Hot Chocolate from Jeff de Bruges (made at home), Global

While in France recently, I was browsing through the chocolates at Jeff de Bruges when I noticed they made these sticks with a bulb of chocolate at the end. The idea is that you stir them into a cup of hot milk to create your own hot chocolate using their signature chocolate. They had several flavours but I chose their dark chocolate because dark chocolate in a cup of hot milk always makes me happy. I bought one to try at home. The woman at the store said it was simple, boil some milk put the chocolate in the milk, stir and drink. Voila!

Yesterday I tested this out. This is such a great idea putting chocolate at the end of a stick. I enjoyed dipping it into the hot milk and stirring it until it melted. Despite the heat of the milk, the chocolate melted but never quite mixed with the milk. It clumped up at the top of the glass meaning I had to continually stir it, vigorously. I could taste the little bits of chocolate that hadn’t mixed properly with the milk which left a strange bitter taste in my milk. There were no instructions so perhaps I did it wrong? Who knows, but the chocolate itself was still very nice.

Verdict: Jeff de Bruges chocolates are good, but the chocolate on a stick they sell in the stores doesn’t quite do their chocolate justice. Perhaps they should consider making it in store so customers can taste it the way it is meant to be tasted. Still, what a fantastic idea…chocolate on a stick!  Jeff de Bruges, various locations around the world.

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 Fitzbillies, Cambridge, UK

I’ve walked by Fitzbillies for three years. I always knew it was a Cambridge institution (90 years old!), it looks like one, but I never actually went in. It’s on the opposite side of town which is part of the reason. Then, all of a sudden a year ago, it closed. Even British comedian Stephen Fry tweeted about this sad event “No!No! Say it ain’t so – not Fitzbillies? Why I tweeted a pic of one of their peerless Chelsea buns but a six months ago.” This is what happens when locals like us don’t support so called institutions.

Well today we noticed it has not only reopened but got a much needed face lift. A couple (one of which is a food writer) bought it and fixed it up. They were also given the recipe for what makes Fitzbillies so famous, its super sticky sticky buns.

The place is now no longer just a bakery. The building it is in is a grade 2 listed art deco frontage which has remained untouched. Inside half of the walls are covered in a beautiful light blue tile with coffee cups the exact same colour. One side has been turned into a restaurant which serves good simple food on weekends only. The other side is a coffee shop which also sells icecream.

We sat down around 8.30 am and it was busy. Hot chocolate, a sticky bun to share and we sat on two empty wooden stools around a large communal light wooden table. The sticky bun is good – dangerously so. The syrup is dripped down the sides and if I hadn’t just had breakfast I could have eaten a full one, or maybe even two. The Hot chocolate was taken from a little pot and mixed with hot milk. I enjoyed it, it was simple, a little bit sweet but gave me the little kick I needed to start the day.

Verdict: I like the new version of Fitzbillies better than the last. It is beautiful and fresh and the hot chocolate was a perfect start to the day. Fitzbillies, 52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, UK.http://www.fitzbillies.com

Hot Chocolate at Ziggy’s, Houston, USA

There are a lot of bad hot chocolates in the world. It is unfortunate but true. One of the missions of UltimateHotChocolate is not just to celebrate the good ones but to point out the bad ones too in the hope that they will be improved (or that you will stay clear of them). Just trying to make the world better, one hot chocolate at a time.

This brings me to Ziggy’s. I debated for a few days whether to write this review (and then a few more weeks whether to post it.) The reason? The hot chocolate at Ziggy’s was hands down the worst hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. And this wasn’t just me, I was with others who all tasted my drink and agreed. What made it worse was that Ziggy’s had everything going for it.

Ziggy’s is situated in a gorgeous old house on a quiet corner. It feels like it is in its own little village even though you are in the middle of trendy Montrose. Across the street is a beautiful antique store, down the road an art gallery and independent bicycle store. The terrace outside is one of the cutest anywhere filled with little black cast iron tables and chairs.  The bushes around the house are covered in yellow flowers and purples ones hang from the branches of the trees above.

The menu said hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. I smiled, this is a good sign. You wouldn’t put good marshmallows on bad hot chocolate right? So I order one.

It was all a little strange and surreal what happened next. The waiter comes out with a tall glass (blah) of yellowish brown liquid filled to the top. He then rushes off, I assume to grab my homemade marshmallow which he has forgotten. I take a sip. I still don’t understand what happened to this drink, I wish I did. It didn’t taste like chocolate at all. It kind of tasted like soy milk that had gone slightly off maybe? The waiter comes back, no marshmallows. “I have two questions” I ask with a smile, “Doesn’t this come with a marshmallow?” I show him the menu, he looks at me confused, “hmm you can have whipped cream, would you like whipped cream?” Second question I asked, “what kind of chocolate is this?”, “Its coco powder and milk” he replies …..

I must have had a stunned look on my face (and he must have noticed my untouched glass) as 5 minutes later he brought me a new glass filled with the same liquid but this time beautifully topped with whipping cream and a homemade marshmallow. The whipping cream was perfect, fresh and light, just slightly sweet. The marshmallow was fantastic, the best I have had, light, not too sweet, nice texture. The hot chocolate…same taste as before but this time it had a slightly burnt taste. I asked the waiter (who by now thought I was crazy), whether it was soy milk. He said no so I’m confused. This hot chocolate, as beautiful as it looked, was completely undrinkable. Was it just mine (both of them?)? or perhaps no one every orders it so no one knows, or maybe this is what I get for ordering a hot chocolate when its 34 degrees Celsius outside?

A power pole across the street started sparking and caught fire for a few minutes. It was followed by fire trucks and apparently blackouts around the area. But this all happened while we were sitting there, so unless electrical fires affect milk quality on a 100 metre radius, I’m still at a loss to explain what happened to my hot chocolate?

This experience has inspired me to start the Hot Chocolate Appreciate Society, or League for the protection of good hot chocolate (name to be confirmed). If you have had a bad hot chocolate, or a good one of course, let me know on my facebook page. Just trying to make the world a better place, one hot chocolate at a time.

Verdict: I love Ziggy’s and its cute little terrace. It transports you into another, very happy world.But I won’t be back for the hot chocolate. Ziggy’s, 302 Fairview, Houston, USA

Ziggy's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Cafecito, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

At night, rua Paschoal Carloso Magno in Santa Teresa, Rio, comes alive. The street is lined with bars and restaurants serving Bohemia beer and local dishes. There are a handful of small stores featuring local artists and handicrafts which all get a steady stream of locals and tourists alike. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, the place is packed and for just reason. Santa Teresa is the most charming and colourful neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. Perched a top of a hill near the centro overlooking the rest of the city,  the area is famous for its winding narrow streets, colourful graffiti and arts community .

Right in the middle of it all is Cafecito, a gorgeous café/bar/restaurant perched on top of the hill overlooking the street. This morning when it opened at 10am it was quite a bit calmer than it had been 12 hours before when we were here for drinks, but no less fascinating. From the street you walk up a flight of stairs covered in colourful tiles. Here you have entered a whole new world. The craziness of the street is below you, and from here you see people and traffic going by and the multi-coloured old houses of Santa Teresa. The café is all outdoors with many unique wooden tables, chairs and benches. The wall is covered in green plants, large brass plates and other art work. There is a sofa chair in one corner that was completely covered in pictures and then plastic to protect it.  A series of colourful umbrellas hang over the main bar area and a beautiful large tree grows straight through the bar and provides shade and protection for the whole place. A door leads into the next building which has been transformed into a beautiful store full of wooden furniture, art work, local wine and multi-coloured clothes.

A small black and white dog walks up from the street and squeezes into a small space between the first floor and a stair case that leads to another terrace higher up for a little nap. My hot chocolate is delivered in a little white cup with a tiny square of rich chocolate brownie on the side (so good). I loved this hot chocolate. It was rich with a hint of hazelnut and cinnamon. I could easily drink one of these everyday, what a shame I can’t.

Verdict: Cafecito is one of my favourite places in the world. It has made it into my top list for not just the hot chocolate but the general feel of the place. I could live here. So sad I don’t live in Rio, as if I did this would be where you would find me, always. Oh and the toasted sandwiches are also some of the best I have ever had.Cafecito, Rua Paschoal Carloso Magno, 121, Santa Teresa    www.cafecito.com.br

Hot Chocolate at Halcyon, Austin, USA

I saw Halcyon in a guidebook I have on Austin. It said to stop here after walking down 6th street and before exploring the Warehouse District. So we did and wow what a find.  The place is lively and full. There are comfy red and yellow sofas in the corners and an extensive collection of sparkly pictures of celebrities covering the walls.

I take a look at the menu and as usual they have one hot chocolate. Ok, decision made but I decide to take a look at the rest of the menu to see what else they offer. My heart skipped several beats. There on the front page is a whole section dedicated to Gourmet Hot Chocolates. Can this be true? They have two versions. You can have the classic gourmet hot chocolates which include French, Mexican, White Peppermint, Peanutbutter or Bittersweet Caramel. They also have adult versions of the hot chocolate where you can take the class version and add a twist, chocolate vodka, tia maria, peppermint schnapps etc.

I have to hand it to Halcyon, not only did they make my day but it is really something to have all these hot chocolates when they aren’t a specialty store or a sweet/dessert shop, they are a bar/lounge. Now just when I thought I had recovered from this pleasant shock I had another one. The table next to us had this strange black metal thing on their table with a fire in it and chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers around it. Yes, at Halcyon they also have ‘make your own smores’ platters for 2 or 4 people where you can sit there and melt your marshmallow and eat it with chocolate and crackers. What a smart idea.

My hot chocolate was over the top. It came in the biggest mug I have ever seen, basically a bowl with a handle (this is Texas after all…). It was topped with whipped cream and chocolate swirls and came with two animal crackers ( I got a rhinoceros and a camel). I loved the animal crackers, such a fun idea and actually went really well with the hot chocolate.  I ordered the Mexican hot chocolate which was nice. I drank and enjoyed half the cup, but it was just too  big for me to finish. I dare you to finish one!

Verdict: Halcyon obviously has a very smart chocolate lover on their team. I would love to meet whoever that is and thank them. I will be back. Halcyon, 218 W. 4th Street, Austin, USA

Halcyon on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Book People, Austin, USA

I love book stores. They are magical places full of colours and inspiration. I could (and do) spend hours and hours going through the shelves, sitting in corners turning the pages of interesting looking books. They are slightly more rare but I love independent bookstores even more and Book People in Austin is just that, and a beautiful one too. It has been the leading independent bookstore in Texas since 1970.

The coffee shop at Book People’s is called interestingly enough, Coffee Shop. It is tucked in the far right corner on the ground floor. Behind the counter is a row of clear glass containers filled with different kinds of tea and a whole range of different coffees. They have one hot chocolate which says milk + cacao + vanilla + spices. I order one.  I’m surprised that for being such an environmentally conscious city it is given to me in a paper cup (blah). I find the taste and smell of the cardboard overpowers the hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is just ok, very subtle in flavour but I enjoyed sitting there watching people exploring the store. It is 11am on a Monday and the place is buzzing (do people work in Austin?)

Two men at a table nearby are playing chess while a third man at the same table is talking non stop, never taking a breath as he jumps from talking about philosophers to gossip to the latest Austin bands. A couple discuss whether it would be more interesting to live in Russia or China while looking through books they picked up from the travel section.

Verdict: If you are in Austin this book store is worth a visit and while you are deciding which book to buy, grab a drink at the coffee shop. The hot chocolate is fine but they also have a really interesting range of other drinks, in particular teas and coffees. Book People, 603 N. Lamar, Austin, USA