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.

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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,

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 High’s, Comfort TX, USA

Comfort must be the cutest little town in Texas. Established by German settlers in 1854, the main street is said to be one of the best preserved in all of Texas. We were here exploring the region on a long weekend (which was also a friend’s birthday).  Meyer’s Bed and Breakfast in Comfort seemed like a good, central place to be based, but it turned out to be so much more than that. Not only was the bed and breakfast gorgeous and the region full of interesting things to see and do, high street Comfort is so charming.  Each morning after breakfast we would walk down main street to High Café and Store.

High Café used to be the local firestation but it has been a café for many years now. The right side of the building has a range of seats and tables as well as a very interesting store with local products, wines and art. On the left side of the building is the café where they prepare a whole range of drinks and interesting snacks and meals as well. Out front there are two nice sitting areas in the shade, one on the porch directly in front of the café, the other on the side in the grass under a set of trees. From here you see many of the other charming little buildings on main street. The local barber, another B&B, some antique stores and a series of very interesting looking restaurants. (one called Comfortable has fantastic pizza and cactus juice, highly recommended).

The hot chocolate was made of Ghirardelli chocolate and I quite enjoyed it. A great “I could drink this often” hot chocolate, such a pleasant surprise.

Verdict: Hill Country in Texas is gorgeous for so many reasons, and sitting on the terrace of High’s Café and Store having a hot chocolate and admiring historic Comfort’s main street is definitely one of them. High’s, 726 High Street Comfort Texas www.highscafeandstore.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

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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