Hot Chocolate at Sonido, Melbourne, Australia

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There was a steady stream of people coming through this tiny little restaurant on trendy Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. I’m guessing all of them were there for good arepas and good coffee. We were there for good arepas and a promise of excellent hot chocolate.

Arepas are a traditional dish of Columbia and Venezuela. The base is a corn arepa, sort of like a thick pancake, and covered with all sorts of toppings. We had one with chorizo which was beautiful, Rich had the arepa with black pudding (‘bloody delicious’). All this washed down with fresh Guava juice, one of their many juice options.

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Sonido, as you may guess from its name (it means sound in Spanish), is also all about music. Despite its small size they still managed to set aside a corner for a record player and a large selection of old Columbian records which are played throughout the day, and especially at night. In between cooking Arepas and making coffee, the owners Santiago and Carolina take turns changing the records when they finish playing. The décor is colourful and vibrant and everyone and everything just seems happier in here. Understandably, how could you not be happy here, especially when you can follow up all those delicious arepas with a traditional Columbian hot chocolate corona.photo 2-3  Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 10.44.24 PM

The hot chocolate is served in a traditional olleta (jug) and molinillo (stirring stick) and you have the choice of an olletica (small jug for one) for $4.50, or an olletota (big jug for two) for $8.50. We got the Olletota of course which had a good four cups worth of hot chocolate in it and I had mine con queso (with cheese), like the Columbians do. The cheese was placed in the base of the mug and the hot chocolate poured over it. After a few minutes the cheese soaked up some of the rich chocolate taste and became gooey and stringy. I had never really thought of pairing hot chocolate with cheese but really it makes a lot of sense. I love cheese, I love hot chocolate. Cheese with hot chocolate? Delicious.

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Verdict: Sonido is so much fun. If it is this much fun at lunch, I can’t imagine how much fun it is at night when the music is turned up. They have an excellent hot chocolate. Sonido, 69 Gertrude Street, Fitroy, Melbourne, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Koko Black (again), Melbourne, Australia

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Every time I arrive in Melbourne, the first thing I do (before going to visit the Kangaroos at Westerfolds Park) is visit Koko Black at Doncaster Shopping Town. When I finally did review Koko Black’s hot chocolate last year after having been every year since it opened in 2003 (read review here) I was upset. They had discontinued my favourite flavor and just like that the balance of the universe (or at the very least my trip to Melbourne) was disturbed. But luckily, one year later, Koko Black is back to being right up there on the top of my list.

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This is because they brought back my cinnamon hot chocolate, which is hands down the best cinnamon hot chocolate anywhere. Thank you so much. I hope it is back for good. I’m guessing I have founder Shane Hills to thank. Even though the world is dotted with little chocolate shops, Koko Black just does it a little better. They use chocolate from Europe including French Valrhona, Belgian Callebaut and Swiss Felchlin. Their chocolates and menu change every season so the run-up to Easter means that Easter eggs of all sizes fill the store. The décor is as rich as the chocolate (especially their dark chocolate truffles which are beautiful). Their hot chocolate is creamy and decadent while still be light and airy and very easy to drink. It is a classic.

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I sometimes wish that Koko Black would go global with their hot chocolates but it just wouldn’t be the same. Koko Black and Melbourne go together. I wouldn’t want to separate them.

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Verdict: Koko Black is one of my favourite hot chocolates (the cinnamon one). You will be happy with this one regardless of your hot chocolate preferences. Enjoy! Koko Black, several locations around Melbourne.

Hot Chocolate at Southside Espresso, Houston, USA

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Houston has fallen in love for coffee and fallen hard. Not for watery, non descript coffee, for real coffee. I am indifferent, completely, but this has made my other half, who will (strangely) choose coffee over hot chocolate any day, very very happy. There have been several new and very good coffee shops open in Houston which we have been trying out one by one. The latest on our list has been Southside Espresso.

Southside is like a secret, but not a very well kept one…the steady stream of foot traffic going in and out of this tiny little coffee shop is proof that as much as we would like to keep this place a secret it is perhaps much too late. It is also perfectly located between Uchi (very good contemporary Japanese) and Little Bigs (incredible pulled pork sliders) to make it an important stop before or after lunch, dinner or anything really.

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Owner Sean Marshall opened this spot up late 2012 where he does his own roasting under the Fusion Beans brand. He also serves a wide selection of bottomless pots of loose leaf teas, a sommelier has chosen a selection of red, white and rose wines served by the glass and of course there’s some good ales on tap.

Inside it is tiny. Tiny, but full of good things. The beams in the ceiling have been painted with all sorts of colorful intricate designs. There is a cute terrace outside with a few tables and chairs. As with lots of good spots in Houston the tables are usually occupied by one or two students who seem to move in and stay for the whole day surfing the internet. Somehow though, our favorite table, the one just out front near the door, is always free when we visit.

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The other day we asked them how they make their hot chocolate, “ We make it in house, chocolate, a bit of vanilla and milk”. As we walked away he laughed and finishes up “ and plenty of sugar!”. He wasn’t joking. The hot chocolate at Southside is sweet, too sweet for me. But if you like your hot chocolate sweet, you will quickly become a fan of this little spot.

But I will never forget this hot chocolate, not for its flavor but because it is truly a work of art. The baristas always turn the milk and chocolate syrup into incredibly elaborate designs. I basically pay the price of the hot chocolate just to see what they will draw on it and am, understandably, disappointed the few times I just get plain froth. To see just some of their creations check out the pictures on their Facebook page.

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Verdict: I’m still in the search for some really good hot chocolates in Houston and am hoping some of the coffee shops that put so much time and effort into offering incredible coffee, tea, wine, beer will take up the challenge. Southside is close…maybe a bit less sugar? Southside, 904-C Westheimer, Houston, TX, USA

Hot Chocolate at Maxine’s, Bastrop, United States

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Bastrop is a small town right on the banks of the Colorado River near Austin. It was named a Distinctive Destination in 2010 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in recognition of the City’s work to preserve its historic character, promote heritage tourism and extend its welcome. We visited recently, and found that it does all that so well.

Bastop is really cute. Not only does the city have more than 100 historic homes, most of them beautifully restored, but the main street is straight off a movie set. In fact several movies were filmed here including the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hope Floats, The Tree of Life, Bernie, A Perfect World to name but a few. This is what I imagined all towns looked like in Texas, but better.

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Maxine’s Cafe is at the centre of it all. It has been named as one of the 40 best places for breakfast in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine and one of the 40 best small town cafes in Texas. Their menu had all the Texas classics. Home baked buttermilk biscuit topped with a scrambled egg and bacon with gravy, or a bowl of stone ground grits with your choose cheese, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, blueberries or pecans on top. If you want something a bit bigger you can have chicken fried steak or a stack of twelve pecan praline griddlecakes served with a quarter pound pile of bacon. I was tempted by Milgas which is blend of jalapenos, onion, tomato and corn tortilla strips, eggs, bacon topped with cheddar cheese and serviced with flour or corn tortillas and a nice cup of hot chocolate.

My hot chocolate arrived at the same time as my meal and a water served in a large jar with a straw in it. The hot chocolate was too sweet for my taste but I can see how it would be a popular staple around here.

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After all that food it was easy to spend the rest of the day wondering around the town. The tourism office had some really good guides for walking tours you can do yourself. Down the street was an old drug store that still serves homemade sodas. My favourite thing about Bastrop though were the wild chickens.  A few blocks away from the main street is a small street that recently became a Historic Chicken Sanctuary to protect the flock of wild chickens that have long called this area home for many, many years. Signs have been put up all along the road to let drivers know not only that they have entered the Farm Street Sanctuary but that they need to slow down to avoid running over one of these special chickens. Random I know, but I loved it.

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Verdict: Good food, welcoming atmosphere and really friendly staff.  They are known for their breakfast, not their hot chocolate and I hope I will have the chance to come back for more. The people of Bastrop are lucky. Maxine’s Café, 905 Main St. Bastrop, Texas.

Hot Chocolate at Le Delice Imperial, Fontainebleau, France

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Every time I have been to Fontainebleau in the past it has been crowded. Tourists arrive in bus and train loads to enjoy the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau (which has some great bouldering if you happen to be a hot chocolate drinking rock climber) and of course the historic and impressive chateau de Fontainebleau. But not today. Today it was cold, really cold and wet and just generally miserable. Even the local Belifontains (inhabitants of Fontainebleau are called Belifontains), were hiding, many of them in cafes warming up.

While there was still a bit of sunlight, we wondered into the grounds of the chateau. They were empty except for a small handful of couples walking strollers, or small dogs, or both. There was something so magical about the experience. With the light rain, the huge grounds and the chateau looking over us we imagined what it would have been liked to live here when it had been in use. The chateau has 1500 rooms. I cannot even begin to imagine what one would do with 1500 rooms and, as I have seen on a previous tour of the inside, each is more elaborate than the next. If that isn’t enough space for you the grounds are 130 acres.

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After our walk through the grounds we decided that a hot chocolate was in order. We had a lot of choices, as one always does in France because on average they are all good. We decided on Le Delice Imperial, a little café/pastry shop right in the center of Fontainebleau founded in 1889. This little café offered a large selection of delicious looking pastries, hot drinks and some classic French bistro food. The decor felt a little like being in a fairy tale. The walls were a bright red with gold accents. Hanging from the ceiling were these relatively large balls of clouds covered in little houses and people. I could see a lot of people staring up at them with the same confused look as I had.

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The hot chocolate was nice, and quite different than I was expecting. It was a lot sweeter than you usually get when you order a hot chocolate in France but since we didn’t order any of their pastries the sweetness was fine. What we needed was something to warm us up inside and out and this  did the trick.

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Verdict: A nice little spot to rest your tired feet after a walk through the châteauxgrounds. Le Delice Imperial, 1 rue Grande, Fontainebleau, France.

Hot Chocolate at Yumchaa, London, United Kingdom

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Yumchaa is huge by London standards. It is big and airy and beautiful. That is why we originally walked through the doors. In fact we had no idea what they sold when we first decided to walk in. The counter is at the very far end of the space and it is pretty difficult to see from the window what is on offer.

But from the moment I walked in I loved this space and we went back several times.  I’ve probably mentioned this many times before on this blog but a good hot chocolate is about a lot of things; the chocolate of course but also the location, the feeling of the environment in which you are sipping it. Yumchaa gets points for that.

The thing about Yumchaa that I should probably mention now is that it is, as we soon realised as we approached the back counter, all about tea. Because of that, I wasn’t expecting much for the hot chocolate, in fact I’ll tell you right upfront it was just ok. It wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t anything that special. But I still wanted to write up Yumchaa because it was a lot of fun.

 

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Yumchaa is all about loose leaf tea to be precise and they are very particular about it. A typical tea bag contains mostly tea dust and broken leaf particles which do not have the same amount of essential oils that larger leaves have. So Yumchaa says no to the bag and instead provides a range of loose leaf teas and insist that you wait at least 2 minutes before you drink them to give time for the tea goodness to be created.

The tea was lovely, as were the range of tempting cakes they also sell to go with your tea. I had both the tea and the hot chocolate and would come back here for the tea any day. They had a long list of all their tea offerings on display along with little white ceramic pots with a handful of leaves inside for you to smell. My choice was the Chelsea Chai with cardamom, ginger, black pepper, spearmint brittle and sencha green tea.

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So back to the hot chocolate. If you are, like me, a hot chocolate drinker, I think you will still enjoy their hot chocolate. As I mentioned it is fine, but, and I know I don’t say this…ever… I would suggest you take a little tiny break and enjoy a tea as well. Perhaps they have a blend of tea that has a bit of chocolate in it? While you are enjoying your tea think about, as I did, how incredible it would be to have a place just like this that specialises in hot chocolate. The counter would have little pots with samples of different kinds of chocolates to smell and choose from. Any entrepreneurs reading this blog willing to give that a go? Invite me please.

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Verdict: Great spot. I’d love to visit a hot chocolate café that does with chocolate what Yumchaa has done with tea. Now that would be the ultimate hot chocolate! There are locations all around London including a range of stalls at some of the coolest London markets. yumchaa, 9/11 Tottenham Street, London, UK

Hot Chocolate at Paul A. Young, London, United Kingdom

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Paul A. Young is organizing a class in a few weeks, an evening with Paul A. Young, where you can learn everything you have ever wanted to know about chocolate. Too bad I won’t be around because I would love to spend a bit of time down in the chocolate laboratory at Paul A. Young where Paul and his team make all their creations in small batches, completely by hand in the kitchens at each of his three shops, one in Islington, one next to Bank and this shop we visited in Soho.

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Paul is considered to be at the forefront of the British chocolate scene. He has worked alongside many a big name in pastry and has won quite a few awards. He even has a book, Adventures with Chocolate, which looks pretty decadent. But really, why make the chocolate creations yourself when you can come here and enjoy them all! The Soho shop is just overflowing with all sorts of beautifully packaged little chocolate creations.

Although they looked beautiful, I never stop long at the chocolate displays. My main concern was the hot chocolate and this is one I have been waiting to try for a long time. The past 3 times I came by his Soho shop it had just closed, so this time we were organized, and came by with plenty of time to spare (15 minutes before closing time!). Behind the large round table covered in chocolates, two women were packaging and labeling a fresh batch of chocolates to be sold in the store. A young man came over to help us with our hot chocolates, an Aztec Hot Chocolate made with water at GBP3.95 a cup. He poured a couple of ladles filled with the rich dark chocolate from a large pot sitting upon an electric burner. Because there was no place to enjoy the hot chocolate in the shop they were prepared to go, in a paper cup. We were given the choice of spices to add to the hot chocolate; delicate ginger, aromatic green cardamom, sweet cinnamon, classic nutmeg, smokey black cardamom or fiery cayenne pepper. I chose Cayenne and Rich chose nutmeg. The young man proceeded to add a touch of the spice into our cup and whisk it delicately with the smallest metal whisk I have every seen.

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I loved a lot of things about this hot chocolate. I loved the colorful shop, watching the careful process of putting our hot chocolates together. I loved the selection of spices and how much kick the tiny bit of cayenne pepper I asked him to add gave to my chocolate. Even the spices seemed to be better versions of the same spices I had had before. I loved how rich and delicious the chocolate itself was. I even loved that we had to take it away and walk through the busy streets of Soho on a cold winters night. The heat of the chocolate combined with the spiciness of the cayenne warmed me up completely and made me walk down the streets with a silly smile on my face. I almost got run over by a black London cab turning the corner at full speed because I was having trouble concentrating on anything else.

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Verdict: Now if only I can convince Mr. Paul to put a little chair in front of his chocolate shop with my name on it then I could pass by everyday, have my hot chocolate and watch Soho walk by. A must try. Paul A. Young, 143 Wardour St., London, United Kingdom

Hot Chocolate at Cafe de Flor, Paris, France

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Café de Flor on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris is an institution. One of the oldest and most well known cafes in Paris it was opened in 1885. Its main rival, Les Deux Magot which sits just down the street, was closed for renovations which meant that Café de Flor was very busy even at the early hour we went on a Saturday morning. Inside Parisians and tourists alike were enjoying their coffee with a croissant or demi baguette with strawberry jam. Outside to one side a covered area was full of smokers busy smoking while reading the morning paper and sipping their café au lait. Despite the chilly temperature we decided to sit on one of the tables outside so we could watch the world of Saint Germain go by.

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We weren’t in a rush which was good because it took the waiter a good 15 minutes to serve us. ‘Deux chocolat chaud’ or two hot chocolates will set you back 14 euros which may seem steep. But despite the price I would sit here again and again and have over the years. The hot chocolate came in a little white ceramic pot on the side. I love it when hot chocolate is presented in a separate little pot. I have only found places in France do this but it is such a great idea. I filled my white cup to the top and sipped it happily, refilling whenever it got low or the liquid a little cool. It seemed that my little pot of hot chocolate never got low, it seemed never ending. In the end there were a good three cup fulls of hot chocolate for one person in that ceramic jug making it well worth the 7 euros, and probably enough to share with another person, not that I’d recommend sharing it!.

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The hot chocolate itself is so nice, the perfect everyday French hot chocolate and the perfect way to start that morning. It was creamy and chocolatey without being too sweet, but still light and airy. Paris was just waking up and there were more and more people walking by, eyeing my hot chocolate jealously. I imagined all the interesting people over the years that must have walked in and out of these doors. The Surrealist Manifesto was set down here and during the German Occupation of 1939-1945 Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made this café their office. Sofia Coppola the film director uses this café for her production meetings and a literary prize is given here yearly. IMG_6174

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Verdict: What can I say, this one is a no brainer – one of my favourites. If the price seems a little high you can always get one for two and share. Try to go early so that you will be surrounded by more locals than tourists. Café de Flor, 172 blv Saint-Germain, Paris, France