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

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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 Said, London, United Kingdom

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We stumbled across SAID the other night on a walk through Soho. It was cold and damp and SAID was a bit like a beacon, calling out to us to walk in and sit down and be taken care of. It worked. Without even planning to stop, we somehow found ourselves inside, sitting at a small wooden table towards the back end of the shop, drinking our hot chocolates lit up by candle light. 

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The SAID chocolate factory was founded in Rome’s San Lorenzo district in 1923 and if you happen to be in Rome you can visit 135 Via Tiburtina to enjoy all of their creations.  They have a gorgeous little spot in London now.  The walls were covered in silver chocolate molds of all shapes and sizes and a fire was lit in the fireplace along one wall .  The counter was covered on one side with large glass jars filled with white, milk and dark chocolate and on the other side a range of hand made truffles.

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SAID is very obviously a beacon for Italians in London. Pretty much everyone working in the shop, visiting the shop, sitting in the shop was Italian. Perhaps that means there is some Italian in us because we too were drawn into this magical little place. I’m fine with that, quite happy in fact. A handsome Italian man helped us move some seats around to fit in the stroller. He was very friendly and we very quickly decided that he must be the man in charge. I watched him as he kept a eye on everything that was happening while still seeming so relaxed. One woman was sitting near the fireplace having a work meeting, and hadn’t touched her cappuccino. He promptly sent someone over to ask her if everything was ok with the drink and that if it wasn’t they would gladly make her a new one. The woman promptly answered that she was so relaxed here in this beautiful space that she had completely forgotten to have her drink. I completely understood her feeling, I shared it,….but I would never forget to have my hot chocolate!

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Now to the hot chocolates. The hot chocolates are kept warm in large glass containers on the back counter that stir and heat the hot chocolate constantly. We were given the choice of having white, milk or dark chocolate, and in three sizes, small (tiny really), medium or large. There aren’t a lot of places that give you this sort of selection in terms of size interestingly enough, so I really appreciated that. I got a small dark chocolate knowing that if this was a traditional Italian hot chocolate it was going to be rich and dense almost like a chocolate pudding. It was, but beautifully so and was so easy to drink, so much easier than I had expected and I had wished that I had ordered the medium (as Rich did). I thoroughly enjoyed this moment at SAID with the romantic dim lighting, the fire place roaring, the dark chocolate wooden tables and the little candles on our table, the whole place was just so warm and cozy. I loved it.

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Verdict: The hot chocolate was beautiful. It was all like a big warm Italian hug. Try to get the seat next to the fireplace. SAID, 41 Broadwick Street, London, UK

Hot Chocolate at Scandinavian Kitchen, London, UK

Scandi KitchenTrying to find a spot for lunch in Fitsrovia in London that has space for strollers is a challenge. Somehow today luck was on our side and we managed to find space at the extremely busy and very popular Scandinavian Kitchen.   Thanks to Bronte (a Dane) and Jonas (a Swede), London has its own little Scandinavian food paradise. Back in 2006 they were walking the streets of London looks for some good food from back home and found nothing and were inspired to open this hot spot.

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IMG_3342There are two parts to Scandi Kitchen. First they import food from home to sell. This includes everything from candy, alcohol, breads, cheese and all sorts of other goodies, also available online. Second they have a selection of beautiful food that you can eat in or take away.  To round that all up they have a great sense of humor. They have a blackboard they put out on the sidewalk everyday with a different saying. Today it said “I like big buns and I cannot lie”. The website has pictures of past board sayings including “Goodness Gracious Meatballs on fire”, “May the Norse be with you”, “Swede child of mine” and even “Free meatballs for all nudists”.

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I wanted to order everything they had, but settled on a plate with Swedish meatballs and a selection of three of their popular salads, one with sweet potatoes, another with beetroots and apples. We also ordered a mixed platter of Swedish Tunnbrod, little pieces of bread covered with tasty delights, one with smoked salmon, another with an egg mixture, all very tasty.

Of course we finished off lunch with a hot chocolate. It too, like everything else here, was Scandanavian.  It was made with O’boy, the best selling Scandinavian instant chocolate milk drink. (Check out this fantastic advertisement from O-boy from the mid-90’s). Although it seems to be a hot chocolate for kids, I would argue that it is too rich and creamy for kids and all this goodness should be reserved for adults instead! It was very enjoyable, one I could easily make a habit of drinking.

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IMG_6161Verdict: The world needs more Scandi Kitchens…as long as they keep offering O-boy chocolate! Scandinavian Kitchen,  61 Great Titchfield Street, London, UK

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Hot Chocolate at Chocodippity, Winchester Christmas Market, Winchester, UK

IMG_6074IMG_6073One of the things I love most about Christmas has to be the Christmas markets. There is really nothing better to put you in the Christmas spirit. I have been to a lot of Christmas Markets over the years, but the one I went to today in Winchester next to the cathedral could very possibly be my favorite.

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The Christmas Market has been going since 2006 and, modeled after the traditional German markets, attracts almost 400,000 people a year. It was absolutely packed, making it a slow walk to get around. But that wasn’t a problem at all, it just gave us more time to admire the dozens of little wooden chalets all lined up, each filled with something unique and interesting. One called the Mouse Trap had a selection of beautiful cheeses, another had handmade wooden toys including a flying dragon I almost bought. Then of course there was the traditional roasted chestnuts filling the air with their holiday scent, and a small but very popular ice skating rink in the centre of it all.

One of the highlights for me, other than the hot chocolate of course, was a little stall with a small open fire going, where a young man was toasting marshmallows on sticks and selling them for 50p. What a fantastic idea.

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IMG_6088There were quite a few spots that offered hot chocolates, all with whipping cream and mini marshmallows on top. After making the rounds I chose to order mine from Chocodippity. I expected the hot chocolate to be really sweet but it was surprisingly good. Dark and bitter, made with water not milk, done well. With the cool weather and the Christmas cheer it was really enjoyable.

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IMG_6072Verdict: If I had more time I would do the tour and could easily have 15 reviews of hot chocolates for the Christmas market alone. And then of course there is Winchester where we passed another half dozens really fantastic looking spots. I’m going to have to go back and spend some serious time there. Who knew. Winchester Christmas Market, right next to the cathedral, Winchester, UK

Hot Chocolate at Upsy Daisy Bakery, London, UK

My hairdresser in London recently opened a new business in Hammersmith. Regardless of where I live in the world, I always take advantage when I’m in London to come back to her to get my hair cut. She just does it best. But it also gives me a chance each time to try a different hot chocolate in the area. Three months ago it was Lola and Simon. This time it is Upsy Daisy Bakery.

My terrible old iPhone camera completely fails to show how gorgeous and bright this little spot is. It is like a smile, if that is possible. The place was quiet on a Thursday at 3pm. When I ask the girl if she has hot chocolate she seemed to light up when she says they do. Good sign? I order one with little marshmallows and sit myself at a table near the front window overlooking busy King’s street. In front of me is a case with glass containers filled with sugary treats with colourful names, pink shrinks, apple bon bons, jelly babies and fizzy cola bottles. The ceiling has been painted a gorgeous blue with white fluffy clouds. This combined with the skylights in the back make you feel like you are outdoors. The walls are covered in a white wallpaper with sweet blue flowers which match not only the cups and saucers but also the outfit of the girl at the counter.

My hot chocolate is as smiley as the café. Once I get through the sea of mini marshmallows dusted with coco powder the chocolate itself is lovely. I’m instantly happy. Above me the speakers are playing motown and jazz and everyone who walks through the doors seems as happy as I am at this moment.

Verdict: What more can I saw, a chocolaty smile in a cup. And what a great name for a bakery! Upsy Daisy Bakery, 387 King Street, London, UK www.upsydaisybakery.com

Hot Chocolate at Indigo Coffee House, Cambridge, UK

St. Edward’s Passage in Cambridge is a hidden gem. This tiny lane way starts just off the main market place, past a gorgeous old bookstore where you imagine the literaries of Cambridge’s past used to browse. Around the corner is the Cambridge theatre which is always busy (at Christmas go to see the Pantomine, an experience in itself). Right next to that with the little wooden table and two chairs out front is Indigo.

Indigo is just a dot on the map really, it is a tiny coffee shop and it always surprises me how much they have managed to fit in to this compact space. On the ground floor one large window brightens the room, and they have squeezed in a couple of tables and the ordering counter. A range of bills and coins from around the world have been glued to the wall around the front door, which keep you entertained while waiting to order. There is a rickety old staircase that brings you upstairs where somehow 20 odd chairs have been made to fit.

We sit upstairs near the window on a wooden bench under a large mirror surrounded by fairy lights and little union jack flags which they put up to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee. Outside the window you can see the inside of what I believe is a college residence but always makes me think of a set of a Shakespeare play with its wooden walkways.

We are alone upstairs until a mother and daughter arrive. It is exam time and she is talking about her schedule and more importantly the party afterwards. May Balls, the big graduation parties, are just around the corner.

My hot chocolate comes in a purple mug. It is too sweet for my taste but nice and warm considering the cool and wet weather outside. I warm my hands and take a few sips but that is enough for me.

Verdict: If in Cambridge go look for Indigo. It is a little discovery and the best seats I think are the ones downstairs near the window or outside to watch the locals go by. If you like your hot chocolate with a bit of a sweet side you’ll enjoy this one. Indigo Coffee House, 8 St. Edward’s Passage

Hot Chocolate at Bill’s, Cambridge, UK

When I first walked by Bill’s I was in awe. I absolutely love how they have transformed the space into a colourful festival of food.

The walls are covered in shelves featuring all of Bill’s products, everything from Elderflower Cordiale, Beer, jars of thick English honey and pink champagne truffles. Large blackboards hang all around the restaurant, some with parts of menu, others with wise words and quotes about food. Large bunches of dried red chilli peppers and colourful paper hang from large hooks from the ceiling. I absolutely love the décor.

The menu looks quite good but we only have time for a hot chocolate. On each table next to the menu is a yellow sheet of paper with a list of all the products they sell in the shop with little boxes next to them to tick. You can shop while you sit there and they will bring you your bag when you leave. I am thrilled to see that on this shopping list is not one but two hot chocolates that you can buy, one is a special breakfast chocolate and the other is la tazza drinking chocolate bars. The menu for the café only said hot chocolate so I wonder which of these two we will be given.

My hot chocolate arrives and it is sweet…really sweet. I stop the waitress and ask her, out of curiosity, what the hot chocolate is. “We take the chocolate powder and mix it with hot milk until it makes a nice paste, then we froth some more hot milk and add it to the chocolate paste, it’s good isn’t it”. So I ask her what the chocolate it “it’s a powder”. Is it one of the ones in the product menu? “No” she answers, “it isn’t”. So what is this mysterious chocolate. After asking her in several different ways she finally caves. It is Cadbury Hot chocolate powder.

I’m confused. Why would they sell in store two very interesting sounding hot chocolates but then serve their customers something completely different? Do I not deserve a hot chocolate made from la tazza drinking chocolate bar? I think so. I now assume then that they don’t use any of the produce that they sell in the restaurant in the actual menu of the restaurant. That does seem a little strange to me.

Verdict: Such a gorgeous spot (and there are many because it is a growing chain in the UK). But its just a Cadbury Hot Chocolate…not that that is necessarily bad but I was expecting more. I’d go back though just to sit in a corner and take in the colours. Bill’s, 34-35 Green Street, Cambridge, UK www.bills-website.co.uk,