Last winter, I learned what a serious chocolate buzz feels like. Heart pounding. Slight headache. High off the ground. Hit me again, please.
It all started with a winter trip to Montreal. The Quebecois, naturally, know a thing or two about staying warm in the winter. Part of that involves calorie-dense treats like the famous double down at Joe Beef (think bacon and cheese sandwiched between deep-fried slabs of foie gras). Thankfully, this regional savoir faire also extends to chocolate, which they drink in its richest form: straight up, in a snifter.
Let me set the scene: I emerged from a movie theater into the dark, frigid air. Down the street, a storefront’s toasty warmth called to me. Rushing to get there before my eyelids froze shut, I discovered a restaurant full of people laughing, cheering, and drinking. Chocolate, that is, not booze.
Cacao 70 is just one of Montreal’s amazing cocoa locales. The city’s French flair translates to great pastries and an emphasis on chocolate, in all of its forms. Though its chocolate-laden pizzas, waffles, and fondue are also seductive, it’s the specialty drinking chocolate menu that makes this place stand out.
Yeah, yeah. It’s just hot cocoa, right? Hardly. Think more along the lines of a melted-down bar of high-quality chocolate with some milk or cream thrown in for good measure. It’s not nearly as sweet as a Hershey’s bar, since it highlights the cacao rather than the sugar. You sip it slowly, almost like a fine wine or whiskey.
In fact, for most of chocolate’s 3,000-year-old history, it was served as a beverage. As authors Sophie and Michael Coe detail in The True History of Chocolate, the ancient Mesoamericans drank it without any sort of sweetener, with a heady layer of foam on top. The Mayans and Aztecs used cacao beans as currency, which means only the wealthiest would be bold enough to actually consume their money. They even had a verb for drinking the stuff: chokola’j. It wasn’t until the late 17th century that Europeans developed a form of solid chocolate to eat and, later, truffles and candies.
At specialty places in Montreal like Cacao 70 and Juliette et Chocolat, you can choose the exact dark chocolate you want to drink. Cacao 70 uses fine artisan chocolate from Barry Callebaut, such as the 76-percent cacao Ecuador (earthy, fruity flavor) or the 64.5-percent cacao Papua New Guinea (undertones of whiskey and smoke). Meanwhile, at Juliette et Chocolat, you can choose the exact plantation, like Madirofolo in Madagascar or Concepcion in Venezuela.
Cacao 70 serves it melted in a snifter with a side of American-style hot chocolate that you can add to the glass, so you can experiment with how thick or thin you want to drink your dessert. Most places, however, mix it for you ahead of time so you can enjoy without thinking.
Of course, in the much-warmer United States, we don’t have anything as sophisticated as an entire drinking chocolate menu. But we do have some awesome places that offer at least one variety.
In Portland, specialty shop Cacao features a decadent house drinking chocolate with three ingredients: their secret dark chocolate mix, whole milk, and heavy cream. Even a tiny cup will keep you going for hours.
In New York, L.A. Burdick may be known for its chocolate mice (no joke!) but, provided you’re above the age of 10, the real treat is the Burdick Blend dark chocolate drink. Made from a blend of three to four South American and Caribbean beans, the stuff will satisfy even the grumpiest among us. (In fact, it was so good that I drank an entire cup while still sweating in this summer’s heat.)
Meanwhile, places like the Chocolate Makers Studio in Austin and Christopher Elbow in Kansas City remove all the stigma of drinking alone. The Chocolate Maker’s Studio features four drinking chocolate blends, so you can make the stuff at home. Try the Very Dark Drinking Chocolate, Mocha Drinking Chocolate, Texas 5 Spice Drinking Chocolate, and Gianduja Drinking Chocolate. In the Midwest, artisan chocolatier Christopher Elbow sells Cocoa Noir, Venezuelan spice, mocha, and peppermint drinking chocolates for you to make at home, too.
So, ditch the craft beer and cocktails and drink the original mood lifter. Bonus: You can’t get (physically) addicted to chocolate. Or can you?
Read more chocolate-y riffs on Food Republic: