High-end offerings from Kirin.

I missed my chance to try the Halloween special drinks. Oh. Well.

But I finally went to check out the new stuff at my local store.

I was not disappointed.

Staring at me was a whole lineup of Kirin branded drinks. Kirin, is of course most famous for it’s beer that can be found in all Japanese, and most Chinese restaurants in the U.S.A. Well, these are non-alcoholic. And they are the high-end, flagship soft drinks. By high end, I mean they cost an extra 50Yen more. Hah hah.

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What we have here is a choice of Coffee, Green Tea, and Ginger Ale. I checked out their website: http://www.kirin.co.jp/products/softdrink/bekkaku/  Yes. It is the high-end quality oriented drinks. On top of the three I just found, there is also a regular tea offering.

At this point I will just jump out and say it. The Ginger Ale is the clear winner! Crack open the bottle and a pleasant smell of fresh young ginger hits your nose. I never experienced such smell from any big name drink companies. The taste is not overly sweet, with a bit of a honey aftertaste. (I am not actually sure it was sweetened with honey, but the taste is there.) The spice is that of good and fresh ginger, no artificial taste at all. Not bitter. And has a very pleasant gingery after-burn. (The official claim is that freshly graded ginger is used for this drink.) I would say, if you want same quality ginger ale you would absolutely have to spring for the expensive boutique drink brands. Now, I am not that big of a fan of ginger ale, (except occasionally with my whiskey), and normally don’t go shopping for it. But! I am very excited about this drink.

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Next on my list of flavor favorites it the green tea. If I understood the website correctly, the tea leaves for this drinks are young (1 week?) and grown in low-light conditions (basically covered). The tea is then brewed at a temperature lower than boiling. What does that mean for the taste? There was no bitterness to the tea at all! And yet, it had a very strong leafy flavor. I would say, I could make tea like that by myself if I actually take care to brew carefully. But, I could not buy that type of quality in a bottle regularly.  I drank this cold, and with a stuffy nose. I think drinking it warm, and with working sinuses would do it much more justice.

 

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Finally, the coffee. The specialty of this are the “Bourbon Amarero (Brazil) golden beans”, and some rare syrup containing sugar. (Whatever that means.) This one is sweetened milk coffee. I think they claim to use more beans than usual in making this brew, I believe this because the coffee definitely has a strong caffeine kick. The flavor it … …decent. Better than other canned stuff. Worse than any coffee shop. The sweetness it at a good level. The coffee taste does not have any of the not that great flavors that typically come with the canned stuff. I still can’t decide if the milk was creamy or not. (Weird).  It’s a decent drink. But more of a purchase of opportunity. If I have time to think, I would go get something from a cafe instead.

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“Luka Luka★Night Fever” Pink Grapefruit Soda

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What is a pink-haired anime character doing on your soda bottle? Selling you pink grapefruit soda, apparently. Pink and pink seem to go well together according to drink company Itoen and their Vocaloid character campaign. For this edition we have Luka Megurine (巡音ルカ) and her 2009 single “Luka Luka★Night Fever”, where she promises to “break through the ‘dimensions’”; this time with your taste buds.

Vocaloid is a singing voice synthesizing software developed by the Yamaha Corporation in 2004. Each Vocaloid is sold as a “singer in a box”, which allows aspiring musicians to input lyrics and a melody into the program to create their own songs. Common characteristics of Vocaloid music are the following:

1) Throbbing Eurobeat BGM found just as commonly in European dance clubs as it is in smoky Japanese pachinko parlors.

2) Unnatural vibrato a la that Cher song that needs no further explanation—and which you probably have stuck in your head now.

3) Artificial-sounding voices that can only be the product of childhood nightmares of possessed, glow-in-the-dark-eyed dolls smiling in the corner of your bedroom.

4) A music video that features an animated character with blue hair.

Luka, as well as several other common Vocaloid avatars such as Miku Hatsune (初音ミク) and Rin/Len Kagamine (鏡音リン・レン), was developed by Crypton Future Media, Inc. The characters themselves were originally conceptualized as examples of what the singers of these artificial voices might look like, but ended up becoming the animated Vocaloid stars that they are today. Luka’s “Luka Luka★Night Fever” was written and produced by Vocaloid musician samfree. It is the fictional songstress’s biggest hit, receiving over 3,000,000 hits on Japan’s YouTube-esque Niconico Broadcast. With allusions in the song such as:

“I’m coming to see you beyond dimensions.”

“If you’re ready, take my hand.”

“I’ll teach you something that you’ll never learn at school.”

“Forget everything disgraceful.”

and

“When the sun rises it’s time to say goodbye.”

I’d say that Luka not only wishes to bust into the real world, but also to get into your pants—particularly if you own several of her figurines and are averse to showering.

Oh, and heartfelt croonings like this you can leave up to your imagination:  “I know you more than anyone else, so show me everything, and let me find out why we were born with you.”

Now that we know a little bit more about the packaging, let’s get down to the actual product:

Bleah

Not an all caps “BLEAH”, just a regular “Bleah”. Pink Grapefruit? I’d say more bubble gum than anything, which isn’t so bad for someone with as low standards for soft drinks as me. However, that after taste, that’s where the “Bleah” comes from.

Do It Yourself Matcha

Okay. I saw this one before, but only one time. And this appears again.  Do it yourself Matcha.

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It looks like a bottle of water with a green label over it. And that is what it basically is. A bottle of water. That is until you read the instructions on the back.

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The bottle cap actually doubles as a container of matcha powder. When you twist it, the powder is released into the water. You must now shake this vigorously to mix things up.

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You can see in the above photos the cap is actually a long tube that housed the Matcha.

On to the taste! I was actually expecting it to be much more bitter, more than the typical green teas available at the stores. But I was wrong, the bitterness was not there at all. At first I thought the tea was actually weak, not so! The flavor is subtle, but good: very leafy (as is the intention.) You taste the tea flavor, not the bitterness. Obviously the drink tastes very grainy as you just dumped a cap-full of tea leaf powder into it, but this only ads to the experience. I would definitely recommend this over purchasing the basic green tea bottle. The strange cap is more than just a gimmic.

The white cap can also be taken off with some elbow grease. This way you can see the powder storage mechanism: there is a plug at the bottom that “clicks” onto the green top, and pops off when you crack the top open.

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Fuji Cider

On the heels of the Shizuoka Cola drink comes the Mt. Fuji Soda pop. This offering is by the same company as the cola: Kimura Drink company.

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The styling again is very retro. Hard to see in the photo, but the label is actually impregnated with glittery flakes that shine as the light hits them.  The English writing says: Soda Pop, but the Japanese reads Cider all over the label.

Of course the claim is that the water used in this drink comes from Mt. Fuji itself. More so, it is collected at the foot of Mt. Fuji and is claimed to be slightly alkaline. (There is plenty of “Vanadium Water” mineral waters out there in the stores that claim to use Fuji water. I do not find the same taste in this drink. Perhaps the flavoring and the sugar are masking the mineral taste.)

Actually. This tastes like those Ramune drinks: the ones with a glass bead acting as the cork of the bottle. But, I would say more refined. The sugar content is much smaller, not overwhelming, and there is definitely more tang compared to your typical Ramune drink.

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Shizuoka Cola

I was having a crappy day. By dinner time I was exhausted: the kind of emotional tiredness you would get if you were crying or worried all day. Not a good feeling. Time for a snack break.  Walk in to my local market and what do I find: some crappy hazelnut cookie! …

… But also: Shizuoka Cola! It say’s cola but it’s green!

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I get back to my office and open it up. It tastes wonderful! Reminds me of the early 90’s “Euro-Coke” from my childhood. Maybe also similar to that bottled Coke you can get imported from Mexico, but with a hint of grape.  Just the right amount of sweetness. But it’s green. And cloudy! Of course, this thing has the tea kanji all over it. This stuff is caffeinated with green tea powder instead of … …(I don’t know where the caffeine in most colas come from). More over, I learn that it is sweetened with something called “liquid grape sugar”. (Grape syrup I guess.) Oh! That’s where the grape taste comes from. Neat!

I sit back, with the bottle empty and consider this beverage! And that’s when the tea flavor arrives. It’s in the aftertaste! Wonderful stuff.

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Inspiration from Hungary

Do Mangoes grow in Hungary?  I guess they do because this Peach and Mango (and I think milk) drink is inspired by the desserts of Hungary.

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Now. Normally I would not go for this: small bottle, clearly sugary, 10% juice. But, in the spirit of the blog, I went for it. Plus I bought the Porsche Black Coffee thing at the same time and perhaps my mind wanted something sweet to balance things out. Not that I drank both at the same time…

The taste is very peachy. Not sure I could taste the mango. Sweetness was not overwhelming, I expected it to be worse. A little viscous and creamy, which is a good thing. Quite pleasing.

Actually, this “Sekai Kitchen” brand sells a lot of different juice flavored drinks. Most of them too sweet for my taste. This one was quite good. I should hunt down the other offerings to compare and contrast… and to increase my flavor collection.

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Update: Tetsu Ramen

Well, tsukemen actually. The soup is hot and separate from the cold noodles. You dip the noodles in the soup and slurp away.

My Euro coworker found the Japanese ramen database a while ago. The number 24 place in Tokyo is within walking distance from my apartment. I finally make the trek over there. The streets are empty and the day is windy. There is only one place with a crowd, and it’s the Tetsu ramen place!

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Damn! This must be good. I buy the ticket for their special tskemen, and stand in line for half an hour to get in. This is the result.

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The noodles are refreshingly chilled and cooked just long enough to still be springy not mushy. The soup is super thick, loaded with toppings. Oily, but just oily enough not to get in the way, slightly sweet. Actually tastes mildly like sprats in liquid form, but in a good way. And clings in a very satisfying way to the noodles.

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As you finish your noodles, the soup is cool, with plenty of it left. You are now handed a jug full of broth and a super hot stone on a spoon. Dilute the soup. Drop the stone in and watch it boil! A bit gimmicky, but it works. You now have a bowl of warm soup to chase down the noodles that you ate. And no broth goes to waste. Definitely worth it.

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As I am leaving Tetsu I see what looks like a young version of Donald Trump waiting in line: skinny striped suit, oompa-loompa skin, yellow/orange hair in a weird style. The guy is followed by ugly men with big camera equipment. The girl I went to the ramen shop with goes a little crazy. Apparently that was Jonathan from Tokyo MX TV, westerner that grew up in Japan and is now on TV. Great ramen, and a celebrity sighting all in one. Not bad!

 

Update: If you are a tourist, the location of the original place might as well be in the middle of the dessert. You will never end up there. Unless you go to Nippori cat street, but you will stuff your face there anyway. But now! There is a new location at Tokyo Dome City (LaQua)! Even closer to me. And it’s a shopping mall, with lots of attractions and excuses to be in the area. Oh glory!