I have grown accustomed to hot chocolate which is at best “hot chocolate” flavoured – a powdered-mix, semi-cocoa beverage; and at worst a brown, overly sugared drink which had once, perhaps, passed in the vicinity of a cocoa bean.
Over the years I have tried to find a reliable Cocoa fix, and the search has left me with these reflections. I will begin with cheap(ish) and readily available and proceed towards chocolaty fulfillment.
The McDonald’s McCafe range provides relatively inexpensive, easily found source of hot chocolate (Let’s face it when the first astronauts arrive on Mars they will be greeted with “Would you like fries with that?”). Ease of access is not always a benefit, however. McDonald’s hot chocolate has all of the hallmarks of a pre-fab, machine produced product. Of course that is exactly what it is. The problem however, apart from it only being a half step beyond the worst case scenario of my introduction, is inconsistency. How can a pre-measured, machine brewed drink vary so much between outlets, or even at the same outlet on different days? My experience has ranged from a true cocoa uplift to something akin to brown dish water. Yes, hot and at least semisweet, but far from the goal of “Cocoa Perfection.”
Nearly as ubiquitous as McDonald’s is the American coffee chain, Starbucks. The hot chocolate here is hand measured from a pre-made powder. The pluses are that it consistently tastes of chocolate, and that it can be enhanced by the addition (at an extra charge) of marshmallows, and whipped cream. This is an easily accessed option, and still not perfection, it is a reliable treat.
Starbucks will also provide non-dairy and “skinny” options which extends the appeal to some. I found that the coconut milk used as an alternative is a bit fruity in its flavour (sweetened with apple or grape?) which competes with the cocoa.
Costa Coffee is a British chain, and if I am honest (though I prefer their coffee) there is not much light showing between their hot chocolate and Starbucks’. It like its rival’s is make from powder by the barista and has the options of cream, marshmallows (and in Costa, Cadbury Flake).
Where Costa moves ahead is the choice of non-dairy alternatives. The Costa coconut milk has a similarly sweet, but less pronounced flavour thereby enriching the chocolate and not competing with it.
Giraffe World Kitchen
Giraffe is another UK based chain. It is a restaurant rather than cafe style eatery, and focuses on a theme of world-foods. The hot chocolate is again very similar to Costa and Starbucks. It is smooth, sweet, and has a true cocoa taste, but it is still (and identifiably so) a chain product.
We move into the next tier with Thornton’s Chocolate. Thornton’s have been chocolatiers for about 100 years. They produce mid-market sweets, and have shops and cafes dotted across the UK. Their hot chocolate is their own blend, and is slightly on the sweet side of centre. The cocoa content seems (by taste) good, and the typical enhancements of whipped cream and even flavored syrups are available. This is a nice cuppa, but still not the do all and be all.
Butler’s is a whole different story. This Irish chocolatier has a small chain of “Chocolate Cafes” in Ireland. The hot chocolate was smooth and bursting with flavour. It is made from a liquid cocoa mixture rather than a powder, and is like drinking a creamy chocolate bar. It has spoiled me to other chain cocoa forever I think. It is rich, truly cocoa and nears the threshold of a “perfect cuppa.”
With that said, I guess my search must continue. Well we all have to make sacrifices.