You would think it would be relatively easy to get a decent cup of hot chocolate given that the British are not unfamiliar with chocolate snacks and really have a bit of a sweet tooth. You’d be sadly mistaken however, and I’ve been trying to work out what the problem is. It could be that I have been spoilt by exceptionally good hot chocolate in the past and now wont compromise on dry sugary powders, or overly sweet syrups. It could also be that certain large chocolate manufacturers have duped us into thinking that the watery, grainy, sugary brown water that is made from their products is actually a decent thing to drink. It is not.
My first foray into proper hot chocolate involved a bar of Bournville and a pint of milk. After grating the chocolate into the warming milk, and allowing it to melt, I was left with a thick and delicious drink that was very filling and very dark. In my opinion one of the best hot chocolates going can be obtained from Blenz. Blenz uses Belgian chocolate (used to be Callebaut chips, milk that is heated to around 63 deg C so as not to scald it, and offers white, milk or dark varieties. My personal favourite was the day they ran out of milk chips and made a ‘zebra’ using a mix of the white and dark. Unfortunately Blenz is in Canada so its quite an expensive hot chocolate. Another decent Vancouver orientated hot chocolate is Cocoa West on Bowen Island. In addition to using real chocolate shavings, they add another dimension: spices. Hot chocolate with ancho or Poblano chiles, or cardamom, cinnamon or vanilla is simply delicious. Now before any of you run to the kitchen and start flinging chile powder into your Options sachet, for goodness sake read the label. Most chile powders in the UK are designed for making chilli and as such often contain salt, garlic powder, cumin and perhaps oregano. That would be quite foul.
In the UK, decent hot chocolate has been more of a moving target. I’ve had a couple of decent cups. One was from a motor way service station that had a chocolate fountain-esque device that delivered molten chocolate into hot milk. The other was from a Starbucks a few Novembers a go and seemed to involve heating a thick chocolate-hazelnut mixture that was neither syrup nor powder. If I’m in a cafe, I usually look for the tell-tale brand name or tin/jar of powder and then order a nice cup of tea – less disappointing. Adding marshmallows and disgusting skooshy cream doesn’t disguise the fact that the drink was made with brown grit to begin with.
Recently I started to make some progress when I stumbled across this firm on the internet: Montezumas. In addition to making some wonderful truffles, the Chocolate for Drinking No. 2 is lovely and has a pleasant mouth warming tingle of chile. But you don’t have to buy a big pack to make a decent hot chocolate. Buy a bar of chocolate, one of those decent cooking sorts with a good % cocoa. Milk or dark, your choice. About 100 g is suitable for 2 large mugs but your taste may vary. Either chop finely or grate and add to the warm milk of your choice (I usually use semi-skinned because that’s what is in the fridge, and fill the mugs to about 3/4 of normal serving to measure out the milk). If you want to use whole spices, infuse the milk as you warm it (but don’t boil it), and let it warm gently for longer before fishing them out and adding the chocolate. If you want to use essences or extracts, add a minute before serving (vanilla or orange work well). If you use powdered spices, add with the chocolate. If you use alcohol, probably easiest to pour the measure into the mug after the hot chocolate but remember to reduce the quantity of milk to accommodate it. Add chocolate bits to warm milk and allow to melt, stirring constantly. Serve, enjoy and revel in the notion that you have accomplished something that a large number of cafes and food outlets fail to do competently.