Cocoa Challenge: In Search of a Perfect Cuppa


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.”


Butler’s Dublin

Lime Kiln Kitchen
Closer to home (for me), and outside of specialty chocolatiers is the Lime Kiln Kitchen at the Thetford Garden Centre in Norfolk.  While not as scrumptious as Butlers, it is more accessible, and it has its place on my survey owing to its “sugar-free” cuppa. This is a lovely full flavoured hot chocolate which is made by actually melting a good quality sugar-free bar to make the drink.  It is a little more dear, but worth the price and the experience.
Delphine’s Diner 
Delphine’s Diner in Aldeburgh, Suffolk is in the American style of the 1950s-60s. The cocoa here is served in a good sized mug, and is freshly made with melted Belgian chocolate, and fresh cream. This was a very satisfying drink, and was a step above virtually all the chains (bar Butlers).  It was smooth, not sickly sweet, and had a true chocolate flavour. The downside of course, like Thetford Garden Centre, is its single location.
Passing of a phenomenon:  The Funky Mackerel Cafe
There it was at the end of the rainbow, the perfect cup of chocolate excess. The Funky Mackerel Cafe on the cliffs overlooking the sea at Sheringham, Norfolk had managed to make that illusive perfect cuppa.  And then it was gone.
The drink was exceptional. The hot chocolate with cream, marshmallow, flake and curly-wurly was worth the journey all on its own.  This rich, sweet indulgent mega treat was IT. But the Funky Mackerel has now announced its closure after Easter. This was a truly exceptional concoction, and it will be a shame for it to pass.


With that said, I guess my search must continue. Well we all have to make sacrifices.


Chocolatey Reflections

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Old Chocolate House

I, like many people, am a fan of chocolate.  I have as a kid visited Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and been overwhelmed by the smell of chocolate everywhere in the air.  As an adult, I visited Cadbury World near Birmingham and while still enjoying the chocolate factory tour, I found it less of Willy Wonka experience (either because of my age, or just that it lacked the same level of fragrance).  I have visited chocolate shops in Bruge, and have sampled many “economy” brand chocolate creations, and some mid-range favourites as well.

Recently my fellow blogger, Valerie at Santé Bon Viveur has been running a series of really informative articles and posts of craft hand-made chocolates.  These have given a great insight into the entire “bean to bar” process, and has really informed me in what to look for in quality chocolate. (Thank you Valerie).

She also hosted a competition as part of her series in which some samples of Mayhawk Chocolates were on offer.  I was lucky enough to win one of these prizes (thank you again Valerie, and Mayhawk). I received two bars one with vanilla and barley, and other with orange oil.  Both were creamy, wonderfully flavourful and definitely a head above commercial retail bars. They were even nicer than some of the “named bean and origin” confections that I had sampled in Belgium.  I have to admit that, this indulgence has me a bit hooked and I may never look at a Creme Egg again.

Recently, in one of my farm shop foodie journeys, I found some Diana’s Chocolates of  Hornsey craft – made bars.  These are made in her home, and the dairy-free sea salt and caramel bar I purchased had a really smooth chocolate flavour which was really accented by the bite of the salt. This was plastic rather than foil wrapped, but did allow the texture and colour of the product to be seen before purchase (unlike foil wrapped bars).

My chocolate explorations will continue, but I would encourage anyone interested in fine foodie confection to try these “bean to bar” hand-made treats, and most definitely check out Valerie’s excellent food blog.


Bruges Getaway



I was in the mood to do something special with my wife, so I asked her if she would like to go out for waffles in the morning.  She responded in the affirmative, and bright and early I woke her so she could have her sweet treat.  What she didn’t know was that I had come to the conclusion that the best place for waffles, must by definition be in Belgium.

It didn’t take her long to figure out that this was no quick trip to the pancake house.  No, we headed south to the Port of Dover, and caught the ferry to Calais, and made our way the Bruges.

Bruges is a wonderful historic city with canals (okay, not as extensive as Amersterdam, but still nice); a wonderful cathedral, and loads of waffle and chocolate shops!

We started our visit with the planned waffles.  The shop while small, had wonderful Flemish gables, and sweet satisfying waffles.  We took our time, and when we had finished, we to explore more.

We next stopped in for hot chocolate; and some gourmet chocolate to take away from the Old Chocolate House on Mariastraat. The hot chocolate is just that.  Not a mildly chocolate flavoured milk product, but hot liquid artisan cocoa.  It was wonderful.

We then went to the Church of Our Lady to see The Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo.  This statue of the Madonna and Child is unique as it is the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime.  Even after coming to Bruges, it has been stolen twice once in the French Revolution, and again by the Nazis.  It was returned at the end of WW2, and is a masterpiece well worth seeing.  It is a cornerstone of the must sees in the city.

Unfortunately, our stay was brief (only about 4 hours) but we only had a day ticket for the ferry, so back to Calais we went. It was a remarkable day, and not bad for an outing for waffles.