What do you buy for that someone special who has everything? It’s always a conundrum.
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) is a gift that keeps spirits high through a cold, dreary winter. What could be more perfect than that?
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.
Also keep in mind that hot chocolate can’t taste better than the chocolate used to make it. There’s 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 loving those lately and using them in all of my chocolate recipes.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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).
If you want 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)
- Hot Chocolate by Michael Turback (Powell’s Books)
- 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’s the recipe I included with the gift:
More Chocolate Recipes from LunaCafe:
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Cabernet Butter Cake
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Montmorency Cherry Morning Love Muffins
- Bittersweet Chocolate & Toasted Walnut Cookies Perfecta Mundo
- Bittersweet Chocolate Orange French Toast for Lovers
- Burnt Sugar & Rosemary Chocolate Tarts
- Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Almonds
- Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps
- Chocolate Almond Pound Cake
- Chocolate Shortcake with White Chocolate Crema, Strawberry Lime Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
- Fried Banana Split with Mexican Chocolate Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
- Heavenly Chocolate Beet Tea Loaf
- Heavenly Chocolate Crepes
- LunaCafe OtherWorldly Silky Fudgy Brownies
- LunaCafe’s Ultimate Chocolate Pudding
- Luscious White Chocolate and Raspberry Rose Petal Cheesecake
- Mexican Hearts of Fire Cookies
- Mexicano Chocolate Ebelskivers (Aebleskivers)
- Naughty & Nice: Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars
- Oh You Great Big Beautiful Blondie
- Pumpkin Spice & White Chocolate Cheesecake
- Pumpkin Spice Hot White Chocolate
- Quintessential Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
- Spirited Mocha Crepes with Peanut Butter Caramel, Peanut-Cocoa Nib Brittle & White Chocolate Crema
- White Chocolate, Cardamom & Coconut Beignet