Nine Cups of Sweetness
For Valentine’s Day, San Francisco magazine published a list of their nine favorite cups of hot chocolate in the city. I happen to have a seven-year-old daughter who loves chocolate, warm drinks, marshmallows and whipped cream, which seemed a perfect excuse to regard the magazine’s recommendations as a to-do list.
Here’s what we thought:
20th Century Café offers its hot chocolate in small or larger-size portions. We opted for the smaller size, and it was a wise choice, because this cocoa is rich and intense. Kiddo (who also tried one of the cafe’s caraway-seed shortbread cookies) couldn’t finish hers — a recurring theme throughout our adventure. Those little dollops of whipped cream were a welcome respite from the deep, dark chocolate.
Christopher Elbow’s hot chocolates were among our favorites. They offer a lot of different and unusual flavors, going well beyond the basic cuppa. Kiddo had one flavored with peppermint, while mine was curry-flavored and brewed with a coconut-milk base instead of cow’s milk. Both were remarkably rich and well balanced. We also sampled some of their well-crafted chocolates, of course.
Lured by the promise of pretty milk-foam art, we checked out the hot chocolate at the Castro outlet of Réveille Coffee Co. While the foam was indeed pretty, the hot chocolate was pretty lightweight. San Francisco magazine called it “ethereal,” which to me seemed like a nicer spin on “doesn’t taste like a whole lot.” Kiddo was also mad that my foam had more hearts in it than hers did, but that wasn’t their fault.
Dandelion Chocolate, the Mission-district-based chocolate factory where you can watch beans being roasted and whirled into chocolate bars, offers its own spin on hot chocolate, too. Kiddo had the house hot chocolate (in back, with a small cookie on the side); I had the spicy Mission hot chocolate, which had just the right amount of intense chocolate, chile spice and cinnamon.
San Francisco included this Westfield mall-based chocolatier’s hot chocolate in its roundup, but by the time we got around to visiting, they’d stopped preparing hot chocolate in their store. Kiddo burst into tears. The salespeople tried to sell me some hot chocolate mix I could make at home, but neither of us was into that plan. Instead we went to a nearby Peet’s and had their hot chocolate, which was lousy. CocoaBella has since completely closed its doors.
I remember literally nothing about this hot chocolate; the only thing I remember about visiting Craftsman and Wolves is how pretty their small tarts are. They inspired me to learn how to make similar ones at home. Kiddo seemed to like her hot chocolate, though, as well as her kouign-amann.
The hot chocolate at Boulettes Larder inside the San Francisco ferry building is definitely one of my favorites. It’s rich and creamy, with a generous head of thick whipped cream on top. The first time we tried it, it was a Saturday morning during the farmer’s market, and the woman serving the cocoa reminded me of Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Patmore, which only added to the charm. Boulettes Larder’s hot chocolate is one of the only ones on San Francisco’s list that brought me back for a second try.
I had high hopes for Cafe Madeleine’s hot chocolate. Unfortunately, it is very average stuff whose only real saving grace is the tall swirl of chocolate whipped cream on top. I didn’t realize how much I needed chocolate whipped cream in my life until I tried it. Kiddo agrees.
This tiny chocolate shop in the inner Richmond offers a variety of truffles, chocolate bars and a range of flavored hot chocolates. (They also serve flavored hot white chocolate, as well as “tea hot chocolate,” neither of which we tried.) I got the Thai red curry hot chocolate, which was dense and rich, but only tasted like red curry in the last few sips — I think much of the flavoring must’ve sunk to the bottom. Kiddo again had the mint hot chocolate, which was both intensely chocolatey and very minty. Both were good, but the chocolate was a little overpowering.