Friday, April 01, 2005

Got Hot Chocolate?

You know the popular image of hot chocolate as well as I do. Hot chocolate is most notable as the beverage of choice when one is relaxing fireside, in an alpine lodge, possibly after schussing down a snow-covered mountainside. But it really shouldn't be limited to that. In fact I'd like to start a campaign with the slogan "Hot chocolate, it's not just for the dead of winter anymore."

Hot chocolate is not the same as "cocoa". Cocoa is a powder and does not contain the cocoa butter that makes chocolate such a luxurious ingredient. Drinking chocolate is the name given to hot chocolates as of late. Drinking chocolates are rich and have more of the bittersweet flavor we have come to love. Hot chocolate is gaining popularity on restaurant menus as a dessert and a number of premium chocolate companies are also now producing drinking chocolate products for home use. As proof of it's popularity even Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon with "Chantico".

Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a blind tasting of a number of drinking chocolates in the company of Michael Freeman, proprietor of Cocoa Bella chocolate shop and Alice Medrich. Medrich is a reknowned chocolate expert and author of several books on chocolate including Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate, the 2004 International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year.

To begin with, a couple of tips from Alice Medrich. First, because fat coats the tongue, lower fat milk actually helps you taste the chocolate more clearly. Medrich recommends mixing one part water with one part milk for a superior cup of hot chocolate. Second tip--because chocolate can take some effort to dissolve fully, allowing the melted chocolate to hydrate with liquid by letting it sit overnight (refrigerated) will improve the texture and probably flavor. Rumor has it this is the secret behind the famed hot chocolate served at Angelina's in Paris. I also noticed that when the temperature of the liquid gets too hot, (over 180 degrees according to Medrich) some rather unpleasant flavors can develop. Like wine that has had time to breathe, when the temperature lowers undesirable flavors disappear.

Here are the brands we tried and our comments.

Chuao Abuela Hot Chocolate
Perhaps because this chocolate was prepared with water, it tasted a little thin and was a bit sweet, though this might be a good choice for someone with a sweet tooth.

Scharffen Berger Drinking Chocolate
More bitter flavor, more consistency and lasting flavor, generally mild and not overly sweet. One of our top picks.

La Maison du chocolat la Tasse de Chocolat
Very thick with fruity tones, almost plummy, tingly taste and lingering flavor. Our top pick.

Dolfin Flaked dark chocolate 77%
This was the least interesting of all the brands we tried. It had a malty flavor and was very weak.

Joseph Schmidt Hot Chocolate Dark Pleasure
This was a cozy beverage, but not chocolate-y enough. A good choice for those who like milk rather than bittersweet chocolate.

The last two were "spiced" varieties:

Chauo Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate
Noticeable chile flavor, a little sweet but nice spiciness in your throat going down. Could be very good as a demitasse style drink.

MarieBelle Aztec Dark Hot Chocolate
Very rich, almost chalky, thick and delicious. Did not detect much chile flavor