Well, here’s a national food holiday that’s certainly appropritate for the season! While “National Cocoa Day” can technically have anything to do with products from the cocoa tree, including cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, or the ever-present favorite chocolate, I like to interpret the use of “cocoa” as hot cocoa, or hot chocolate! Mmm, there’s nothing like a cup of hot cocoa to warm you up in the winter: the richness of the melted chocolate, the creaminess of the hot milk…and let’s not forget all the great cookies that go so well when you dip them! Hot chocolate is typically made from shaved, melted, or powdered chocolate, and includes heated milk and sugar. Humans have been drinking chocolate drinks for over 2,000 years, but it was only sweetened and milk-ed when the Europeans took chocolate from the Mayans in the laste 17th century. Since then, hot chocolate has become a sweet treat for the cooler months, especially when you’re coming in from a cold day of playing in the snow. Swiss Miss and other companies have made hot chocolate accessible to the masses without a double-boiler by putting it all in a freeze-dried packet; all you need for a decent cup of hot chocolate is hot water.
But on the streets of New York City, you can bet your freezing butt there’s more than just a decent cup of cocoa to drink! With some of the most renown chocolatiers in the world setting up shop in New York, there’s little doubt as to whether we’ll also have some of the best hot chocolate in the world. Really excellent hot chocolates are made directly from melted chocolate and milk–not a mix of dehydrated powders to which you add hot water. So the perfect blend of chocolate, sugar, and milk has to occur in order to get that great viscosity of thick, rich hot chocolate…without feeling like you’re just drinking a big cup of chocolate soup. Of course, one of the best cups of hot chocolate in the city can be had at the Brooklyn waterfront, made for you by Mr. Chocolate himself! Jacques Torres is a hit when it comes to bonbons and chocolate bars, but his hot chocolate is also second to none. You can get any of his famous flavors of chocolate melted down into a hot cocoa, including the popular Mexican chocolate, with ancho chile powder and cinnamon–which will give your cocoa quite a kick! Complemented with 2% milk, making it rich but not unbearably thick, this is one of the best cups of hot chocolate you’ll ever drink. But just try to walk into this famous chocolate shop and only order one cup of hot chocolate–and not buy the entire mix to bring home!
Jacques Torres Chocolate
66 Water St, DUMBO
“Chocoholics from near and far make pilgrimages to sample his line of dark- and milk-chocolate bonbons in flavors like pistachio-marzipan, and chocolate-peanut-brittle—the sort of untrendy, nostalgic confections you’d expect more from a corner candy store than from a serious French pâtissier. But serious he is: He bakes his own croissants and packages his own hot chocolate—both of which are reason enough to linger at one of the two mosaic café tables occupying the small retail shop.”–New York Magazine
“Cinnamon, ancho chipotle powder, nutmeg and a secret medley of Mayan spices lend a piquant, slightly savory zing to the chocolatier’s signature beverage. Robust 64- and 72-percent Belcolade Belgian chocolate at the base offset the heat, which lingers gently at the back of your throat.”–Time Out New York
“When Jacques Torres began offering creamy, rich hot chocolate out of his first store in Brooklyn’s DUMBO, it was one of a few places that started reintroducing New York’s to the well-made classic hot chocolate, not the watery powder packets that had become acceptable practice. Even today, the decadent drink, made with 2% milk, is served up fresh, piping hot, and thick, and full of rich melted chocolate.”–CBS New York
“Our very own Mr. Chocolate, the loveable Jacques Torres, serves his famous drinking chocolates at his factory. So intensely rich and thick that I usually can’t finish my cup — even though the kids never seem to have a problem downing it. Particularly fun to visit when the machines are in operation.”–Mommy Poppins
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Great thing about roaming around the city is you randomly find quality places like I did this weekend while in Brooklyn. I have to say the Wicked Hot Chocolate was the richest cup of hot cocoa Ive ever had. I enjoyed drinking it while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The cooler my drink got, the more it tasted like liquid chocolate in a cup. lol. I cant wait to try the other goodies in the store.”–Falayn F.
“Although it was only a sample size cup of about 2 oz., the Beverage produced an amassed fondness of the application and execution conducted by Jacques. The thick and velvety texture derived from the proper balance of Heavy Cream and Medium Dark Cocoa dictate an appreciation for the beverage consumed. Patrons will find this application to be thick, frothy and welcoming! With each sampling, consumers will find that the superb use of each element in the application works in conjunction to create a taste that’s both soothing and strong.”–C. M.
I haven’t tried Jacques Torres’s hot chocolate yet, though I really plan to! But for right now I can’t attest personally to how good it is. But a hot cocoa that I consistently love in New York is another famous chocolatier, whose name is fictional but the chocolate is all real: Max Brenner. A mix of the two founders’ last names, Max Brenner is an international gourmet chocolate shop that sells all assortments of chocolate, sweets, and good food in their restaurants. My old stomping grounds used to be their location near St. Mark’s Place, but it’s since been shuttered, and now I have to head to Union Square to get my Brenner fix. Their hot chocolates are also made directly from melted chocolate and milk, but with much more selection than Jacques Torres: you can include milk, dark, or even white chocolate to your cocoa mix (with no judgement over “white chocolate isn’t real chocolate!”), and classic additives like whipped cream and marshmallows. But my favorite part of Max Brenner’s hot chocolate is the cup it’s served in: a patented design called the “hug mug” is specially formed to fit around your palms–just like you’re giving the cup of hot cocoa a hug. Holding the mug with both hands, you’re inclined to bring it up to your face, breathe in the rich chocolate aroma, and sip to your hearts content; you feel happier and warmer, and not just from the hot drink in your hands. You can buy both the hot chocolate mix and the hug mug from Max Brenner, and recreate it in your own home, but nothing really beats coming in from a frigid trip to Union Square’s Greenmarket and sliding your hands around a big hug mug o’ cocoa!
841 Broadway (between 13th St & 14th St)
“At Max Brenner, a spacious and busy child-friendly restaurant near Union Square, you can combine one of three chocolates (dark, milk, white) with a serving style (whipped cream, marshmallows, Italian thick, Mexican spicy) to create your own drink in funkily shaped vessels like the “hug mug,” perfect for cradling in chilled winter palms. (And it’s all kosher.)”–The New York Times
“Known for its hot chocolate served in a specially designed hand-warming “hug mug,” the Broadway shop and restaurant offer a mind-boggling array of cacao-based product from chocolate truffle martini and chocolate fondue to Young’s chocolate stout.”–National Geographic
“The folks at Max Brenner, Chocolate By The Bald Man take their hot chocolate so seriously that they have a special “hug mug” that helps you better appreciate the aroma and warmth of the drink. They have a special chocolate drinking “ceremony,” the option to take a “do it yourself” concentrated hot chocolate shot and special chocktails and milkshakes.”–Huffington Post
“But, if you have to grow up, Max Brenner offers a variety of liquid chocolate goodness served in special containers, like the Hug Mug (you need to hug the mug with both hands to enjoy), the Suckao (an espresso sized drink where you heat the chocolate in the milk), the Alice Cup (for frozen chocolates with a special straw holder), and the Kangaroo Cup (coffee with a pocket to place chocolate to melt on the side). As for me: I’m in love with Max Brenner and the Chocolate Drinking Ceremony.”–Traveling Mamas
“the Max Brenner hot chocolate known as the “cappuchino of chocolate” and made from cocoa beans from different origins that give them a unique aroma. Also, I adore the mug it’s served in, which is known as the actual Hug Mug. It’s shaped so that you can “hug” the mug with both hands while drinking it to give the drinker that warm and cozy feeling of drinking hot chocolate.”–Rock That Veil
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“We had the chocolate pizza with hazelnut bits and banana, banana split waffle, and I also ordered a hug mug of dark chocolate hot cocoa. The hot cocoa was one of the best hot cocoas I’ve ever had. It seems like it would’ve been too sweet with milk/white chocolate, but with dark chocolate, it was perfect.”–Celeste C.
“dark chocolat – this came in the “hug mug,” which i loved. on our way out, my boyfriend bought me one heh . this hot chocolate was mighty tasty, probably because it was a dark hot chocolate.. and usually, they’re just milk chocolate. you know? anyhow, i wish there was a cafe near me with hug mugs & dark chocolats. i would frequent that place =)”–Ida Marie B.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!