The Best Cups of Hot Chocolate in the Country

Cozy up with cocoa at these top cafes and coffee shops from coast to coast.

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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

Chicago: Cocoa + Co

In addition to the array of handcrafted bon bons that Cocoa + Co. curates from chocolatiers around the country, the shop prepares a selection of intense hot chocolate creations to order. Options include the Moroccan, with 13 different spices, and the Classic Dark, a menu stalwart, which owner Kim Hack describes as "American cocoa on steroids." All of the drinking chocolates incorporate whole beans, allowing for the cocoa butter to create a rich, mouth-coating feel. Try it in the Parisian, which uses 64 percent single-origin chocolate from Ecuador with a hint of vanilla. The most-chocolatey option is The Fix, an off-menu blend of dense, liquid chocolate cut with a dash of half-and-half to make it drinkable.

New York City: Dominique Ansel

Chef Dominique Ansel can take the simplest of sweets and turn reinvent it. Hot chocolate is no exception. Ansel incorporates whimsical design into his Blossoming Hot Chocolate: The marshmallow is held together with a thin layer of white chocolate, but once it hits the warm liquid, the marshmallow flower "blooms" revealing a little chocolate bonbon surprise inside. The Blossoming Hot Chocolate is offered year-round, but come Black Friday, fans can procure DIY mix. There’s no need to use a pot; simply pour hot milk into the bottle, close the cap, gently shake.

More About: Dominique Ansel Kitchen

Chicago: Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea

A recent addition to Michigan Avenue, Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea serves a wide variety of coffee beans from third-wave roasters like Portland’s Stumptown, Seattle’s Vittoria, Minneapolis’ Spyhouse and Australia’s Toby’s Estate. For cacao-based drinks, the team turned to the Windy City’s pioneering, genre-expanding chocolatier, Vosges. Fairgrounds mixes pure Vosges La Parsienne Ground Chocolate with whole milk and heavy cream which mingles for an entire 12 hours before it’s steamed in the espresso machine. The result is a frothy, rich and smooth cup that’s garnished with a chocolate-covered coconut-caramel marshmallow. Eat the marshmallow off the skewer or, for an extra dose of decadence, drop it into the liquid and let it melt.

Brooklyn: Raaka Chocolate

What started in a Bushwick apartment has become a full-fledged Brooklyn operation. Founders Ryan Cheney and Nate Hodge now grind cacao beans in a dedicated Red Hook factory where they say a low-temperature roasting process preserves the flavor profile of their fair trade beans. A partnership with Whole Foods means that customers can drink made-to-order chocolate drinks, including mochas at Allegro coffee bars.

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. Adults can always add a shot of booze — rum and whiskey are recommended — or choose from other hot, spiked winter specialties. Hot chocolate happy hour, anyone?

More About: Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Nashville: Killebrew

Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Marie White whips up cinnamon buns, blueberry muffins and savory pastries like the buttery ham, cheese and poblano croissant each day. To complement the list of indulgent baked goods is an equally indulgent hot chocolate. White’s Double Hot Chocolate, inspired by the variations found in the Swiss and Italian Alps, is created with three kinds of dark chocolate and local cream-topped milk to add body and richness. It’s lovingly finished with house-made vanilla bean marshmallows for a creamy near-pudding-like consistency that coats the spoon.

Portland, Oregon: 180 Xurros & Xocolata

The only brick-and-mortar churreria in Oregon, 180 Xurros & Xocolata makes hot chocolate the name of its game. Started by Cristina Baez, her husband and their best friend, each with Latin roots, the authentic Spanish-style shop was born out of the trio’s nostalgia for late-night churros (xurros in Catalan). They partnered with local chocolatier Cocanu for Ecuadorian dipping and sipping chocolate. The name comes from the ideal frying temperature for churros, which are served rolled in classic cinnamon, dunked in chocolate or stuffed.

Boston: L.A. Burdick

Bostonians know when the craving for hot chocolate strikes, L.A. Burdick is the only answer. Founded in New York in 1987 by husband-and-wife team Paula and Larry Burdick, the chocolate company was inspired by Larry’s time in Bern, seeing Swiss chocolatiers. The family moved L.A. Burdick to New England, eventually opening a shop in Cambridge, where fans queue for the long list of drinking chocolates. Whether dark or milk, spicy or sweet, or even white chocolate, each is prepared to order by whisking hot, steamed milk with the chosen shaved chocolate until thick and creamy. Generous dollops of whipped cream finish it off.

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.

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More About: Christopher Elbow's Artisan Chocolates

Anaheim Hills, California: Crème & Sugar

The social edia universe was taken by storm last December after Crème & Sugar founder Joanna Czikalla’s unicorn hot chocolate was born. Czikalla didn’t set out to create a social sensation — she merely set out to create a hot chocolate she’d like to drink. For her, that meant it would have to be fruity, fluffy, pretty, pink and covered in unicorn sprinkles. (Also, it’s not chocolate. It’s vanilla-based, but for most fans, that’s semantics!) Those looking for chocolatey options can choose the Cookie Monster or the S’mores, a combination of espresso, steamed milk, dark chocolate and toasted marshmallow, topped with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbs.

Philadelphia: Max Brenner

Max Brenner, the quirky chocolate-only restaurant that started in Israel, made its way to New York more than a decade ago and has since opened additional venues in both Philadelphia and Boston. No matter which outpost they choose, diners can always find hot chocolate served in the shop’s signature Hug Mug. Mimicking the shape of a cocoa bean, the cup is specifically engineered to afford drinkers a full, five-sense experience using proper cupping, or "hugging." To replicate the same encounter at home, purchase the mug in the eatery’s shop after your last delicious sip.

New York City: MarieBelle

Over the last decade, New York’s beloved MarieBelle has expanded its footprint to Dubai, Tokyo, Kyoto and most recently has spawned a Cacao Market over in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, across the East River from its first location. Smart shoppers in SoHo know to duck into MarieBelle’s original shop for a hot chocolate fix in gracious surroundings. There, diners can grab a seat in the gilded, European-style salon and peruse the tome of chocolate offerings that appease any palate. Purists should try Jefferson's Favorite, 66 percent Honduran Cacao topped with a rich, fresh-whipped cream. Don’t leave the MarieBelle’s without perusing the elegant glass case displaying hundreds, if not thousands, of chocolate ganache in every flavor imaginable, or taking home a tin of the proprietary hot chocolate blends.

Springfield, Missouri: 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.

More About: Askinosie

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

More About: ChocoVivo

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.

More About: Jacques Torres

Portland, Oregon: 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.

More About: Alma

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

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