Chocolate Al Fresco at GBC Kiriyama

A Delectable Secret in the Mountains of Shikoku

By Scott Brause    - 3 min read

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.

Getting there

GBC Kirayama is located approximately a fifteen minute drive from Kawanoe Station, on the JR Yosan Line.

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Scott Brause

Scott Brause @scott.brause

Scott lived for many years in Japan, first in Beppu, later in Tokyo.  He continues to return to his former haunts, spending time with old friends and relatives, yet never failing to get out and explore – and be amazed by – the world of Japan.

Join the discussion

Sleiman Azizi 4 months ago
The location is what sold me. Now I just have to pay....
Sleiman Azizi 4 months ago
Thanks. This kind of non-brand name travelling makes a visit to Japan (or anywhere really) all the more personal. Really enjoyed this article.
Bonson Lam 4 months ago
The hike to this temple of gastronomy is very enticing. This would be a great place for an initiate chefs' tour.
Scott Brause Author 4 months ago
Thanks for your comment!
Elizabeth S 4 months ago
Ehime Prefecture’s winding roads, deep valleys and steep mountains are breathtaking in their beauty. Besides the 88 temple pilgrimage, this looks like another great destination.
Scott Brause Author 4 months ago
Thanks Liz. Shikoku really is an amazing and unspoiled place!
Kim B 4 months ago
This sounds amazing! You already had me at chocolate, but great coffee too? My idea of heaven!
Kim B 4 months ago
You and I are 100% on the same page with that! I’d love to get back down to Shikoku at some point and this place will absolutely be on the list when I do!