Tossing a box of Swiss Miss or Nestle into your shopping cart is the hot chocolate equivalent of grabbing a Bud Light sixer for the night. It’s great. There’s nothing wrong with it. But some people, sometimes, prefer a more sophisticated taste. As with beer, chocolate, and by extension hot chocolate, has an artisan niche. People want to know where the beans come from, and where and how the chocolate was made. But instead of hops and malt, the ingredient in question is cacao beans. Instead of % ABV, it’s % cacao content. These complexities of taste are one big reason hot chocolate deserves to shed its childish stigma. As does its history: centuries ago, the Aztecs thought it divine and, later, the Europeans put it at the pinnacle of style. The quality hot chocolates of today have excellent aromatics, complex flavors and offer a caffeine kick from the cacao beans they were made from. So next time you’re seeking a second wind, or a substitute for a post-ski IPA, conjure up one of these delicacies.
Chocolate Terms To Know
Dark Chocolate: a type of chocolate with many monikers: “bitter”, “unsweetened” and “baking chocolate”. It has no (or very little) milk and a very high cocoa percentage.
Milk Chocolate: Made famous in America by Milton S. Hershey, founder of The Hershey Company, this is a mix of cocoa powder and powdered, liquid or condensed milk. Sweet and fairly mild, it’s a common family favorite.
Cacao: The beans that come directly from a cacao tree. Without any added sugars or fats, it’s the purest form of edible chocolate.
Cocoa Butter: A vegetable fat that’s found in and extracted from ground cacao beans. In “Dutch” cocoa, the cocoa butter is removed when the cacao is processed. It is later re-added when forming chocolate. A non-“Dutch” processed cocoa’s cocoa butter is never removed. Removing the cocoa butter makes the processed cocoa’s flavor less severe and acidic; however, the cocoa butter is vital in making a solid chocolate bar. Without cocoa butter, the chocolate we know and love can’t exist.
Cocoa Powder: The processed cocoa liquor and cocoa butter combine to form a chocolate solid. This solid is combined with (depending on the brand) salt, sugar and other additives, then ground up into powder.
Couverture: A type of artisan chocolate that has a high amount of cocoa butter (32 to 39 percent). These chocolates are typically less sweet and are referred to as “bittersweet” or “semi-sweet”.
Jacques Torres Classic Hot Chocolate
Source: Venezuela and Guatemala | Made In: Brooklyn, NYC | Mix with: Milk
Known as Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres has been making authentic artisan chocolates in New York City since 2000. After earning the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France) medal for pastries — the youngest pastry chef in history to do so — he started his own business making chocolates from scratch. All Torres’s sweets are made with a distant French avant-garde flair, and their hot chocolate is no different: thick, creamy and made with decisively rich chocolate, it’ll make you rethink that afternoon cup of Joe.
Theo Drinking Chocolate
Source: The Congo, Panama and Peru | Made In: Seattle, WA | Mix with: Milk
Theo’s hot chocolate starts in the Congo, where their cacao beans are farmed using Fair Trade practices, then sent to their Seattle location where they’re mixed with sugar and ground vanilla. The finished product isn’t a powder, but a thick paste, like smashed chocolate bars. Mixed with milk, it’s thick and molten, both warming and filling.
Guittard Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate
Made In: San Francisco, CA | Mix with: Milk
Etienne Guittard traveled from France to California in 1860s hoping to find gold. Which he did, figuratively: he discovered that Americans had an insatiable appetite for the European chocolate he’d brought with him. In 1868 he returned to San Francisco to open his chocolate business, which is still family run today. Their drinking chocolate is Dutch processed, gluten free, and makes a rich, bittersweet drink.
A Dutch Cocoa
A “Dutch” cocoa doesn’t mean that it has origins in Holland, but simply that it’s Dutch processed. Coined after Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten created an alkalizing process to remove most of the cacao’s fat; the resulting “Dutch cocoa” is softer and less acidic than non-processed, “natural” cocoa.
Moonstruck Hot Cocoa
Made In: Portland, OR | Mix with: Milk
Moonstruck Chocolate Company takes an artisan coffee shop-level attention to detail with their products. The Portland, Oregon-based company has been at it for over 20 years, and their Master Chocolatier Julian Rose was recently named one of the best chocolatiers in North America. Their classic dutch-processed hot cocoa powder produces a drink that’s full-bodied but subtly sweet.
Godiva Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa
Made In: Belgium | Mix with: Milk
In 1926, Master Chocolatier Joseph Draps named his Belgian chocolatier after Lady Godiva, an 11th noblewoman. (So the legend goes, she rode naked through the city streets in order to lift heavy taxes against her husband. The townsfolk closed their shutters and averted their eyes to preserve her modesty, and the harsh tariffs were lifted.) Today the 88-year-old chocolatier makes chocolate with the same charitable nature and high-quality ingredients.
Christopher Elbow Mocha Drinking Chocolate
Source: Venezuela and Dominican Republic | Made In: Kansas City | Mix with: Milk or Water
After earning a Restaurant and Business Administration degree at the University of Nebraska, Master Chocolatier Christopher Elbow worked around the world with acclaimed chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Jean Joho. For a few years he was the Head Pastry Chef at The American Restaurant in Kansas City, but the growing demand for his artisan chocolates led him to start his own company. Created with Valrhona Chocolate from France, his all-natural hot chocolates come in three flavors: Cocoa Noir, Peppermint and Venezuelan Spice. Since his hot chocolate mix doesn’t contain any preservatives or artificial ingredients, its shelf life is short; but rolling through 12 ounces of this rich concoction shouldn’t be tough.
Chocolate and Ethics
We’ve noted that chocolate has something of an unsavory history — and one that by no means ended in the 19th century. In the early 2000s, chocolatiers from Hershey to Godiva came under fire from humanitarian critics condemning their use of beans from the Ivory Coast — a region of Africa wherein child slavery is common.
Small steps were taken in the form of the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol, an international agreement between chocolatiers and various governments to end child slavery and forced labor related to the industry by 2010. But the enforcement of the protocol is as of yet uncertain. In 2011, the Payson Center for International Development reported that “Even though a handful of communities [on the Ivory Coast and in Ghana] have benefitted from remediation efforts, they represent a small fraction of the coverage promised by the original Protocol and subsequent amendments”, those “amendments” being repeated extensions of the deadlines for 100 percent elimination of child and forced labor, most recently pushed to 2020.
Naturally, the decision to support or reject companies that benefit from such practices lies with the buyer. Fair Trade and Direct Trade chocolatiers are in relative abundance, while some large-scale chocolatiers carry the Rainforest Alliance seal, which denotes a product composed of at least 30 percent sustainable and ethical (by Rainforest Alliance standards — which, along with Fair Trade, have a set of criticisms unto their own) materials. Whatever your decision, be sure that it’s an informed one.
Valrhona Cocoa Powder
Source: Venezuela and Dominican Republic | Made In: France | Mix with: Milk and Sugar
“Created by a pastry chef for pastry chefs”, Valrhona has four premier delicatessen schools under the L’École du Grand Chocolat name. The chocolatier operates in Tain L’Hermitage, France — but Valrhona are more than just chocolatiers: they’re growers. With sustainable cacao plantations in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, their
vertical integration means they have control of the product from seed to sweet. Their gourmet hot chocolate is made with shavings from their famously bitter dark chocolate. Unsweetened, with a rich red color, this powder can also be used as a gourmet baking ingredient.
Divine Hot Cocoa
Source: Ghana | Made In: Europe | Mix with: Milk
The cacao beans used to make Divine’s powder are handpicked, fermented and dried by Kuapa Kokoo farmers in Ghana. Each small 4.4 ounce container is capable of making 25 servings of rich, dark hot chocolate — made only from cocoa powder, without any sugar. Divine’s powder can also be used for baking, so there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. The proceeds help Global Girlfriend, committed to helping women worldwide gain economic security.
T’a Sentimento Italiano
Made In: Italy | Mix with: Milk
With origins that trace back to Milan and Rome during the First World War, T’a has been making chocolate for some time. Yet it’s fairly new to American shores — and hard to find. Its scarcity may have something to do its price. At nearly $20 for 8 cups of hot chocolate, its price is astronomical. Its dark powder, which seems to glisten in the light, makes a luxuriously dense hot chocolate that may just be the Heady Topper of cocoa.
Source: Dominican Republic | Made In: Brooklyn, NYC | Mix with: Milk or Water and Sugar
Instead of powder, Cacao Prieto makes their chocolate elixir with little dark chocolate pellets (“drops”). Their cacao beans are sourced from the Prieto’s Dominican Republic farm, which has sustainably and organically been in operation for over a hundred years. From these warm tropics, the beans are shipped to Brooklyn, where they are processed, mixed with organic Dominican sugar cane and turned into chocolate at the company’s factory. The hot chocolate can be made with either milk or water, and is pungent with flavor. But since it’s made from bitter dark chocolate, add sugar if you’re making it for the kids.