Hot Cocoa Top 10: Adventures & Lessons

Can you really have adventures (and even life lessons) by drinking hot chocolate that others have ranked as Top Ten?

This is what happens when you get a hair-brained idea to put together a Meetup for a hot chocolate tour of NYC. Last summer I tried a chocolate tour – and had one person show up because apparently chocolate and summer aren’t tempting. It’s almost February, it’s very cold, and I’m still having a hard time getting people to sign up for my Meetup. Honestly, my anti-inflammatory diet means I am not supposed to have any sugar, dairy or booze. Despite all this, I see going on a Hot Chocolate exploration as an Adventure. I'm willing to take the chance that my hair-brained idea may be enjoyed by others too.

Researching Hot Cocoa in NYC

An article in Time Out NY for the “Top 10 Best Hot Chocolates” was my first inspiration. When I looked closer at the article, I noticed it was over a year old and one place no longer sells hot chocolate. I knew this because it was a little taco store near my former offices at Weight Watchers HQ. This tiny restaurant's hot chocolate was a savior on many of my Adventure Wednesdays winter outings when I left the offices, needed an easy meal and something delicious that also warmed my hands as I walked to try something new.  On a cool day last Fall, I stopped in and discovered my treat was no longer served.  I took the rest of the listings and mapped them out. While looking at these places, a few other articles on "Top 10" popped up! So – this is now more than just TONY, but Zagat and some other lists too. (Click here for the map I created http://bit.ly/AWHotChocMap2018).

Since I no longer work in Manhattan, going to these places is not as easy as it used to be. I lucked into a dog/apartment gig for an editor friend. I could work from her home, and walk to several of the locations. My partner joined me for a jaunt down to SoHo to test another place.

 

CITY BAKERY (Chelsea)

No dogs were fed chocolate in the making of this photo.  This is the adorable dog I was watching.  It wasn't raining, so Ringo accompanied me to City Bakery.

Huge marshmallows at City Bakery! They take up about half the cup.

This cup of hot chocolate, even without the marshmallow, is worthy of it's place on Top Ten lists.

DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY (SoHo)

The outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo. The sign regarding how to order their cookie shot gives me warning that the lines to this could get very long. It is also home to the "cronut"

Entertainment while waiting in line.  He's preparing s'more marshmallows (they keep these cold!)

Blooming Hot Chocolate.  The presentation is Instagram-worthy.  Note the cookie shot in the background (not mine).

Enjoying my Blooming Hot Chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery.  You can see only part of the line behind me.  The line extended to the back of the bakery, moved fairly quickly and there was a wait as they prepared your order.  This drink, for all the right reasons, is #1 for my list.

PAPER CAFE AT MADE HOTEL (near the Flat Iron District)

Outside the MADE Hotel/Paper Cafe. The wood exterior is a nice change from all the surrounding buildings.

Xoxolate - $13. They do have a non-boozy version for $4

The Xocolate features chili infused mescal (tequila is still a weakness of mine). One young barista didn't know this drink had been in a Zagat review.  The flavors were rich and aromatic, but the drink itself wasn't heavy.

BOQUERIA (several locations, this one is in Chelsea)

Sign outside Boqueria. The SoHo location is a short distance from Dominique Ansel. The Chelsea location isn't far from City Bakery or Matcha Bar)

While chatting with the bartender who made my Nutella hot chocolate, I discovered how he's learned to appreciate the art of creating a good coffee (& chocolate). We also discussed going out to new places. He enjoyed my speakeasy suggestions. If you have difficulty speaking to strangers, bartenders are usually great people to talk to, as it's part of their job.  One success helps you expand to more!

The crafted Hot Nutella at Boqueria. They also offer a version with bourbon. If you like Nutella, this is a definite must-try!

MATCHA BAR (Chelsea.  Plus a new location on Prince St)

This place serves all kinds of Matcha tea. It's around the corner from the Google offices in Chelsea

MatchaBar's Hot Chocolate is not on the regular menu. The woman who served me had a manner and voice that reminded me vaguely of a mix of Joan Baez and Valley girl.  Being on a "mission" encouraged me to make a longer connection than just the exchange of goods.

Um.  OK.  My first thought? It's GREEN.  The MatchaBar Hot Chocolate steamed with coconut milk. It's matcha tea with cocoa powder added. No sugar - so it's tends to be bitter. While I like matcha, I couldn't finish this drink. I'd only recommend this IF you are already a huge matcha fan.  It's not on my Top 10 list, even if other's had it on theirs.

 

VAN LEEUWEN (West Village)

Van Leeuwen started with a food truck in Brooklyn serving ice cream. Their point of difference is that they serve vegan ice creams and hot chocolate.

The young Scooper making my vegan hot chocolate with almond milk. I enjoyed it, and would go again any time.  He also let me know that 1/31 is National Hot Chocolate Day!  This being my 4th hot chocolate of the day, I was already feeling the "openess" of cacao...so I boldly told this new NYer to check out the mermaid parade come warmer days!

Super Hot Chocolate. Chatting with the Scooper, he told me their first hot chocolate was made with a powder. Then they upgraded the cocoa, so it's now Super!

AMY'S BREAD (West Village.  Also in Hell's Kitchen)

I give Amy's hot chocolate a meh. Maybe it was an off day for the staff (one seemed to care, the other didn't seem to want to even be there), but compared to the other's I've been having...this was not up to that par. Better than powdered. But you could get similar at Starbucks for less $. Across the street is David's Tea, which has a tea called Hot Chocolate. If you're a tea drinker, this is good stuff (I bought a few ounces and make it at home).

GROM (Bleeker Street.  Several locations)

My last hot chocolate of the night, an Italian gelato store. They have locations all over NYC. The server says that cold weather doesn't slow down customers. In fact, his store was crowded during the last snow storm!

Grom prides themselves on quality ingredients and ethical sourcing. Their hot chocolate does not come from powder, as evidenced here. It really does taste like coco syrup warmed up. Definitely buzz-worthy!

How many cups of hot cocoa?

A friend had asked how many hot chocolates can one person have in a day? With the recent research I conducted, I’ve come to the realization that it depends on the hot chocolate. The one hot cocoa from Dominique Ansel Bakery was satisfying. On another day, walking all around the City, I had six in six hours. At my meeting that evening I was buzzing with chocolate euphoria. A chocolate euphoria from high quality cocoa is a kind of glowy speed, where you feel your heart is open and loving to everything.  (Theobromine, the "feel good" ingredient in raw cacao, is usually processed out of mainstream chocolates.  One reason to stick with the high end, artisanal stuff.)  This feeling isn’t easy to maintain. For a while I was really chatty and energetic, but then I start to feel the endorphins decrease.

It’s a balancing act, when you're used to a low-sugar diet

Almost 5 years ago my doctor placed me on anti-inflammatory diet to help me with health issues. It started with clean eating – which includes taking sugar out of my diet. Over the years I’ve been good about my sweets, except of course – my spirit food…cacao. When it comes to my favorite food, I’ve developed a love for the bitterness of the high cacao content of (often fair trade/organic) dark chocolate. There are health benefits to dark chocolate…which is my excuse for not giving it up. Changing my diet for health reasons I’ve learned to listen to my body’s needs better.

The artisanal hot chocolates tasted so deep and delicious, I forgot how much sugar I was consuming. When the euphoria started wearing off, my body was telling me all that sweetness may not have been great. My body started feeling cranky. Like a weird off-center space. My ex-husband has diabetes, and has had diabetic reactions. I wonder if this is something close to that (don’t worry, my doctor assures me I do not have diabetes). When I could, I made sure to have some food that balanced all that sugar, and it helped.

My food adventures have taught me many things – including self-care by learning my limits of “cheat foods.” I am still having a Hot Chocolate Adventure (which I also added a Facebook event, since the Meetup event hasn’t gained traction) with at least one friend. Adventures are about having fun. But they are also about having learning experiences. I’ve learned from six + cups of hot cocoa, and plan on having more fun with a shifted perspective.

Come with me on an Adventure!

In case you want to join me on the Hot Chocolate Adventure, here’s the Facebook event page (AWFBHotChocEvent ) as well as my Meetup event (AWMeetupHotChoc ) There’s no charge (because peoples’ ability to have one or more cups of hot cocoa is up to them, and I want them to feel free to join – or leave – the group at any time).  It will be the Saturday before Valentine's Day (not all adventures happen on just Wednesdays!) If you want to create your own adventure, use the map I posted here (Hot Chocolate Adventure Map).  Since today is National Hot Chocolate Day, and a Wednesday, I will be continuing my research today.  Mmmm, peppermint marshmallow anyone?

Enjoying my research and working at the Paper Cafe in the Made Hotel. Next time, won't you join me?

 

Do you like gourmet hot chocolate? What’s your preference? If you're not in NYC, are there places near you to create your own adventure? Have you had any experiences where your body told you a certain food or food category was making it feel off? Please share your story in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Harlow on February 1, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Again = come visit our Irish music session in Albuquerque at La Jolliesse on Thursday nights. Killer chocolate and hot chocolate.

    Sadly, I don’t know how much longer we will be there. The owner’s chocolate production business has become so successful that he wants to go 100% in that direction and is looking for a buyer for his retail shop. We may be seeking out a new location shortly if he finds a buyer.

    • Stacey Newman Weldon on February 7, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      I would love to visit and hear you play! Chocolate would only be a bonus! Hopefully the new buyer will appreciate the community spirit your music brings and the fun continues in a new form.

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