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

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

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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