There's something about wintertime that makes us yearn for a mug of something hot and sweet. Well, hot chocolate -- especially when it comes topped with marshmallows -- seems to be a worthy antidote.
You can always stir a packet of Swiss Miss into hot water, but if you're looking for something a little more special, U.S. News Travel found some of the world's tastiest cups of cocoa. And because ambiance matters, we've searched far and wide for establishments that also have charming atmospheres. If you live in a place that gets pretty cold in winter, take heart: Hot chocolate is always there to warm you up.
The Chocolate Lab, in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood just off the bay, delivers a delicious hot drinking chocolate. The chocolatier family, the Recchiuti's of Recchiuti Confections, owns the Lab and uses its own artisan chocolate for the decadent drink. Chocolate Pistoles, or pure beads of chocolate, are melted into water to make a thick, hot drink, which is then topped with a handmade signature Vanilla Bean Marshmallow. The rich drink is served in a ceramic cup, which will warm your hands as you sip. You can try Recchiuti Confections' hot drinking chocolate at the Chocolate Lab for $4; you can also buy the Hot Chocolate Pistoles for $18 and the Vanilla Bean Marshmallows for $14 at one of Recchiuti Confections' chocolate shop locations or online.
A Mexican restaurant may not be the first place you think of when you're craving hot chocolate, but don't discount Oyamel. When the Mexican restaurant is helmed by the innovative chef José Andrés, you can bet you're in for a treat when it comes to hot chocolate. Oyamel, which is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is known for its inventive offerings -- the menu boasts grasshopper tacos and margaritas topped with a salted foam, known as "salt air." When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, Oyamel offers a chocolate caliente. This hot chocolate is an Oaxacan variety from southern Mexico blended with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean, sugar and steamed milk. A cup of this zesty cocoa will set you back $4.
Paul A Young
Paul Young is an artisan chocolatier who is praised for his ingenuity and craftsmanship in the art of chocolate-making. He and his team make all their confections in-house, by hand. Along with truffles, caramels and brownies, Paul A Young also makes a mean cup of cocoa. Interestingly, his is made with water (rather than milk) so as not to interfere with the purity of the chocolate. This year, he's selling hot chocolate that's concocted from single-origin chocolate, from places as near as Lincolnshire, England, and as far-flung as Madagascar. The price for this decadence is £3.95 GBP, or about $6.50 USD. You can purchase a cup of take-away at one of his four chocolateries, or you can sit down and sip one in his newest location at Heal's retail complex on Tottenham Court Road in London.
Serendipity 3 is a restaurant located on New York's Upper East Side that serves a smattering of lunch and dinner items, but what it's really known for is its Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. Yes, "frrrozen" with three "r's." This drink -- which is more of a dessert than a dainty beverage -- is essentially a large glass cup of sweet hot chocolate, cooled to room temperature and blended with milk and ice to create a daiquiri-like consistency. Then, it's topped with a mountain of whipped cream and chocolate shavings. You can slurp this half-hot, half-cold confection for $8.95 in the restaurant, or you can buy the drink mix online for $16.95. One thing to note: There's almost always a long line snaking out the door, so be sure to make a reservation (the restaurant only accepts reservations for lunch or dinner, not just dessert).
For a fancy cup of hot chocolate in a historic coffee bar, Venice's Caffè Florian is the place to go. Located in the Piazza San Marco, this coffee bar has been around since 1720. As you sip the artisan-made chocolate, you can sink back into the upholstered seats while the sounds of the Piazza San Marco trickle indoors. If the traditional cocoa isn't rich enough for you, opt for the Cioccolata Casanova, which comes served with a special mint cream and a chocolate shaving garnish. A cup of classic hot chocolate will run you €10 EUR or about $13.75 USD, while the Cioccolata Casanova will cost €11.50 EUR, the equivalent of about $15.75 USD.
Konditorei Péclard im Schober
Sipping hot chocolate and nibbling sweets at Konditorei Péclard im Schober might be one of the best ways to spend a sleepy, winter afternoon in Zurich. Known for its colorful macarons and ornate cakes, the shop and cafe is also known for having one of the city's best cups of hot chocolate, thanks to its preparation method: Theirs is made by melting chocolate into whole milk. You can choose to add espresso for a jolt of caffeine or some whipped cream to dilute the sweetness. In between sips (or gulps), you could nosh on one of their famed pastries, perhaps the Fleur de Sel cake or a rose-flavored macaron. This pastry shop and cafe is located in District 1, near the Limmat River. A pure hot chocolate with whipped cream costs 9 CHF (around $10 USD) while one with an added shot of espresso costs 10 CHF (about $11.25 USD).
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Bouchon Bakery Yountville
Bouchon Bakery's hot chocolate is proof that deliciousness is in the science. This Napa Valley bakery, which is located just north of Napa in Yountville, uses a careful ratio of different chocolates to create its signature beverage. After blending the Bay Area's Guittard cacao and France's Valrhona cacao and milk chocolate, Bouchon then steeps its chocolate with Tahitian vanilla beans to bring out a sophisticated flavor. The rich drink is topped with some steamed local organic milk. Pair this liquid indulgence with another sweet treat like a macaron or two or even a handmade toffee. A small cup of this hot chocolate costs $3.75, and these can be purchased at any of Bouchon Bakery's five locations.
Centered in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood since 2005, Baked is known for more than just its hot chocolate. The bakery has branched out to retail with cookbooks on the shelves of Williams-Sonoma and a tasty vegan granola for sale at Whole Foods. Along with indulgent baked goods, the shop also serves up a delightful hot chocolate. Using the New York chocolatier Jacques Torres' hot chocolate mixture, along with steamed milk, the hot chocolate is served with a housemade Baked Marshmallow in several varieties, including vanilla, chocolate and a seasonal flavor (such as peppermint around the holidays). The perfect complement to a cup of cocoa is the Sweet & Salty cake, a rich dark chocolate cake with caramel and fleur de sel. The hot chocolate is $4.50 but if you want to pair it with a slice of Sweet & Salty cake, prepare to tack on an additional $4.50 to your bill.
Beginning in 1903, the Belle Epoque-inspired Angelina emerged as one of the finest tearooms in Paris, favored among such names as Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel. Today, it still exists on the Rue de Rivoli as one of the most exquisite places to go in Paris for a hot chocolate. Angelina's best-selling version is the Old-Fashioned Hot Chocolate "L'Africain." Four different cocoa beans from Africa are used to make this robust hot chocolate, which is why it's also served with a bowl of unsweetened whipped cream to temper its potency. While here, you might also order Angelina's other signature menu item, the Mont Blanc pastry -- it's a meringue shell, filled with a rich chestnut puree and topped with whipped cream. The price for the hot chocolate is €8.20 EUR (around $11.25 USD), while the Mont Blanc will set you back €8.90 EUR (around $12.25 USD).
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-- Emily H. Bratcher