My palate is by no means refined. My uncultured mouth would no doubt struggle to discern an aged artisian reserve cheddar from a block of Kraft. To my heathen taste buds, a fine Bordeaux and wine-in-a-box both taste of burning, with strong notes of boozy grape juice. But I consider myself a connoisseur of candy, specifically Japanese candy. Which is why I was more than willing to sink my teeth into a review of Japan Crate’s November box.
Japan Crate is part of the growing retail trend of subscription boxes, delivering a mystery assortment of delicious treats from the Land of the Rising Sun directly to your doorstep for a nominal monthly fee. The company offers three tiers: the half pound Mini, featuring 4-6 candies for $12 a month, the one pound Original, featuring 8-12 candies for $25 a month, and the Premium, featuring 10-14 candies for $30 a month. I was sent the Premium box, a two pound behemoth that would make Wonka himself weep tears of joy.
I mean, just take a minute to soak in the retina-searing glory of this sweet spread, which included two DIY Kits a drink to wash it all down! I can almost taste the diabetes. But though my eyes may be a cheap date, it takes more than pretty packaging to titillate and tantalize my delicate taste receptor cells. Japan Crate helpfully included a “legend” of the box’s contents, a cheat sheet that paired a photo of each product with its name and short description. A nice touch for consumers, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the products; it serves as a helpful tasting guide, and if nothing else will let you know what is and isn’t gum, as Japanese candy tends to blur the line. Not wanting my critique to be influenced by back-of-the-box accolades, I threw the cheat sheet in the trash! Then I threw the candy in my mouth!
Black Black Gum
I’ve wanted to try this salaryman favorite for a while now, but its not only hard to find, its pricey – a single pack on Amazon would set you back $3. So, I was pretty pumped to find it included in the box. Not as pumped to discover that I don’t like Black Black Gum. But that’s because it lives up to its promise of super menthol flavor and then some – it was like French kissing an Arctic glacier. This would be great for people with allergies, as it provides simultaneous sinus clearing and breath freshening.
The moment I broke the seal, candied plum fumes assaulted my senses – take a hike Yankee Candle, this is potpourri you can chew! The gum was intensely plum flavored, slowly changing from sweet to tart. Basically, Ume Gum is the day to Black Black’s night.
This is what I imagine fresh Baseball Card gum tastes like, before it’s completed the petrification process on some dusty shelf in a Topps warehouse. It was very soft, and the flavor very fruity, if sadly fleeting. The citrus taste died faster than my first Tomagatchi. He felt no pain.
I know what this looks like. Let’s not even go there. But taste-wise, they’ve taken the Girl Scout’s #1 money maker – the Thin Mint – and removed both the “thin” and the “mint,” leaving the crumbly texture and creamy chocolate coating in its purest form! Quite good. Just stay the hell away from my Samoas, Japan!
I’ve never had a Pocky I didn’t enjoy, and Panda Pocky is no exception. This one’s a cookies and cream flavor, with chocolate biscuit sticks covered in creamy, cookie crumble-filled white frosting. Very tasty. Though sadly, not very durable – those two sticks are the only ones in the pack that didn’t turn to dust when the postman kicked and/or punched the box to my door.
Fusenno Mi Blueberry Gum
So, turns out the makers of this blueberry-flavored gum haven’t ever actually tasted blueberries. And though that makes me sad for them, I still enjoyed this defiantly not-bluish purple candy coated gum, which included three flavors: (not) blueberry, (not) sour blueberry and (not) blueberry yogurt.
Calbee Mentai Cheese Potato Chips
Looks like potato chips! Tastes like Cheez-Its!
Matcha Kit Kats
I really enjoyed this Matcha green tea Kit Kat, which had the bittersweet matcha green tea flavor you’d expect, mixed with the sweetness of white chocolate. My sister said it tasted like dirt. Milky, grassy dirt. I will admit to some sensory dissonance, as your mouth is all “Shut up eyes! This is gonna taste like a milk chocolate Kit Kat, green color be damned!” She happily ate the rest of the Calbee chips by way of apology to her taste buds.
These were exactly what they looked like on the packaging – buttery shortbread cookies – and they were f*cking scrumptious. I made the rookie mistake when eating anything that actually tastes delicious and looked at the nutritional information. Did learning that almost half the calories came from sweet, sweet fat stop me from powering through the rest of the box? Let’s just say that Balance Power has possibly shortened my lifespan, but they were the shitty years at the end. Still plenty of puns left before a buttery nugget of Balance Power lodges in my carotid.
This was like a fruit flavored Hi-Chew stuffed with firm, chewy gummy balls. The contrast between textures was great, as was the fact that the gummy balls, which were different flavors, tasted absolutely awesome. Japan sets the standard when it comes to flavoring gummies. This is my new favorite Japanese candy.
This tastes so familiar. You combine powder packet #1 with water, which makes a grainy mush. Damn, what does this taste like? Then you add powder packet #2, which creates, through some unknown chemical wizardry, a pink marshmallow fluff. It is literally on the tip of my tongue. You dip the tangy, sweet and sour magic cloud in colored sugar crystals and enjo…BLOWPOPS! It tastes like grape blowpops! *whew* I can sleep tonight.
Tako De Geso
“Some assembly required” candy kits are all the rage in Japan. This one yielded a pair of Cola-flavored octopi and Ramune-flavored squid. I thought for sure one was going to coast by entirely on the joy of extruding edible tentacles, and the actual candy would taste awful, but it was actually really good – like super intense, tangy Airheads. Next time I have this, I’ll probably put the “dough” in the fridge to firm up a little first.
Ramune is readily available stateside, as the Ramune-crammed crisper drawer in my fridge will attest (Tough break, iceberg lettuce!), but not in Ginseng flavor. I smell it. Yep, that smells like a plant. I taste it. Yep, that tastes like a plant. I feel like I’m at a fancy wine tasting – strong notes of root, soil and copper penny. I won’t be finishing the bottle, even though it is still surely more palatable than Dewritos.
With a flurry of subscription boxes competing for your hard earned scratch, along with more traditional e-commerce outlets like JBox and Asian Food Grocer, did Japan Crate prove a better bargain or, at least, a better experience? Adding up the contents, the box came close to breaking even, which was a surprise. You might be thinking, “Wait. Didn’t you compare more than one of these snacks to dirt and/or things that grow in dirt?” Yes. But, if you calculate the value of any subscription box service based on only the products you loved, you’re bound to find it lacking. And you’re also missing the point of the “grab bag” approach, which is to expose yourself to products you might not choose yourself, but have the potential to become your new obsession.
My only complaint might be that I was too comfortable with my box’s contents. No weird seaweed or squid-flavored candy? Really? Japan Crate is definitely tailored to appeal more toward American candy sensibilities, and probably wouldn’t impress someone who has lived in Japan and could find much more varied and seasonal selections at any street corner conbini, but for those looking for a lovingly curated selection of authentic Japanese edibles, this snack-tastic service comes highly recommended.
Candy gashapon goodness in every box
Japan Crate's focus on chocolates and sweets make it a safe bet for those looking for a random selection of slightly adventurous, wholly authentic Japanese treats delivered to their doorstep.