As anyone who has visited Japan will probably know, the country allows cigarettes to be purchased in vending machines, but only to adults (20 and older). Since 2008, cigarette machines require a smart card called Taspo only issued to adults.

It's against the law for minors to buy cigarettes, so, when a Japanese reporter from our sister site Grape noticed a group of high school boys hanging around a cigarette vending machine one day during a recent visit to the Nihon Hyakkaten Akarenga store in Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, she considered having a stern word with them.

"This is a tourist spot," she thought. At the same time, she wondered why it was that none of the adults all around were saying anything to them.

Her curiosity piqued, she approached the vending machine...

Photo by Grape

"Wait a second, those aren't cigarettes. The machine isn't selling tobacco, it's selling Chabacco...!

As some of our readers may recall, Chabacco, a reinterpretation of the word chabako 茶箱 (literally meaning "tea box" in Japanese) is a line of packaged sticks of powdered Japanese tea in "boxes" clearly inspired by cigarette carton design.

The Grape reporter had never heard of Chabacco before, so when she first noticed the boxes which looked ike real cigarette packages under a sign saying "this is no tobacco, but Japanese tea," she did a double-take.

The high school-aged boys seemed to be having a lot of fun trying to decide which product to buy...

Photo by Grape

Sensing a possible story in it, she decided it would be best to try a box of Chabacco for herself.

Photo by Grape

She ended up choosing Hojicha...The design definitely had the look of a tobacco package. The text was also an interesting read...

Photo by Grape

In an obvious parody of typical health warning messages found on Japanese cigarette packs warning about negative effects, it said: "The taste of Chabacco can have a positive effect on the mood of family members and co-workers..." So far so good...

"Socializing while drinking Chabacco has the potential to deepen relationships and friendships..." Nothing but good things here!

Taste Test

When our reporter returned home and showed the package to her family members, they asked her: "When did you start smoking?" But then, she proudly opened the box and said, "I tricked you... Actually, this is tea! Inside the box were eight sticks of powdered Hojicha.

Photo by Grape

First she tried the tea hot. The instructions on the box explain you should pour a stick of Chabacco into your cup or mug, then pour in 150 to 200 ml of hot water, and stir well. Actually, it doesn't really matter which order you do it in, since the ultra-fine powder dissolves very well in hot water.

Photo by Grape

The wonderful roasted aroma of Hojicha filled her nose. "This aroma would have been even stronger if had poured the tea in first and the hot water second," she thought, as she took her first sip.

Photo by Grape

Delicious! The taste was impressively rich for a powdered tea product.

Then, she tried the tea cold. Following the directions, she filled a 350 ml plastic bottle with cold water, poured in the Chabacco powder, closed the cap and shook the bottle vigorously:

Photo by Grape

A refreshing iced hojicha drink! And as the Chabacco press release explains, you can also make everything from frozen cocktails, smoothies, milk beverages and all kinds of iced drinks with it too.

Chabacco collaborations

Showtime Inc. created Chabacco to help revitalize the domestic tea market which is sadly in decline compared to the international market. At the same time, they wanted to help the hard-working tea growers of Shizuoka Prefecture. That's why you'll find the most retail outlets and vending machines for Chabacco in Shizuoka, where numerous package designs are available to reflect the specific region.

For example, here are designs for Kakegawa City 掛川市, where the company got started:

You can see the original designs in the top row and the designs for the city of Kawanehon 川根本町 in Shizuoka in the bottom row:

You'll also find designs for the city of Numazu 沼津, famous for its seafood and the Numazu Deep Blue Aquarium & Coelacanth Museum, which has the distinction of being the only aquarium in the world with coelacanths on display:

Finally, here are the bold designs for Nambu 南部町 in Yamanashi Prefecture...

...and Ashigara 足柄 in Kanagawa Prefecture:

You can find out more about Chabacco at their online store here.

In addition to the Nihon Hyakkaten Akarenga store in Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse mentioned above, you'll also find them in Tokyo at the Uso no Tabacco shop in Asakusabashi.

Have fun with Chabacco!

By - Ben K.