By Meg A. Parsont
February and chocolate go hand in hand. And while I’m a fan of beautiful boxes of bon bons, a cup of hot chocolate is balm for the soul. There’s something so soothing about it on a cold winter day, or even an unseasonably warm one.
With new cafes, bakeries, and artisanal coffee shops springing up all over the Upper West Side, this seemed like the perfect time to indulge my passion for hot chocolate. So, I set out on a quest to find the best in the area, sampling the offerings at 15 places.
I quickly learned that not all hot, chocolatey beverages are created equal. To make hot chocolate or “drinking chocolate,” hot milk, cream, or water is added to melted chunks or pieces of chocolate to create a fuller bodied, less sweet beverage. Hot cocoa is typically made with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, and is a thinner drink that often has a milder flavor.
While some of the purveyors I visited touted their single-source, fair-trade chocolate and most served theirs up with steamed milk, the majority that I sampled were basically warm milk with a disappointing lack of chocolate flavor. Happily, I discovered six that were extremely satisfying, including one that elevated the experience to an entirely different plane of chocolate nirvana!
Here, from north to south, are the standout hot chocolates/hot cocoas I tasted on the UWS. (Note: I focused on beverages made with whole milk, but pretty much every place I visited offers alternatives like oat, soy, and skim milk. Some also offer flavored varieties and several even offer spiked options.)
2568 Broadway @97th Street
The Upper West Side outpost of the Paris Baguette chain was my first stop, and it set a high standard. This classic old-school hot cocoa satisfied both my taste buds and my sense of nostalgia.
667 Columbus Avenue @92nd Street
The standout hot chocolate from this cozy coffee shop is a concoction of Ghirardelli sweet ground cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, and a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips. They were one of the few places to dust their hot chocolate with cocoa powder. The final luxurious sips are best enjoyed with a spoon to get every bit of melted chocolate at the bottom of the cup.
676 Amsterdam Avenue @93rd Street
This welcoming new café uses a custom-made mixture to create a classic creamy, chocolatey beverage that’s pleasingly full-bodied and flavorful.
Mille-Feuilles Bakery Café
2175 Broadway, between 76-77th Streets
On the Upper West Side since 2014, this charming French patisserie serves a rich hot chocolate made from 70% cacao chips. It’s medium-bodied and delightfully creamy all the way down to the last sip.
167 W. 74th Street, off Amsterdam Avenue
351 Amsterdam Avenue between 76-77th Streets
Not surprisingly, this creator of iconic chocolate chip cookies (among others) uses fine chocolate in its hot chocolate: Valrhona 61% cacao dark chocolate chunks. The result is a flavorful and satisfying cup.
Venchi Chocolate and Gelato
198 Columbus Avenue @69th Street
I could write an ode to this chocolatier’s nectar of the gods. Of all the Upper West Side offerings I sampled, theirs is by far the deepest, darkest, and thickest. They use their own blend, which they prepare in a mixer and keep warm and gently blending all day long for a downright decadent treat.
Let us know about your favorite hot chocolate/hot cocoa on the Upper West Side!