A Gift of Drinking Chocolate

One Hot Mamma Hot Chocolate

What do you buy for that someone special who has everything? That was my conundrum last Christmas for my niece, Amy.

I had just discovered the pleasures of European drinking chocolate (see later in this post for a distinction between hot cocoa, hot chocolate, and drinking chocolate, plus some excellent places to sample the latter two drinks in Portland, Oregon) so decided to share that discovery with her and her merry band. I did some research and a few rounds of testing and tasting to come up with a drinking chocolate formula that strikes me as just right.

For me, the “problem” with drinking chocolate is that it can be almost the consistency of a melted chocolate bar, the richness of which dictates a very small serving, perhaps only 3-4 ounces. But truthfully, when I have a hankering for hot chocolate, I want a decent-size serving that I can linger over, while nestled up to the fireplace, watching the snow fall.

When you are looking for recipes for drinking chocolate, keep in mind that those that call for half-and-half, or even cream, will actually dull the unique and often subtle flavor nuances of a fine bar chocolate. If you really want to taste the chocolate, water is the best carrier.

This said, most of us expect a creamy aspect to our drinking chocolate. I certainly do, so I prefer to use whole milk to melt the chocolate and then add a thick head of whipped cream, which remains separate from the drink.

Chocalte from Theo, Scharfenbeger, Dagoba

Also keep in mind that hot chocolate cannot taste better than the chocolate you use to make it. There is so much wonderful bar chocolate available to us today, it’s an adventure to sample it all.

The three chocolate makers that are often cited as the world’s best are Valrhona (prevalent on restaurant dessert menus these days), Weiss, and Michel Cluizel, closely followed by Scharffen Berger, Guittard, and Callebaut. On the local Northwest scene we have Schaffen Berger, Dagoba, and Theo. I’m exploring those lately and using them in all of my chocolate recipes.

A Gift of Drinking Chocolate

If you would like to put together a gift similar to the one pictured above, here’s what went into it:

  • iSi one pint, black enamel, dessert whip (Kitchen Kaboodle or Amazon )
  • iSi 10-Pack N2O Cream Whipper Chargers (Kitchen Kaboodle or Amazon)
  • Aerolatte Milk Frother, Satin Finish (Kitchen Kaboodle)
  • Holiday napkins (Molbak’s gift Shop)
  • Calla holiday napkins (Crate&Barrel)
  • Hot Chocolate by Michael Turback (Powell’s Books or Amazon)
  • Set of four, 8-ounce Oneida Christmas mugs (Target!) Or see these:
  • Jar of peppermint snow (Williams-Sonoma)
  • Two silver stars (Molbak’s Gift Shop)
  • Crystallized candied ginger (Trader Joe’s)
  • Star anise, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, vanilla beans, and pink sea salt (Cost Plus World Market)
  • Tuaca liqueur (liquor store)
  • Myer’s Dark rum (liquor store)
  • Two 3.5-ounce bars Green & Black’s 55% Bittersweet Dark Chocolate with Orange & Spices
  • Two 3.5-ounce bars Lindt 70% Excellence Cocoa Intense Dark
  • Two 3-ounce bars Vosges 55% Red Fire (Mexican ancho and chipotle chiles and Ceylon cinnamon)
  • Two 3-ounce bars Theo Origin 75% Ivory Coast Dark

And here is the recipe I included with the gift:

One Hot Mama Drinking Chocolate

This is NOT mildly-flavored, American-style hot cocoa, which is typically made with cocoa powder, or sometimes with chocolate syrup. Rather, it is European-style drinking or hot chocolate, which is made with high-quality bar chocolate.

Once you have had hot chocolate made in this way, you won’t settle for anything else. I prefer the lesser amount of chocolate specified below, but if you want an extra-rich drink, use the greater amount.

SERVING NOTE I typically make this entire amount and then refrigerate it until needed, usually retreiving one portion at a time over a few days.

4½ cups whole milk
6-8 ounces, premium, bittersweet bar chocolate (65%-75% cacao), roughly chopped (consider organic, single origin chocolate)
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 cardamom pod, shell discarded, seeds crushed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like the heat) 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (with perhaps a bit more to taste)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch fine sea salt (don’t even think about leaving this out)

Embellishments, optional
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and lightly sweetened
finely zested orange peel

  1. In a saucepan, over medium-low heat, bring the milk to just below a simmer.
  2. Lower the heat to keep the milk below the simmer, and then add the chocolate, orange zest, cardamom, pepper flakes, and brown sugar.
  3.  Stir or whisk until the chocolate is melted.
  4. Remove from the heat, and add the vanilla and sea salt. Taste, and add a bit more brown sugar if needed.
  5. Let the flavors meld as long as you can wait (refrigerate if you need to hold longer than an hour), reheat if necessary, strain into a 1-quart pitcher, and then divide equally into six, eight-ounce capacity, Irish coffee mugs. (Each serving will contain six ounces of hot chocolate, leaving you room for a topping of whipped cream, which is a necessary embellishment to my palate. However, if prefer not to add whipped cream, check out the Aerolatte milk frother, which will give you a frothy head without any additional calories; or use the steamer of an espresso machine.)
  6. Top each serving with a generous mound of whipped cream (for speed, ease, and perfect whipped cream every time, check out the amazing isi cream whip) and freshly zested orange peel. Serve immediately.

Makes six 6-ounce servings.

European-Style Hot Chocolate in the Pan

Is it Drinking Chocolate, Hot Chocolate or Hot Cocoa?

I spent a lively and interesting half hour on the phone with Aubrey Lindley, co-owner of the Cacao DrinkChocolate establishment this past week, trying to get to the heart of the distinction between drinking chocolate, hot chocolate, and hot cocoa. I was set to tell you (after quite a bit of research) that drinking chocolate is made with bar chocolate and liquid (typically water, milk, or cream), whereas hot chocolate is made with unsweetened cocoa powder and milk (with perhaps some cream). But this declaration was going to contradict what I had heard from a couple of the chocolate drink purveyors with whom I had talked. I was prepared to say, well um, that they are all confused.

But Aubrey has worked out the distinctions rather brilliantly I think, and I’m going to go with his thinking on this because it’s clear and it makes sense (adding just a few minor tweaks of my own). This said, you will find that purveyors have their own nomenclature, which may be slightly different from what I suggest below. Here goes:

Drinking Chocolate: High proportion of premium, bittersweet (60%-75% cacao) bar chocolate; hot water, milk, or cream, or some combination thereof; optional spices; served still, rather than steamed or frothed; can be made in bulk in a hot chocolate machine (which holds the melted chocolate in suspension at perfect temperature) or made-to-order; very thick and creamy, almost like melted bar chocolate.

Hot Chocolate: Somewhat lower proportion of premium, bittersweet (60%-75% cacao) bar chocolate; hot water, milk, or cream, or some combination thereof; optional spices; made-to-order; served steamed and/or frothed; slightly to considerably thick and creamy but not as thick as drinking chocolate.

Hot Cocoa: Powdered, unsweetened cocoa with added sugar; optional spices; hot water, milk or cream; typically served frothed and topped with whipped cream or marshmallows; only slightly thicker than the liquid used.

Discovering European-Style Drinking or Hot Chocolate in Portland, Oregon


Owners, Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley, are pacesetters on the high-quality chocolate front in Portland. In their shops, they make made-to-order hot chocolate with a variety of world-class chocolate pistols (chocolate buttons), liquid of choice (typically milk or part cream), and just a touch of Dutch-process cocoa powder for added depth of flavor. This drink is steamed and frothed using the steamer of an espresso maker. They also add spices to some of their special offerings.

In addition, they make drinking chocolate, which has the mouth feel of a melted chocolate bar (high viscosity). This drink is kept in perfect suspension and at perfect temperature in a machine made especially for this purpose. It is a still drink, meaning it is not steamed or frothed.

(Many thanks to Aubrey Lindley for his clear explanation of the differences between the three distinctive (and sometimes confused or blurred) chocolate drinks: hot cocoa, hot chocolate, and drinking chocolate.)

Coffeehouse Northwest

Owner, Adam McGovern, sampled a wide variety of top-quality chocolate before deciding on French maker, Michel Cluizel’s Concepcion Single Origin variety. At this excellent coffee house with a university campus vibe, each made-to-order hot chocolate is created with chocolate pistols (one-inch chocolate buttons), steamed with milk, cream, and a pinch of Portuguese salt (using the steamer of an espresso machine). The resulting hot chocolate has a superb flavor (bright, beautifully nuanced, fruity with vanilla and caramel undertones) and is, to my palate, a perfect viscosity for this drink (not too thick).

Alma Chocolate

Owner, Sarah Hart, uses a variety of organic, single origin, premium chocolates in her chocolate drinks, as well as heady spices, such as cardamom and jasmine, and also chiles. At Alma, two chocolate drinks are made: a drinking chocolate (either in a drinking chocolate machine or made-to-order) made with bar chocolate, spices, and milk; and a hot chocolate, made in the same manner but with a greater proportion of milk to chocolate (thus less condensed).


Owner, Elizabeth Montes, rotates her many fine chocolates in the creation of her drinking chocolate, which is a simple mixture of bar chocolate and milk. She purposely omits additional flavorings so that her customers can experience the unique nuances of the chocolate.

©2008 SMS Bradley

More Chocolate Recipes from LunaCafe:

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  1. says

    What an informative piece. I truly enjoy a good drinking chocolate. The melted chocolate bar affect is everything I love about it. I had never thought about the milk or cream dulling the flavors of the chocolate. I’ll have to give it a go with some water sometime to see the difference. A new chocolate tasting shop opened nearby and I’ve been meaning to go to a tasting and pick up some fine chocolate bars. I’ll have to pick one out specifically for a drinking chocolate.
    Rachel recently posted…Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Fennel, and ApplesMy Profile

  2. says

    I can’t believe how much drinking chocolate has taken off this past year! I agree sometimes that it’s a little heavy, basically melted chocolate. Love your homemade idea and the flavor pairing in your recipe sounds divine Susan!
    Alisa recently posted…Raw Chocolate Superfood TartMy Profile

  3. says

    I did not make it to the NW chocolate Festival last year, I’m going to try and make it this year though!

    The Oregon Chocolate Festival is March 6-8th If you come down, let me know and we’ll do some chocolate tasting.

    • sms bradley says

      Darn! We will be in the Southwest in March. It sounds like a wonderful event, will definitely try to make it next year. Thanks for the tip!

  4. says

    Bradley, thanks for the compliment on the site, it’s still a work in progress. :) I would bet Cacao has the Michel Cluizel’s Concepcion if you wanted to try it. I like his Cru de Plantation Vila Gracinda better, but they are both amazing bars.

    We sell the top five bars from
    . It’s a great site and forum for fine chocolate. :)

    Thanks again for an awesome article!

  5. says

    Coffehouse northwest’s idea of using Michel Cluizel’s Concepcion is brilliant! The middle gives off high notes of carmel finishing with nuts and I bet it makes awesome drinking chocolate! I’m going to run to the shop and get a bar and rush home and try it! :)

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Brandon! You’re right, it really is amazing chocolate. There are so many nuances dancing around on your palate that if you are paying attention, it’s quite an experience. I don’t have a ready source for this bar chocolate but really must locate one soon. I drank the last cup of my latest batch of One Hot Mama Drinking Chocolate last night and need to get another batch going today.

  6. says

    Great post and thank you! We’ve been selling fine chocolate down here in Ashland (or.) for a few years now and have wanted to start offering drinking chocolate….thanks for those definitions. :)

    To add to your list of the world’s best chocolate: Amedei, Bonnat, Domori and Pralus. I’ve never heard of Weiss being called the world’s best, but hey, you learn something new everyday! :)

    Thanks again for the article!

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Brandon! I knew that “world’s best” list would get me in trouble. :-) Francois Payard lists Weiss in his top three, and I admit that it puzzled me too. Pralus is beautiful chocolate! I will try to find the other three you mention so that I can sample.

      Did you attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Portland this past year? I especially appreciated the many chocolate and other ingredient tastings (chocolate and coffee, chocolate and tea, chocolate and herbs and spices, chocolate and red wine). There was even a chocolate and beer booth. I have to work up a chocolate and stout cake this year, maybe for Valentine’s Day. That combination is appearing here and there across the Portland dessert landscape.

      Your website is awesome! Would love to see your shop next time I’m in beautiful Ashland.

  7. Radar says

    You post drinking chocolate and I’m snowed in with skim milk and chocolate chips–VBS! I’ll dig my way out! I will make this before the week is out! Thanks.

    • sms bradley says

      Clark, thank you! This drink will be wonderful with Callebaut bittersweet chocolate. I have a serving or two left in the frig from a recent batch, so guess what I’m having tonight?


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