Great Hot Chocolate from Coast to Coast

Hot chocolate season has officially begun. Sip the sweet stuff at these fine shops across the nation.

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Photo By: Molly DeCoudreaux Photography ©Molly DeCoudreaux 2015

Hot Cocoa 2.0

Like many seemingly simple foods and drinks, hot chocolate has seen an upgrade. Pastry chefs and learned chocolatiers have carefully selected cacao beans from small farms around the equator, making these cups of cocoa mind-blowing, and addictive, masterpieces.

Photo by Anthony Tahlier for Mindy's Hot Chocolate, Chicago

Brooklyn: Raaka

Brooklyn newcomer Raaka started in a Bushwick apartment where founders Ryan Cheney and Nate Hodge first began grinding their cacao beans. Last year they brought their skills to the people by opening Raaka’s Red Hook factory. There they employ their low-temperature roasting process, which they say preserves the flavor profile of their fair trade beans. This season they’ve put their own spin on high-quality hot chocolate by adding the sweetness of Vermont maple syrup. The Raaka Maple Drinking Chocolate comes with a branded mug and is best sipped while sitting in your PJs in front of a pile of steaming pancakes.

Photo by Katie Burton

Chicago: Mindy's Hot Chocolate

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chicagoan who didn’t think “hot chocolate” was synonymous with Mindy Segal. Tops on Mindy’s hot chocolate menu: Dark (a 72 percent French chocolate), Black & Tan (one-third hot fudge and the other two-thirds medium-intensity chocolate with a touch of caramel) and the coffee-spiked Half & Half (espresso and dark chocolate), all served with a signature marshmallow. For adults there’s a list of boozy variations like the Hot Buttered Rum — butterscotch hot chocolate and rum topped with Frangelico-infused whipped cream and freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg. Hot chocolate happy hour, anyone?

Photo by Genevieve Burruss

More About: Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Kansas City, Mo.: Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates

Chocolatier Christopher Elbow takes pride in creating his handcrafted drinking chocolate. What is drinking chocolate, you ask? Unlike hot cocoa, drinking chocolate is pure, shaved chocolate blended with milk, creating a much thicker, richer beverage than its hot cocoa cousin. Elbow’s 12 varieties — from Peppermint to Venezuelan Spice — are made to order and served with a finale of whipped cream or housemade vanilla marshmallows.

Photo by Studio 8183

More About: Christopher Elbow's Artisan Chocolates

Los Angeles: ChocoVivo

ChocoVivo respects chocolate just as the Mayans and Aztecs did 2,000 years ago. Their cacao nibs are ground on lava stones, and all of their beans are from growers they know personally. The Mayan Tradition hot chocolate brings together carefully sourced cacao nibs, unrefined cane sugar, whole California almonds, Ceylon cinnamon sticks and three types of dried chiles — pasilla negro, guajillo and chipotle. Another option: building your own. Begin by picking your style (thick or traditional hot, iced or frozen), then choose the flavor (65 to 100 percent cacao or coffee and vanilla) and the liquid (filtered water, organic creamery milk, housemade hazelnut milk or rice milk).

Photo by Alicia Cho

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New York City: Dominique Ansel Bakery

Chef Dominique Ansel can take the simplest of sweets and turn them upside down and inside out. His hot chocolate is no exception. Inspired by the forest, Ansel incorporates whimsical design into this hot chocolate showstopper. The DIY mix is a special blend of three Valrhona chocolates, solid chocolate branches, intricate leaves and miniature meringue snails, all encased in a glass. There's no need to use a pot; simply pour hot milk into the bottle, close the cap, gently shake … et voila.

Photo courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery

More About: Dominique Ansel Kitchen

New York City: Jacques Torres

With eight locations in New York, it’s easy to get your hot chocolate fix from Jacques Torres. The only difficult part is deciding which one to choose. Classic is a rich blend of 60 to 70 percent dark chocolate slowly tempered with hot milk. Wicked is exactly that — a spicy mix of allspice, cinnamon, ancho chile and smoked ground chipotle chile for kick. If it’s a tie, then try their newest version, the Snowball: Either Classic or Wicked gets a scoop of housemade vanilla ice cream, which is adorned with a dollop of whipped cream, creating that playful symbol of winter.

Photo courtesy of Jacques Torres

More About: Jacques Torres

Portland, Ore.: Alma

Leave it to the foodie artisans of Portland to offer some of the most-innovative hot chocolates around. At Alma, Sarah Hart has a lineup that features Cru Sauvage (one of the oldest and most-respected Swiss chocolate makers) 68 percent wild Bolivian cacao. Mint tea-infused hot chocolate is wickedly good, while the Carmelita, (habanero and caramel sauce) has a peppery note. For the chocoholic, 2-ounce shots are available.

Photo courtesy of Alma

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San Francisco: Dandelion

Mild San Francisco winters are perhaps the reason Dandelion’s Frozen Hot Chocolate is the most-popular item on the menu. European drinking chocolate, syrup and ice are blended until smooth, to a consistency that Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Vega describes as milk shake-like. It’s finished with her cocoa nib-infused whipped cream, which results in a thick, chocolatey drink that’s pure decadence. All of Dandelion’s chocolate is made on-site, so you can be sure every bit of the bean travels no more than 20 feet until it’s in your cup.

Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux

More About: Dandelion Chocolate

Springfield, Mo.: Askinosie

O, The Oprah Magazine probably said it best when it honored company founder and CEO Shawn Askinosie as one of "15 Guys Who Are Saving the World.” Askinosie’s chocolate production is philanthropically driven; all beans are sourced directly from farmers in the Philippines, Tanzania, Ecuador and Honduras. Their single-origin beans can be savored in Askinosie’s two hot chocolate offerings: the Natural Cocoa Powder, an American-style beverage; and the Sipping Chocolate, for those who prefer a seriously rich way to warm up.

Photo courtesy of Askinosie

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Various Locations Nationwide: Shake Shack

Post-burger and fries, come winter you may be too chilly for one of Shake Shack’s famous custards. No worries; they’ve got your sweet tooth's craving covered. Shake Shack’s seasonal hot chocolate is rich: Both heavy cream and whole milk lay the foundation. The liquid is then blended with bittersweet dark chocolate, rich caramel sauce and a dash of sea salt to bring out the chocolate flavor. Just like their burgers, each cup is made to order. Then it's finished off with a layer of whipped cream.

More About: Shake Shack

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