Northwest Hot Chocolates

by Allen Cox | Photo © Dreamstime

When it came to xocolatl, the Mayas and later the Aztecs knew a good thing when they tasted it. The spicy, bitter drink they relished would be barely recognizable today. The conquistadors exported cacao to Spain, along with looted gold, and the art of chocolate making emerged in Europe. Chocolate remained bitter until sweeteners were added in the 17th century, and, in the 19th century, the Dutch developed drinking chocolate in its powdered form. Over the centuries, chocolate grew from a drink only the nobility enjoyed to one that has become accessible to all of us.

The secret to a cup of rich, smooth drinking chocolate is in the quality of ingredients and the method of preparation. Fortunately, some brilliant culinary explorers in the Northwest, who are obsessed with authenticity and perfection, have done the dirty work for us. Today, some of the finest drinking chocolate in the world comes from Seattle. Here are three of the best artisan chocolate-makers who offer their own drinking chocolate products. Check out their boutiques and taste the delicious results of history.

Fran’s Chocolates, in Seattle, uses 65% Venezuelan cacao to make their Dark Hot Chocolate. Owner Fran Bigelow has long been hailed as the top chocolatier in the nation; one sip of her Dark Hot Chocolate and you become a believer. Fran’s version of the beverage harkens back to the fine tradition of the best European drinking chocolates. Stop by any Fran’s boutique and pick up a container for yourself and as gifts for your friends. The Georgetown location in a historic Seattle building just opened in September, 2014, and is the the new production facility—ahhh, the scent of fine, warm chocolate! Or order online at franschocolates.com. A 9-oz. container of Fran’s Dark Hot Chocolate retails for $15.

Theo Chocolate, known for sourcing fair trade, organic cacao, has developed a Chipotle Spice Drinking Chocolate, a nod to cacao’s New World roots with a blend of cacao, spices and the smoky-spicy flavor of chipotle. They also make a European-style Rich Dark Drinking Chocolate for those who require less bite. Visit Theo’s factory retail store in Seattle or order online at theochocolate.com. A 10-oz. box of either retails for $12.50.

Chocolat Vitale is a chocolate boutique in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood that makes five varieties of fine drinking chocolate. Their products span the palate and include: European Classic, Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Espresso, Orange Spice and Venezuelan Black. Find your favorite by purchasing their Single Serving Sampler, and then stock up on the one you love the most. Shop in their boutique or online at chocolatvitale.com. A 10-oz. tin retails for $18; the sampler retails for $17.

Of course, the addition of liquors livens up a cup of hot chocolate. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Begin with a few tried-and-true formulas. A jigger of a good-quality peppermint schnapps is a fine addition to European-style drinking chocolate. Another delicious variation is the addition of ½-oz. each of brandy or whiskey and Frangelico. Try adding a jigger of tequila to a spicy chocolate-chile mix. With a few trials (and errors), you just might create a new winter cocktail.