Hot Chocolate at Chocolats Privilege, Montreal, Canada

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There are so many things I love about Montreal. If you haven’t had a chance to visit I strongly recommend you plan a trip (but preferably not in the winter, it gets really cold). If you do get here make sure you save some time to visit one or several of the beautiful markets spread out across the city. Not only are they filled with colourful fresh produce from local farmers but they also offer a range of food options to satisfy any size of hunger and often any preference of cuisine.

Today we visited the Atwater Market located in the southwest of Montreal near the Lachine Canal. It was established in 1933 and named after Edwin Atwater, a 19th century businessman and municipal politician. The market itself is housed in an art-deco style building and spreads out onto the surrounding streets depending on the season. Here you can find pretty much anything and everything made from scratch by local producers, with fantastic names such as Les Cochons Tout Ronds (the round pigs), Fou du Chef (crazy about the chef), Roule Ma Poule (roll my chicken) and Fromages du Paradis (cheese from paradise). Everything was picked not long before it arrived here, blueberries, fresh corn on the cob, melons, cauliflower, mushrooms, you name it, they have it.

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We enjoyed some curries for lunch from Reunion Island at Marmite Su’l Feu and then walked around in search of something sweet to finish off our meal.  We stumbled upon Chocolats Privilege, a classic looking chocolate shop that creates a large number of delicious looking artisanal chocolates from bean to bar. You can buy the chocolate itself in large bags to create your own chocolate concoctions or be tempted by the many combinations created by them. There are truffles, chocolate shavings, even little animals made of chocolate. They have a range of different flavoured macaroons, ice-creams and chocolate covered marshmallows.

If I had been feeling a bit more adventurous this afternoon I could have chosen from a range of hot chocolates that they create using their own flavoured chocolate bars. The choices were salted caramel, raspberry, orange and ginger, hazelnut, cinnamon and cardamom, pink peppercorn, and mint. I chose to try their Chocolat Classique petit (CDN $3.05). It came to us in a tall clear glass filled up right to the top. It was one of those hot chocolates that would easily please most, sweet and chocolaty, a little bit decadent. To accompany it we were each given a little plastic bag with one of their macaroons inside; delicious and light as air.

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Verdict: Chocolate Privilege believes that a life without chocolate is a life missing something essential. I completely agree. Chocolats Privilege, Atwater Market, 138 Atwater Ave, Montreal Canada (with locations across Montreal, Kirkland and Laval)

 

Ultimate Hot Chocolate on this date…

in 2013: Hot Chocolate at the Landing Café, Rotorua, New Zealand

in 2012: Hot Chocolate at Baguette & Chocolat, Sapa, Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at World Cup Cafe, Taos, USA

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The scenic drive from Santa Fe up to Taos is magical. The landscape turns from red rocks to green forests and snow capped mountains, all within the space a couple of hours. We passed through villages with a feel of Old Spain, some known for their wood carvings, others for their numerous artists. And then, at the end of the road, is Taos, a blend of Hispanic, Native American and Western Ango cultures with a hint of Wild West.

Taos Pueblo, just outside of Taos, is a series of houses build during AD 1000 with no energy or running water, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hundred of inhabitants still dwell here in adobe buildings sitting at the base of a snow capped mountain.  Little has changed here in over 600 years. We had a delicious lunch at Orlando’s on our way to the slightly terrifying Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a high suspension bridge.

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After a stunning day in the area I was craving a hot chocolate, more specifically a deep Mexican hot chocolate. We did a bit of a search online and found a recent article from the local newspaper that raved about the Mexican hot chocolate at World Cup Cafe right in the centre of historic Taos. The article said that it was spicy and rich and comes topped with whip cream and a dusting of cinnamon. World Cup was full of locals warming up over cups of coffee. I ordered my small hot chocolate and asked for it to drink in.

World Cup Café is a tiny café. It is basically just a counter to order, a few stools to sit near the windows and then some blue benches along the outside of the store where you can watch Taos go by. The walls are covered in money from around the world and the blackboard is a long list of caffeine delights (apparently incredible).  World Cup Café is all about “walking the talk” and chooses ingredient integrity and quality over low cost. Coffee beans are organic, dairy products are from a farmer owned organic valley co-op, baked goods are all organic ingredients. Even the honey is local and organic.

 

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My hot chocolate was presented to me in a paper cup, with no whipped cream (or even the option), and no dusting of cinnamon  (as the article suggested it would). It was a very sweet version of Mexican hot chocolate, and didn’t have the complex chilli and spice notes that I was hoping for. What was interesting though was that it had a hint of nuts in it which was unique and I found quite fascinating. I couldn’t pick out what kind of nut, walnut perhaps?

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Verdict: Not quite what I was expecting but a really nice finish to a fantastic day. World Cup,  102 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos, New Mexico, USA

Hot Chocolate at Café Pasqual’s, Santa Fe, USA

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The motto of Café Pasqual’s is ‘Panza llena, Corazon content!’ which means full stomach, happy heart. Over the past 3 days Café Pasqual’s did both for us; filled our stomachs (several times) and gave us warm and very happy hearts. Located just a couple of blocks away from the main plaza of stunning Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US and a magnet for artists and art lovers, it and all of the surrounding buildings are made from a modern version of the traditional adobe houses made with sun dried bricks of earth and water. At 8 am the sky was a perfectly crisp blue, and slowly but surely everything started waking up. The artists were setting up their turquoise jewlery in the plaza, and the tourists were already out and ready with their cameras, many of them lined up in front of Café Pasqual’s.

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Café Pasqual is named after the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks, San Pasqual. His image hangs in the kitchens of many homes and restaurants in particular around New Mexico. Born on May 24, 1540, San Pasqual was a Franciscan Friar assigned to kitchen duties. The story goes that he created incredible meals with simple foods he found in the kitchen. His fellow Friars would see him meditating and praying while he was cooking and believed he was being helps by angels. Then date of his passing, May 17th, is celebrated around the world as the Feast of San Pasqual.

San Pasqual restaurant keeps this spirit of taking simple foods and turning them into incredible meals. Inside the dinning room is a celebration covered in hand painted Mexican tiles and murals by renowned Mexican painter Leovigildo Martinez. The food matches the atmosphere. It is colourful, flavourful and exciting with a New Mexican feel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sit in the dinning room once during our trip due to the popularity of the restaurant, but we had their famous breakfast burritos twice during our stay which we took with us and ate in the plaza. We also had dinner twice (take out as well), which had specialty dishes like home made tamales with red chilli chicken, incredible mole enchiladas with cilantro rice, jicama salad and corn torte (hmmm my mouth is watering as I type this).

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And then there was the hot chocolate. Mentioned simply as Mexican Hot Chocolate, it was delicious and was the perfect start to our chilly but sunny Santa Fe mornings. Rich chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chilli, all very subtle and beautifully blended. Because we got it “to go”, it came in a large paper cup with a plastic lid (usually this is a no-no) but I drank the whole thing and craved more. It was so easy to drink, such a beautiful way to start a day.

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Verdict: A true party in your mouth, New Mexican style. Café Pasqual’s, 121 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Hot Chocolate at Common Bond, Houston, USA

 

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Houston has been in need of a beautiful bakery for quite some time now, at least in my opinion. So when Common Bond finally opened a few weeks ago, we didn’t wait for an invite! On this corner in Houston there used to be an old historic house which housed an antique store. When the store burnt down over a year ago we wondered what would take its place and not surprisingly a very modern looking building popped up. Common Bond set up in the corner, and they’ve created a stunning space. It has incredibly high ceilings and windows that go from the floor all the way to the roof on three sides of the café. The whole space is filled with lots of seating and the baristas make your coffee (and hot chocolate) right in the middle. When you first enter you walk through a twisty line (often a very long line) to get to a never ending display case filled with rich and delicate looking desserts, chocolate cupcakes, multi-coloured macaroons, tiramisu and of course a selection of freshly made breads. While waiting in line you can watch bakers and pastry chefs doing their magic in the back.

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Montrose has no shortage of interesting and delicious spots to stop. In fact pretty much all of my favourite places to eat are along this road in Montrose and if you are a coffee lover this area is as far as you have to go. Now with the opening of Common Bond, this is definitely the area you want to be in for hot chocolates as well. Their hot chocolate is made from Valrhona Manjori, prepared by staff wearing white shirts, black aprons and white hats looking at cool as can be. This chocolate even though it is a dark, 64% cocoa tasted quite sweet and was very easy and enjoyable to drink. Paired with one of their many chocolate desserts it would be death by chocolate, a happy and colourful death by chocolate.

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Verdict: Glad to see Houston is slowly, but surely getting some good hot chocolate options. Common Bond is a stunning and happy place and you won’t be disappointed with their hot chocolate if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Rd, Houston, USA

Hot Chocolate at Kilwins, Baltimore, USA

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Baltimore is known as the Charm City and after having spent a couple of days there I can definitely see why. Charming is the perfect word for it. Walking along the waterfront past a range of ships and boats, an old power plant has been turned into one of the most beautiful book stores I have seen (if you go inside you can still see the structure of the old power plant). If you keep walking along the harbour, past Little Italy, through Harbor East and into historic Fells Point, that is where you will find Kilwins.

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I had a hard time finding Kilwins, or rather a hot chocolate along the waterfront, as charming little pubs with busy terraces are what is popular here rather than coffee/chocolate shops. I was actually on my way back to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport when I stumbled upon Kilwins. I was a bit hesitant at first, because Kilwins is your typical looking sweet shop. They have an icecream counter (which was very popular today), with the display case filled with fudge, toffee and caramel and lots of salt water taffy chews. There were chocolates of every shape and size in flavours such as blue cheese toffee, bacon maple and stout beer. Near the window a young man was making candy apples and crunchy brittle fresh.

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I, again hesitantly, ordered a hot chocolate. With all of the sugar surrounding me I was worried it would be too sweet. But I was very pleasantly surprised. I ordered their sea salt caramel hot chocolate and loved it. The sea salt caramel rather than making it taste sweeter actually seemed to round it out and just make it so easy to drinks. I drank every last sip of it while sitting on the docks, watching the Baltimore waterfront and a steady stream of locals dressed in orange Orioles t-shirts walk by (there was a big baseball game today apparently …).

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Verdict: Surprisingly nice treat…choose the sea salt caramel and take it over to the waterfront to enjoy.   Kilwanis, 1625 Thames Street, Baltimore, USA

Hot Chocolate at Brunetti, Melbourne, Australia

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Entering Brunetti is like entering a coffee shop in Rome…just 100 times larger. This isn’t the small café that the locals come to get a good coffee and pastry. This is the very large café that counts all Melbourians as locals and all seemed to be here today enjoying coffees, pastries and food.

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There is a fantastic buzz here. In fact my review of Brunetti’s should almost be written in song form, like a musical. Despite having dozens and dozens of tables, they were all full. Everytime groups sitting at a table even hinted at being done and ready to leave, there were 5 people there, hovering around ready to grab it. Just as the table next to us received two freshly made pizzas, I could hear silverware falling off another table, the espresso machine turning on and off, and the waiters shouting at each other in Italian. The noise seemed to build up and then quiet down, just to build up again.

The area is divided into several parts. At the front there is a large area full of desserts, mostly Italian but some borrowed from other countries as well, all looking delicious. The center area is where all the coffee machines are and a steady stream of people were waiting along the counter for their espressos and flat white’s. Then there is an area with paninis and sandwhiches followed by the pizza oven and pasta station. Along the whole space are seating areas and at the very back is a proper sit down restaurant.

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We ordered two very large plates of pasta brought to our table by Giani, a very friendly Italian man with perfect white teeth. He dropped off our plates then returned 2 seconds later with freshly grated parmesan cheese and then left again, returning a third time with bread and cutlery, all executed like a little dance.

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The buzz is invigorating and relaxing, despite being loud at times. The ‘cioccolata calda piccolo (small hot chocolate) unfortunately was neither invigorating or relaxing. It was made using a very sweet chocolate syrup. I was hoping for a beautiful think Italian drinking chocolate, and am still surprised that Brunetti doesn’t have this option. The Italians make such beautiful hot chocolates. Perhaps they had one but just didn’t tell me about it …..

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Verdict: Everything else at Brunetti’s is just like I remember it in Italy… except for the hot chocolate. Peccato. Brunetti, 380 Lygon street, Melbourne, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Cocobean Chocolate, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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After several pretty bad hot chocolates along the road between Hobart and Launceston, I was beginning to wonder whether Australia’s talent for producing beautiful hot chocolates did not extend South to this state. That is until today. Cocobean Chocolate opened at 9am this Monday morning and we were there at 9:01 with high expectations. We were greeted by a very friendly young woman and when we asked her what hot chocolates they offered her face lit up and she got all excited. “Oh we have so many options, sit down and I’ll bring a menu”. We sat down right in the middle of a row of tables all facing the incredible display of chocolates, truffles, Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies.

The place was already buzzing. To the far left of us was a woman there for her daily hot chocolate before going to work. A few moments later another woman arrived and sat at the table to the far right. They knew each other and spent several minutes speaking over us, sharing stories from the weekend. Two men in suits arrived to pick up a box with a giant chocolate bunny. The bunny was to be displayed proudly at the front entrance of their business and there were plans to use it as a prize for a contest.

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Cocobean Chocolates was founded in 2008 by Rick and Theresa Streefland. Theresa, who was in the store this morning, is a mum and connoisseur of all things quality and was looking to put her passion for food to good use after raising three kids. They started making the chocolates in the shop’s upstairs kitchen on George Street but quickly outgrew this facility and moved into a larger one.

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They had several hot chocolate offerings. There was a classic hot chocolate which a steady stream of locals were coming in and ordering. You could also have a white hot chocolate and every week they had a special hot chocolate on offer which could be cinnamon, chili, vanilla bean, hazelnut, mixed spice, orange or caramel. This week’s special was mint, another popular option for the locals coming in this morning.

I ordered the traditional hot chocolate made with 65% Maracaibo single origin chocolate…in a mug. It was a beautiful hot chocolate. I cannot rave about this hot chocolate enough. It was so smooth with a rich chocolately taste while still being very easy to drink. It was not sweet, not bitter but a perfect blend that just made my day. It was one giant chocolatey hug. If only Launceston wasn’t so far away…

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Cocobeans Chocolate also offers their hot chocolate in little individual packaged cubes of solid chocolate on sticks that you can melt into hot milk. I bought one with chili and tried it at home. It was beautiful.

Our plan today was to drive the Tamar Wine Route and taste the very well known Tasmanian wines (red and sparkling in particular).  This hot chocolate must have been our lucky charm because for the first time in two weeks the clouds parted, the sun came out and we had perfect weather to visit the vineyards and enjoy the stunning views across the valley.

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Verdict: I loved everything about Cocobean. The staff were so friendly and they obviously have a lot of fans locally (and internationally), understandably! Cocobean Chocolate, 82 George Street, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.

Hot Chocolate at Francois Payard Bakery, New York City, USA

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There is no shortage of good hot chocolates in New York City. There is no shortage of anything really in New York City. This city attracts some of the best from around the world and luckily for the locals, some of the best pastry chefs. Francois Payard is one of those pastry chefs. His CV says it all, pastry chef in Paris at La Tour d’Argent, at Lucas Carton, at Le Bernardin, all set him up to be named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. And this is just the tip of the iceberg really.

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So as we walked towards his West Houston St. location between Soho and Greenwich Villiage, expectations were high. It was 8 am but there was already a steady trickle of locals coming in for their morning bread/coffee/pastry fix before starting their day. The space was much smaller and cosier than I expected. Around the entrance there were shelves covered in little boxes of multi-coloured macaroons, beautiful chocolates coated with colourful designs, copies of Francois Payard’s multiple cookbooks. On one side of the door there was an old waffle machine and Kitchenaid Mixer, neither I suspect have worked for a long time, but were a lot of fun in that environment. The counter was, as you would expect, jam packed with all sorts of deliciousness; éclairs, tarte au citron, crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, whatever you had a craving for, sugar wise, it was here and looked perfect. Along the walls there were large towers of macaroons, examples of the kinds of fancy cakes you could order for a special occasion.

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There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about this little spot, things that would be so easy to fix. The staff this early Sunday morning had chosen rap and hip hop with a lot of swearing as background music for the day and it was really far too loud, so loud in fact it felt more like a night club than a Sunday morning. On top of that, and this is a big thing for me, all the drinks were presented in paper cups, regardless of whether you stayed in or took out. Hot Chocolates in paper cups to me taste like paper cups rather than like hot chocolate, and for a business that is all about quality chocolate, it was a tough one to swallow.

The hot chocolate, even with of these things fighting against it, was beautiful. It was rich and creamy yet still light and airy. It was not a thick hot chocolate as I had expected, but rather a perfectly light option to start any day with. It has a slight malty taste, not too sweet, not too chocolaty, very subtle and satisfying. Mine was made with water but the woman at the counter did mention that if I preferred it could be made with milk. I ordered a small (which in a large paper cup was enough to satisfy probably 3 people).

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Verdict: A very nice hot chocolate but bring your earplugs…and your favourite mug to make it perfect.  Francois Payard Bakery, 116 West Houston St., New York City, USA