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

Hot Chocolate at Urban Pantry, Canberra, Australia

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We only had two hours to explore Canberra on our drive back from Sydney towards Melbourne. Over the years I had heard many stories about the capital city, not very many of them complimentary. I remember reading a travel book where one author wrote that when he arrived in Canberra for the first time and couldn’t find anything exciting happening or anything interesting to see, he ended up going to the nearest pub and got drunk. So my expectations were not particularly high.

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IMG_7490But he was wrong, Canberra was a very pretty city and at least today, everything was buzzing. It isn’t at all dynamic, at least at first view, as Melbourne or Sydney. Instead it just has this little town feel, quiet and clean, with everything right where it is supposed to be. I wondered if that meant it would have good hot chocolates or dull hot chocolates, so I did a bit of research and the name Urban Pantry kept coming up as the place to go.

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And we weren’t the only ones. Urban Pantry was full today for lunch and everyone looked, like everything else in the city, very clean and serious and put together nicely. Most people were wearing suits and one by one as they went to the cash to pay they each had accents form different parts of the world; an American, then a Danish man, then a woman from Singapore. This spot is not far from the area which is filled with large embassy houses, each designed to look vaguely like a traditional house from that particular land.

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The inside was welcoming and takes its design cues from the neighbourhood’s leafy streets and heritage listed buildings. They had a wall covered in baskets full of freshly baked bread and lots of delicious looking sweets and a menu full of locally produced ingredients. Staff were friendly, although they seemed to be having more fun talking to each other than serving, which was from our table quite entertaining to watch.

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The menu lists not one but a whole list of hot chocolates; milk, dark, white or even chocolate overdose, all Belgian chocolate. You also had the option of having it in a cup or a mug, both with different price tags. We both ordered the dark chocolate in a mug. Now, many rave about this hot chocolate and I can see why, but today it just didn’t work with us. The mug that came was filled with hot milk which didn’t taste at all like chocolate. After a few sips we realized that they put actual chocolate at the bottom of the glass and that we had to mix it ourselves. Ordinarily I would love something like that, but in this case it was tricky because there just wasn’t any room in the mug to mix the chocolate properly. The chocolate used, which I ended up eating directly, tasted more like a milk chocolate than a dark chocolate…something in between the two. When we asked what kind of chocolate it was we were told it was Cadbury chocolate pieces (not so Belgian really).

So I will keep mixed memories of Canberra. It was a beautiful little city and Urban Pantry is definitely a fantastic spot with a very popular hot chocolate.

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Verdict: Urban Pantry looks and feels great. Their hot chocolate is also good, great idea, just tricky to enjoy properly. Maybe a bigger mug, or even serve the milk in a separate little container to make it easier to mix? Urban Pantry, 5 Bougainville St, Canberra, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Tricycle, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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Hobart is such a fantastic city. I think I’d be happy to stay here for a while, maybe even move here. It is just such a beautiful spot; the gorgeous little old houses on Battery point, eating fish and chips along the water, the renovated warehouses and the heaps of great spots to eat and drink. I love Hobart.

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This time I purposely planned our trip to coincide with a Saturday morning so that we would visit the famous Salamanca market. Over 300 stallholders sell fresh and gourmet produce, arts, crafts and handiwork from all over Tasmania. Dozens of street performers, most either singing or playing instruments are dotted throughout the stalls. And it was packed, jam packed.  We bought gorgeous apples picked just that morning, which were the best apples I have ever had, ever.  I guess Tasmania is known as the Apple Isle for a reason …

In between visiting stalls and listening to street performers, we grabbed a table outside at Tricycle Café, part of the Salamanca Arts Centre.  They have a spot inside the Arts Centre, filled with natural light from a large skylight. The walls and floors are covered with little old tricycles. We got a seat outside right next to the market so we could watch everything that was happening.

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The problem with sitting outside is that you don’t get much service. My hot chocolate was also just ok. It looked rich and inviting but just didn’t taste like much, more like a glass of hot milk with a very slight chocolately taste. But it gave us a chance to sit and watch everyone walk by and because of this hot chocolate we discovered an absolutely fantastic cheese shop inside Salamanca Arts Centre which is a definite must stop.

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Verdict: The food sounds great but you will be lucky to find a table here. Great spot to watch Salamanca Market come to life. Tricycle Café, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Tricycle Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Jo & Willy’s Depot, Sydney, Australia

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Just around the corner and up the street from Bondi beach you will find Jo & Willy’s. It is hard to miss really. It is the spot that almost always has a long line of people waiting outside for a table. This is where the locals hang out, and for 3 days we too were locals and this is where we spent most of our down time.

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There are lots of things I loved about Jo & Willy’s. Inside it is so welcoming and fun with wildflowers on the tables. The walls, furniture and decorations are every shade of blue, all reflecting the nearby ocean which you can see if you sit at the tables outside or near one of the windows. The staff were fantastic, they all seemed like they were part of one big happy family and it seemed that the mangers, or owners were hanging around a lot of the time, greeting the locals by name and giving smiles all around.

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The first time we stopped by was after a stunning walk from Bondi beach to Bronte beach and back along the coast (highly recommended). We sat inside and ordered from their full day breakfast menu. My favourite was green eggs and ham . Rich ordered the Spanish breakfast. Both were amazingingly delicious.

And yes the hot chocolate was very nice. I kept forgetting to order it in a mug, so I kept getting little glasses of hot chocolate, but it was nice and easy to drink.

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Verdict: If I lived in Sydney, and happened to live near Bondi beach, or even if I lived anywhere remotely close to Bondi Beach, this would probably become my local for an early morning green eggs and ham and hot chocolate.  Jo & Willy’s Depot, 286 Campbell Parade, Sydney, Australia

Jo & Willys Depot on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

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As I have mentioned in blogs before, NYC is the playground of world famous chefs and pastry chefs, many of whom open little bakeries that tempt us and make us crave delicious French pastries all the time. If you are in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center, start at Bouchon Bakery first before mixing and mingling with the tourists.

Bouchon Bakery was created by superstar chef Thomas Keller and executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, both with impressive CVs. They have a handful of these bakeries around the country in the cities where Chef Keller’s restaurants are.

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Since our hotel was conveniently close by, over the course of 4 visits we tasted many of their stunning desserts. All tasted just like the best versions of the real deal straight from Paris (but with a slightly more NYC price tag). The lemon tart with meringue was to die for, the éclairs were perfect to grab and eat on the go. They also made these little brownies in the shapes of corks and called them, as you can guess, bouchons (French for corks). Each was individually packaged and I lost count of how many of those I ate. I also tried the almond chocolate croissant which was so good I ate the whole thing before I even took a sip of my hot chocolate. They even have treats for dogs including a dog bone/pastry made with foie gras. Ah those pampered New York City dogs…

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This morning was Mother’s Day, and from our seats inside of the bakery we had a view of an outside studio that had been set up for the Today show. They were filming about 10 mothers getting pedicures and massages live to air. The public were waving signs wishing their mom’s happy birthday and hoping that the cameras would see them and transmit their message across the US.

My hot chocolate came in a paper cup….this seems to be a theme in bakeries in NYC, even with famous owners. I think it might be because of how everyone seemed be consuming their drinks here; on the go. I found this hot chocolate was very nice, light and easy to drink. Although I will note that each time I had it it tasted a little different, sometimes a bit too watered down, so the quality was inconsistent. But it was a nice hot chocolate and I will be back again…

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Verdict: They have a beautiful terrace outside surrounded by bushes that block the view of the traffic but still give you a view and feel for the area. Definitely grab a chocolate brouwnie bouchon (or 2…or 4) and a hot chocolate. Bouchon Bakery, One Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, USA

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, Corowa, Australia

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Australians are lucky, well we are all lucky, that Australia has such stunning wine regions. Of these, Rutherglen is a small one, but a good one.

One of the great things about the wine regions in Australia is that they always seem to support a whole range of fantastic business that have nothing to do with wine, but which give you a break between multiple tastings. Corowa Whisky and Chocolate is one of these places, a unique place really since I have yet to hear of another spot that specializes in Whisky and Chocolate, especially one which is situated inside an old flour mill.

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This place has a great story. The old flour mill that it’s in was sold to the current owners by the city of Corowa for one dollar. The condition was that it needed to be protected as it was a historic building. So in 2009 the owners started renovating this mill which had been abandoned since 1970. At the moment a small part of the building is being used to make and sell a whole range of chocolates made using organic Belgian chocolate. There is even a small room where children can create their own chocolates covered in multi-coloured spinkles (the Aussies call these Freckles). They have a very large café which serves food and, as would be expected, a hot chocolate.

The hot chocolate was made using their own blended chocolates, and was presented in a tall glass with a very large spoon. They lined the sides of the glass with chocolate and then fill it with hot milk. I found it a little sweet but a lot of fun.

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After the hot chocolate we were hoping to move onto the Whisky but we will have to wait a bit longer unfortunately. They are still working on creating Australia’s first organic whisky, and once set up, will be serving and selling a very wide range of local and imported whiskies so stay tunned for more. They also plan to have Whisky and chocolate tours and on the weekends already have live music from 11am to 3pm.

We followed our hot chocolate stop with some award winning pies from nearby Parker Pies in Rutherglen and a visit to a few vineyards, which made for a pretty  good day if you ask me!

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Verdict: Maybe soon they will offer a whisky hot chocolate for the adults visiting. I will definetly be back for that! Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, 20-24 Steel St Corowa, Australia

 

Hot Chocolate at Tilba Teapot Café, Central Tilba, Australia

IMG_7249   It was raining again this morning. It hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived in Australia a week ago. Apparently they haven’t had much rain at all around here either, that is, until we arrived. Perhaps we should get a thank you letter from the people of Australia. We brought the rain …..

In return, Australia has given me some nice hot chocolates to warm me up after being damp constantly. This morning’s hot chocolate was found in the beautiful town of Tilba.

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Tilba is a little bit like a dream, the kind of town you see in movies but don’t imagine actually exsists. To get to Tilba you take a windy road up and down over gorgeous rolling hills and rocky cliffs, past fields of happy looking sheep and cows. Central Tilba has a population of 80 and Tilba Tilba (right next door) a population of 30. All this is in the shadow of Mount Dromedary (806m), considered sacred by the indigenous Yuin tribe that originally inhabited the area and then named by Captain Cook because he thought it looked like a camel. The little village of Central Tilba has a historic character which has been preserved and the National Trust classified the entire township in 1974. As you walk through the streets you will discover a two cheese shops, jewelers, leather craftsmen, and of course a healthy selection of cafes to host the constant stream of tourists.

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Even in the rain we managed to walk by all the cafes before choosing one. I was in the mood for a good hot chocolate so we took the time to pick the café where we thought we would have the best chance. We chose Tilba Teapot because it was incredible cute and had a gorgeous balcony with a nice comfy sofa. From here we had a stunning view of lush green gardens. Rich even went in ahead of time to ask what kind of hot chocolate they had. “Cadbury” the man in charge of hot chocolates here said “ but I make it really well”.

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I have never been a fan of Cadbury hot chocolate as those of you who read my blog regularly will have no doubt noticed. It is incredibly popular, but I find it too sweet. That is, until today. I now realise that maybe it had never been prepared properly. The man was so proud of his creation and rightly so. I don’t know what he did. Maybe the milk was better, or perhaps the amount of powder he used, or maybe it was the rain! Either way, it was a very enjoyable hot chocolate.

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Verdict: Definitely worth the short detour off the main hiway to stop in Tilba. Make sure you grab a spot on that sofa on the balcony.  Tilba Teapot Café, 17 Bate St., Tilba, Australia