Hot chocolate in the city

One local coffee lover broadens his horizons and embarks upon a noble mission: finding the best hot chocolate this fair city has to offer. Check out his picks for the top five…

Because I have been told that honesty is the best policy, I must confess something right off the bat: I’m not a big fan of hot chocolate. I fancy myself more of a coffee drinker. While hot chocolate sates the sweet tooth and cures the blues as only the tip-top of the food pyramid can, I can’t help but feel a little saddened that the warm, chocolatey goodness that from time to time fills my cup can in no way banish my lethargy and keep me wide awake.

Why then, I’m sure you are asking, have I been tasked with finding the best hot chocolate in the Richmond? While my penchant for coffee has had it’s negative affects over the years (the ability to vibrate clear through solid objects comes to mind) it has also shielded me from the hot cocoa lobby that for too long has had its sugary, creamy tentacles wrapped around the collective consciousness of even the most discerning consumers at this time every year.

In other words, I don’t have a favorite hot chocolate. I am, at least in this particular department, completely free from bias.

I have no previous experience testing or tasting, dabbling, or discerning. I am the culinary equivalent of a blank slate. So why was I chosen? Because I quite literally don’t know what I’m doing.

With this comforting thought in mind, I bring you, dear reader, five of the best cups of hot chocolate in the city of Richmond:

GlobeHopper (Shockoe Bottom)

It was a little painful to walk into this local espresso outlet and not order a latte or french press. However, all coffee-related woes were immediately trounced once I took a sip of GlobeHopper’s hot chocolate. I come from a long line of instant-hot cocoa drinkers, so my unrefined palate was understandably sent reeling. The beverage was rich and thick, kind of like Kim Kardashian. It was like drinking molten fudge, and just as delicious. GlobeHopper’s hot chocolate is perfect for a lazy winter’s day, and perhaps the type of beverage one imagines when they think of the classic Christmas-time cup of hot chocolate. However, it’s a bit on the sweet side, so it’s not good for chugging or on-the-go gulps. Instead, I’d suggest deliberate and self-referential sips while enjoying a good book.

Crossroads (VCU Campus Area)

M&M’s. The hot chocolate from Crossroads tastes almost exactly like melted M&M’s. Of course, like most people, my only experience with melted M&M’s has been either as a result of leaving a handful in direct sunlight, or keeping one tucked securely underneath my tongue for absolutely no reason whatsoever. However, it is quite obvious, even to a layman such as myself, that the hot chocolate from Crossroads is not your everyday festive fare. It takes full advantage of its inherent richness without falling prey to overwhelming heaviness. Imagine enjoying the goodness of M&M’s without all that pesky self-respect you’d lose if you simply poured a bag of the colorful morsels into your gaping maw in one fell swoop. I’d suggest enjoying this one at your leisure. Take your time, and like I mentioned previously, keep a book handy.

Can Can (Carytown)

Before I actually describe the hot chocolate I ordered at Can Can, I would like for you to first use your imagination and envision what such a beverage would look like. If you’re seeing a platinum-plated mug filled to the brim and carefully balanced on the head of a Persian odalisque in your mind’s eye, I must regretfully inform you that this was not the case. Instead, I received my hot chocolate in a to-go cup at the coffee bar. And concubine or no, the hot cocoa was something to behold. It was definitely the richest and heaviest of any of the other drinks I sampled, reminiscent of a freshly-baked brownie. However, to enjoy the hot chocolate to its fullest, you need to take periodic breaks. Too much too fast, and you lose the complexity and your taste buds grow weary. Better yet, do what I did and order a glass of water as a palate cleanser in-between sips.

Harrison Street Cafe (The Fan)

Harrison Street’s hot chocolate is the perfect holiday treat for those on the go. Unlike the other entries in this scientific, BBC Documentary-worthy analysis, this hot chocolate is neither incredibly sweet or rich. In fact, the best adjective used to describe it was blurted suddenly and without warning by the friend who had accompanied me on this specific outing. “It’s fluffy!” She squealed. “I’ve never had a drink that was fluffy, but this thing is fluffy!” And so it was. Harrison Street’s hot chocolate is light and airy, making it the perfect foil for the thick and thundering chocolate behemoth from Can Can. It’s mild and smooth nature also allows for greater consumption, so I suppose if you had enough money and charisma, you could convince the good folks at Harrison Street to simply sell you a hot chocolate trough.

Shockoe Espresso and Roastery (Shockoe Slip)

The hot chocolate from Shockoe Espresso was a strange beast indeed. Both the cup and the liquid inside were visually unremarkable. Furthermore, there wasn’t a single ominous nod from a hooded stranger in the corner or a shared side-long glance from a mysterious barista that could have alerted me to the sheer strangeness that was about to unfold. You see, at Shockoe Espresso, the hot chocolate doesn’t play by the rules. It’s the Martin Riggs of holiday drinks. It doesn’t do what hot chocolate is supposed to do. In my limited experience, if hot chocolate is creamy, it is also sweet. If it’s extremely creamy, it’s extremely sweet. You get the idea. Shockoe Espresso, however, bucks this trend, and established a new frontier in the name of all four hot chocolate connoisseurs out there. It was wonderfully creamy, but the sweetness was controlled, almost muted. It reminded me of a chocolate malt, yet wasn’t nearly as overpowering. This is the perfect beverage for a long conversation, preferably about philosophy, or perhaps Greedo shooting first.

Well there you have it. A comprehensive (and some might say amusing) look at some of your best hot chocolate bets in Richmond. It was a delicious adventure, jam packed with holiday traffic, coffee-shop furniture, and cup after cup of unique and locally-developed cocoa concoctions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my coffee is getting cold.

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Eric Steigleder

Eric Steigleder is a freelance writer, political junkie, coffee-addict and proud Globehopper regular.

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