Haute chocolate

This has been a particularly cruel winter in the Northeast (United States and Canada) — freezing rain, ice storms, blizzards, cold snaps — basically “the works” that any snowscape can offer its inhabitants. A situation as dramatic as this deserves an equally emphatic F&B response. Cold weather? Soup, of course. But what about beverages? To me, nothing solves the challenge of delivering immediate warmth better than hot chocolate.

Too many restaurants consider hot chocolate to be nothing more than a powdery mix from a pouch, perhaps adding milk instead of hot water. These are probably the same folks who take a generic tea bag and serve it to you with a metal pot of tepid water. As is the way with any food product, quality goes a long way.

Remember the way your mom or grandma used to make hot chocolate? The recipe, with many variations, involved slowly warming milk then adding pure cocoa powder and possibly some sugar. Marshmallows added as a topping were my Achilles’ heel. I simply could not resist.

Chef Jason Harrison of the Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado, touts his hot chocolate as, “the best [haute chocolate] experience you will ever have.” I tend to agree. (Sorry, Mom!) The hotel’s presentation, in a platinum/copper pot and locally made cup, is crisscrossed with a web of chocolate. The concoction is made solely of pure organic heavy cream with a blend of 58% and 74% dark chocolates. Optional toppings include homemade vanilla marshmallows, whipped cream and even more chocolate shavings. It’s a good thing there is no requirement for a nutritional information sticker!

People the world over love hot chocolate. Or, at the very least, their tongues are waiting to be enlightened to its sugary goodness. Historically, hot chocolate was as an equal to tea and coffee. Today, even with its seasonal suitability, hot chocolate is a clear runner-up to its caffeinated competitors.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be! Hot chocolate is a beverage option with substantial room to grow. Here are some hints to make your hot cocoa offering truly “haute”:

  • Experiment to find a chocolate/dairy combination that provides the appropriate sweet balance.
  • Consider a white-chocolate variation.
  • Look at adding marshmallows, peppermint, pumpkin spice, gingerbread or caramel.
  • Review other topping options both in terms of quality and uniqueness.
  • Have fun and give your hot chocolate a name with a vivid description of ingredients on the menu.
  • Look for a distinctive cup for serving so the beverage stands out.
  • Train your staff by encouraging them to taste, recommend and sell.
  • A variation that includes a liqueur shot is totally acceptable for those of us of legal age.
  • Don’t be afraid to give a truly premium product a premium price.