A look at the best hot chocolate places in the area
Snowflakes drift along a brisk and chilly draft, partially illuminated by feeble rays of the sun. Children fly down frozen snowbanks, numb with cold but hot with excitement. Adults slacken their grasp on shovels in order to warm their gloved hands. Whether the snow is a burden or a blessing, hot chocolate has always been an anticipated winter tradition.
Five cafes in Montgomery County – Godiva Chocolatier, Peet's Coffee, Aroma, Häagen Dazs and Starbucks – boast the "best" hot chocolate, but not all hot chocolate is created equal. Here is a guide to the best cocoa in town; one that achieves a delicate balance of sweet and rich chocolate, a creamy yet refreshing milk base and a subtle hint of hearty spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.
Each hot chocolate has been judged on taste, quality of ingredients, creaminess, temperature and price on a one to five scale. One represents the worst possible rating, and five represents the best possible rating.
"Taste" refers to the sweetness, bitterness and richness of the hot chocolate. Is it overwhelmingly sweet? Does it have a bitter after-taste? "Quality of Ingredients" rates the hot chocolate based on if it uses a cheap instant cocoa mix, an artificially flavored syrup, or real chunks of chocolate. "Creaminess" judges the texture of the hot chocolate. In the "Temperature" category, a score of one indicates tongue-burning hot or stone cold, while a score of five shows that the temperature is just right.
The dark chocolate hot cocoa from Godiva is restaurant quality, although it also has its flaws. Godiva mixes milk with a premium dark hot chocolate mix that boasts hints of a fruity flavor. The mix is all natural, composed primarily of sugar and natural cocoa. Godiva serves the hot chocolate at around 140 â„‰, an ideal temperature allowing for immediate consumption. One caveat: the hot cocoa's whipped cream topping is not enough to counteract the dark chocolate's slightly dry note. Overall, Godiva's hot chocolate is good, but not great. Milk chocolate (and perhaps a thicker milk base) would put this beverage over the top.
The hot chocolate at Peet's Coffee is overwhelmingly sweet, perhaps as a result of the artificial chocolate syrup Peet uses to cut costs. With a watery base, this beverage only scored a 2 on the "creaminess" scale. The whipped topping, however, made with real cream, was rich enough to balance out the sweetness. Peet's Coffee has, by far, the most impressive condiment station, complete with Dutch cocoa and nutmeg. Ultimately, though, Peet's Coffee should just focus on their coffee.
Aroma was awarded "Best Hot Chocolate" by Bethesda Magazine, and it's easy to see why; unlike its competitors, Aroma's hot chocolate contains real chunks of smooth and luscious milk chocolate. There is no mix or syrup. The cocoa is easily the most "handmade" beverage of the day. Aroma drowns chunks of milk chocolate in a steaming cup of thick, frothed and foamy milk. Give the cocoa a stir and watch as the chocolate chunks melt, turning the milk a familiar chocolatey-brown. Even the casual dusting of cinnamon and cocoa powder displays care and attention to the product. Aroma serves one of the best hot chocolates in Maryland, without question.
As Starbucks is one of the largest chains in Maryland, it's easy for anyone to stop by on their commute for hot chocolate. If you're seeking the best hot chocolate, however, keep on walking. Starbucks combines milk with a "mocha sauce" that contains artificial ingredients. The whipped cream spiral that floats on top of the hot chocolate is deceptive; while it does contain cream, it also contains mono and diglycerides, emulsifiers full of trans fat. If that isn't enough, the vanilla syrup used to sweeten the cocoa is brimming with the preservative potassium sorbate. In terms of taste, Starbuck's hot chocolate has a well-rounded flavor, balancing sweet and bitter. It is the hottest hot chocolate of the day and will hold up to the cold if you are commuting. The base, however, is thin and watery, bringing down the "creaminess" rating to a 2. With an average rating of 3, Starbucks' hot chocolate could stand to be improved.
In their classic Real Belgian Hot Chocolate, Häagen Dazs blends Belgian chocolate ice cream with hot milk and tops it with a generous swirl of sweet whipped cream and cocoa powder. For a loaded first bite, dip your spoon into the pillow of feather-light cream and allow drops of hot chocolate to pool onto the spoon. The Belgium chocolate ice cream releases a robust depth of flavor. Every sip is surprisingly refreshing, despite the hot temperature. For a chain, the quality of ingredients is top notch: milk, cream, Belgian chocolate and Belgian chocolate ice cream. After tasting Häagen Dazs' chocolate creation, you won't want to go back to mom's hot chocolate!
After a day of indulging, Montgomery County has two clear "best" hot chocolates: Aroma Cafe and Häagen Dazs. Both utilize quality ingredients, like real chocolate, cream and milk to create a frothy beverage reminiscent of liquified chocolate. A fine sift of cocoa powder over each brew counteracts the sweetness. Both were served at a temperature that warmed the body but did not burn the tongue. While both cups of cocoa were on the pricey side, they were well worth the extra cash.
On the flip side, Starbucks and Peet's Coffee may not be the best bang for your buck. While both cafes deliver an attempt at a good hot chocolate and are good for a quick fix, they taste watery and lackluster, devoid of the creaminess and flavor of Aroma and Häagen Dazs. Godiva Chocolatier serves a good hot chocolate that is sure to awaken taste buds, but it just can't live up to Aroma and Häagen Dazs' standard.
Zoe Friedman. Zoë Friedman is a junior at Montgomery Blair HS. She loves running XC and track, exercising, writing, cooking, marketing and creating business ideas. She's self-published two cookbooks since her freshman year. In her free time, she watches baseball and makes and packages her own energy ... More »