Why you should care
Much like Harry Potter got repackaged with adult covers, hot chocolate may have just become something legit enough to impress your cool food friends with.
Nobody needs to tell you that hot chocolate is Good Sh*t. You’ve known that since your tiny frozen hands clutched it after your Dad made you shovel snow in a Chicago winter. For those of us easing out of a March that felt like Armageddon, this may be our last chance to fully delight in hot chocolate before it goes from life-giving elixir to ordinary dessert.
Shops are starting to take hot chocolate a lot more seriously. In addition to putting away the Swiss Miss, more restaurants are adding spices and extra flavors. Take Demitasse, a café in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, which sells lavender hot chocolate that tastes like a Toblerone melting in a bed of flowers. Plus, baristas use an actual blow torch to singe the unusually flavorful marshmallows a perfect golden brown.
Coolhaus serves a maple-infused hot chocolate topped with … candied bacon, of all things.
Bobby Roshan, who came up with the recipe, originally added lavender to lighten up the heavy chocolate taste. His creativity paid off in 2012 when the L.A. Weekly named it best in the city. But Bobby wasn’t about to rest on his sugary laurels. He moved on from lavender to lemongrass coffee. It didn’t work; the effect was more acid perfume than delicacy. On a whim, he dropped lemongrass in his hot chocolate base. Bobby was blown away by the surprising melding of lemony-chocolate-y goodness, and Demitasse’s popular lemongrass hot chocolate was born. His next venture? A coconut crème-lemongrass-chili hot chocolate. That’s a mouthful that we’d gladly swallow. “I literally just bought the chili, so stay tuned,” he said. These drinks sell for five dollars — not the cheapest hot chocolate on the block, but not much more than a Starbuck’s version either.
That’s just the beginning. Lavender and lemongrass are pretty tame compared with some of the other hot chocolate innovations out there. Coolhaus, an originally Los Angeles-based shop that makes “architecturally inspired desserts” in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin and other cities around the country, serves a maple-infused hot chocolate topped with … candied bacon, of all things. The idea sprang up at a fan contest in 2011 (because, why not add bacon to everything?) and was a hit at Coolhaus’s ugly sweater Christmas party. (Me, I never understood the whole dessert bacon thing; something about mixing sweet and savory like that just doesn’t feel kosher. But hand it to Coolhaus for having the guts to try.) They’ve also got a fried chicken and waffle-flavored marshmallow fluff.
The City Bakery in New York City took the trend up, like, thirty notches in February when they hosted an entire hot chocolate festival: a new flavor for every day of the month. Banana peel, ginger, cinnamon rum, bourbon, rum raisin, creamy stout, malted milk, and “Ode to the Polar Bear” graced the restaurant.
So, the people have spoken out against watery hot chocolate, and restaurants are happy to ramp up quality and experiment with flavors. And it all goes to show what happens when you ask why there isn’t bacon hot chocolate yet.