unique bean-to-bar production processes are receiving more and more attention from chocolate lovers around the globe.

Nicao Cacao Bean On The Hand

One little cacao bean, still in it's shell before grinding.

With all of the growing global interest, it should come as no surprise that someone here in Niseko has picked up on it. What with Niseko being the unique countryside international mecca that it is, it was really only a matter of time. It seems that entrepreneurship runs rampant in the Blake household, as Naoko, a mother of two, has also caught the business bug,

Naoko has redone her home's basement and turned it into mini bean-to-bar factory with minimal equipment and some true ingenuity. Having spent an enormous amount of time in self-study regarding the entire chocolate manufacturing process she found herself engaging in trial after trial. With each trial and test came new alterations to the process, shaving away unnecessary ingredients until she came to a recipe that require only minimal vital materials which she was able to perfect. This was all a part of her original idea and design, to create something excellent, but also simplistic in essence.

Naoko's recipe combines only two ingredients (although it does make use of vanilla beans to provide some scent to the sugar, the vanilla beans don't end up in the final product). Her 70% cocoa dark chocolate is made with cacao beans from the Dominican Republic and Hokkaido bamboo sugar. With only two ingredients, she makes a luxurious and magical dark chocolate.

Although it is a one-woman operation, all chocolate hand-made with care, Naoko is creating enough to stock a number of locations around the Niseko area. keep an eye out for Nicao in Kutchan town's Sprout Cafe, Hirafu village's Gorilla Supermarket, and Niseko town's Cave de Bambou (wine cellar and store).

Nicao Chocolate Making

Each and every Nicao bar is 100% hand-made.

Wrapped in golden foil with a black paper label and clear white characters, Nicao really seeks to appeal to the adult palate with both its flavour and sense of style. Go ahead and indulge, they say a small amount of dark chocolate each day is good for your health!

A single bar of Nicao takes many hours and is a process that spans over several days. Made in small batches, Naoko ensures that each bar has that 'pure' cacao flavour, something that can be so hard to truly capture in mass-produced chocolates.

In terms of her future plans, Naoko would like to one day increase the number of flavours that she produces. If at all possible, she says she would want to use local ingredients where ever she can to really invest her product in the area.

Nicao Chocolate

Golden wrapper peeled back and looking absolutely appetizing, even when surrounded by sweets and treats.

Nicao - the cacao project -

Website is currently under construction.

Nicao chocolate is currently available for purchase from Sprout Cafe (Kutchan town), Gorilla Market (Hirafu Village), and Cave de Bambou (Niseko town).

Bean To Bar Nicao At Sprout

Nicao on display at Kutchan town's Sprout Cafe.