Drink Local: Chocolate Indulgence

February 3, 2015 § 3 Comments

Been feeling guilty about that daily chocolate fix? Shaming yourself for that afternoon craving? Stop it, I say! February is National Chocolate Month, a time to come out loud and proud and treat yourself to luscious, creamy, chocolatey goodness — every day, if you must.

Where to start? Well, if you let the folks who create the those fun food holidays guide you, this past weekend saw two back-to-back chocolate holidays: National Hot Chocolate Day on January 31 and National Dark Chocolate Day on February 1. And that got me thinking: I’m not a coffee drinker, but a mid-afternoon pick-me-up of rich, dark, drinking chocolate with steamed milk could be my new sumpin’-sumpin’. Hot chocolate on a sunny California day? Why not!

Afternoon indulgence: TCHO hot chocolate at Kingston Cafe

Growing up in The Snow Belt, I associated hot chocolate with freezing temperatures, snow suits, and  making snow angels. Hot chocolate wasn’t an everyday thing at my house during the winter. There had to be real snow on the ground — not some “dusting” or a couple of inches. Nope, it had to be the kind of snow that closed schools, created drifts, and had dads cursing while digging the car out.

The hot chocolate of my childhood was powdery, packaged, mostly-sugar “cocoa” with mini marshmallows brought to life with hot water. (Thanks, mom!) We used the terms “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa” interchangeably, but I’m not sure that much actual chocolate or cocoa powder was involved. It didn’t matter though, the packaged mixes were easy for moms to make and gave cold, wet kids who’d been playing in the snow for hours enough sugar to keep going until dinner time.

During the past decade or so, the rise of premium and super-premium chocolate brands here in the US, coupled with café culture, has brought richer, tastier, and more interesting options for hot-chocolate beverages. Most cafés that offer an assortment of coffee drinks can customize your hot chocolate with steamed milk (dairy, nut, soy), flavored syrups, and whipped cream. How about this: Fair-trade, organic chocolate with steamed almond milk, a shot of vanilla bean syrup, and a dollop of whipped cream. Definitely not your mom’s hot chocolate!

So, where in the 650 can you find luscious, chocolatey indulgence-in-a-cup made your way? Good question! While the chain coffee shops would be a place to start, I’m a fan of supporting local businesses. I set out to find neighborhood-based coffee shops or cafés that are using good-quality ingredients to make a creamy, satisfying chocolate beverage. Taking a cue from Goldilocks, I was looking for something that was just right: not too watery, not too milky, not too sweet, and not too hot. (What’s up with serving ridiculously hot drinks that come with a warning?) And of course, it had to have a rich chocolate flavor — preferably from dark, natural cocoa powder or high-percentage chocolate.

Below is my list of small, neighborhood spots in the 650 that make a tasty hot chocolate beverage. To keep the comparisons equal, I ordered a “classic” hot chocolate — just chocolate and steamed milk (either whole or almond) without any extras.

Back Yard Coffee Company (Redwood City, CA)
This funky spot between the train tracks and El Camino is popular with locals and commuters alike. Seating is random (mismatched couches and chairs), wi-fi is free, and the baristas are friendly. The vibe is comfortable, but the place stays busy. Coffee is obviously the focus here, but Back Yard has a chocolate drinks menu that includes Sipping Chocolate, Hot Chocolate in two sizes, and a Kid’s Hot Chocolate.

They make their hot chocolate with a healthy dose of Ghiradelli dark chocolate syrup and steamed milk of your choice (dairy, soy, or almond). You can also add syrups or whipped cream for an additional charge. If you’re looking for a sweeter, old-school style hot chocolate, Back Yard has what you need. The barista did a nice job of steaming the milk and delivering the drink at the perfect temperature.

Ghiradelli hot chocolate at Redwood City's Back Yard Coffee Co.

Ghiradelli hot chocolate at Redwood City’s Back Yard Coffee Co.

Price: $3.50 (small), $3.75 (large), $2.75 (kid’s)
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond and Soy, $0.50 extra
Get Fancy: Syrups, Whipped Cream, $0.50 extra each

Bliss Coffee (Redwood City, CA)
Open a little more than four months, Bliss is the new kid in town among Redwood City coffee shops.  Light and bright, with a modern decor, Bliss focuses on putting out great coffee. They also happen to make a fine cup of hot chocolate.

Committed to using local ingredients, Bliss has chosen Berkeley-based TCHO chocolate as the base for their hot chocolate. The flavor is slightly roasted and chocolatey, with just a hint of sweetness — what we used to call “bittersweet.” Get your hot chocolate with steamed dairy, almond, or soy milk. I went with almond milk for this one because Bliss uses Califia, which is California-made and just plain delicious. The foam was beautiful and luxurious, and the temperature of the drink was just right.

Rich hot chocolate made with local and regional ingredients at Bliss Coffee in Redwood City

Rich hot chocolate made with local and regional ingredients at Bliss Coffee in Redwood City

Price: $3.75
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond and Soy, $0.50 extra
Get Fancy: Vanilla Bean or Lavender Syrup, $0.50 extra each

Kingston Cafe (San Mateo, CA)
Tucked away at the end of a strip mall, across from Shoreview Elementary School, Kingston is a full-service café that offers an assortment of house-made sandwiches in addition to their extensive drinks menu. The space is open and light with free wi-fi, cushy couches for relaxing or reading, and long tables for working. If I lived in this neighborhood, I’d definitely spend time here; it’s got a friendly, comfortable vibe.

Like Bliss Coffee in Redwood City, Kingston’s owners have focused on creating delicious drinks made with high-quality coffee. And, like Bliss, they use TCHO chocolate (actual disks of melted chocolate) combined with steamed milk. Milk offerings vary depending on availability, but they typically have the standard assortment of dairy milks, soy, and almond — and oat milk when they can get it. Owner Carrie whipped up a generous, flavorful drink with a pretty foam top. Wanna get fancy? Add whipped cream or a flavored syrup — how about peppermint?

Afternoon indulgence: TCHO hot chocolate at Kingston Cafe

Afternoon indulgence: TCHO hot chocolate at Kingston Cafe

Price: $3.00 (small), $3.50 (medium), $4.00
Non-Dairy Milks: Almond, Soy, Oat (call ahead for availability)
Get Fancy: Syrups, Whipped Cream, $0.50 extra each

Timothy Adams Chocolates (Palo Alto, CA)
If you LOVE chocolate or want lots of choices when it comes to your hot chocolate, then get yourself to Timothy Adams Chocolates in Palo Alto. Their Sipping Chocolate menu lets you choose among six types of Guittard chocolate for a customized chocolate beverage that will have you doing the chocolate happy dance. With choices from sweet (31% cacao white chocolate) to the unsweetened (99% dark chocolate), Timothy Adams has a drinking chocolate for just about every taste. Not sure what to get? Co-owner Timothy Woods is usually on-site and can tell you about the different flavor profiles.

Milk options includes three kinds of dairy milk (non-fat, 2%, or whole) and two kinds of nut milk (almond, hazelnut). You can also choose whether you want your chocolate served hot or cold. If you choose hot, you can opt for the addition of a chunky marshmallow. I have to confess that the day I visited Timothy Adams to try their hot chocolate turned out to be unseasonably warm, and a cold, frothy chocolate drink sounded too good to pass up. I’m sure my 65% Machu Pichu Peruvian single-origin with almond milk is just as delicious hot as it was cold.

Cold sipping chocolate at Timothy Adams served in a cute bottle with colorful straw

Cold sipping chocolate at Timothy Adams served in a cute bottle with colorful straw

Price: $4.50
Non-Dairy: Almond, Hazelnut
Get Fancy: Add a marshmallow to hot drinks

Tootsie’s (Palo Alto, CA)
This tiny café on the Welch Road side of Stanford Barn serves breakfast, lunch, and a full drinks menu. With plenty of outdoor seating, it’s a lovely spot to while away a sunny winter afternoon with an indulgent warm drink. Tootsie’s doesn’t get fancy with their hot chocolate; they serve one version. According to the staff, it’s made with chocolate chips and steamed milk; you can choose soy or dairy milk. It is, hands down, the most decadent drinking chocolate I’ve experienced on the peninsula.

Ultra-rich hot, hot chocolate at Tootsie's in Palo Alto

Ultra-rich hot, hot chocolate at Tootsie’s in Palo Alto

Reminiscent of hot chocolate I had in France many years ago, Tootsie’s version is thick, dark, and oh-so-rich; it’s dessert in a cup. I loved the flavor and the richness (although you can order “half the chocolate” if you find it too rich for your taste). My only disappointment with Tootsie’s hot chocolate is that it was delivered to my table with a warning — “extremely hot,” according to my server. He was right — the drink was too hot approach right away and had barely cooled 15 minutes later. I drank what I could with a teaspoon, but would have enjoyed the drink more if it weren’t scalding hot. Next time I’ll ask for a cooler drink or a side of ice.

Price: $3.50
Non-Dairy Milks: Soy

So what’s you chocolate beverage indulgence? Share in the comments below on our Facebook page.kingston-empty

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