Coffee is fuel for living. Tea clears the mind. But hot chocolate is for dreaming, sip by decadent sip.
For fans of rich, molten cacao, the Seattle area offers plenty of places to dream. New chocolatiers are bubbling up as quickly as new cupcake bakeries and frozen yogurt joints, garnering national acclaim (Fremont's Theo Chocolate) and reinvigorating our taste buds (Ivy Chan of Cocoa Chai Chocolates infuses her creations with lychee, pandan leaf, sesame and other flavors of Asia).
It's only natural all that creativity should splash over into chocolate's liquid form, as new and established purveyors strive to perfect classic recipes or steam up something fresh. Start sniffing around and soon enough, you'll find your own ideal cup of cocoa. Here are some of ours:
Sweet & Savory, 1418 31st Ave. S., Seattle, 206-325-2900: From your vantage point at this cozy café's counter, watch the waitress warm your chocolat chaud (French-style hot chocolate for $3.10) in a skillet over the stove. It arrives in a teensy demitasse. How can this possibly be enough, you wonder. Then you begin to sip. And crown that chocolate with fresh whipped cream from the accompanying ramekin. And sip some more, feeling the combo of cream, bittersweet Callebaut chocolate and ground chilies tickle the back of your throat and warm your insides. Sweet and savory, indeed.
Chocolate Box, 108 Pine St., Seattle, 206-443-3900: This new one-stop chocolate shop steps from Pike Place Market aims to sate a multitude of cravings, with a gelato bar, frozen hot chocolate for summertime, treats by many locals (Fran's, Dilettante, Chocolat Vitale, Theo) and, of course, the hot stuff. Get your cocoa straight up or flavored with peanut butter, mint, caramel, orange and other favorite pairings. We tried the caramel hot chocolate and white chocolate with mint ($2.25 each). The former: decadent, with a sweet aftertaste. The latter: light and heavenly, just right with a mini strawberry cupcake ($1.25) from Sugar Rush bakery.
Bakery Nouveau, 4737 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-923-0534: When the weather's too chilly for ice cream at the nearby Husky Deli, head inside this new French bakery, grab a table and groove to Motown hits as you anticipate the hit to come: a creamy blend of steamed milk and Nouveau's ganache, the very same mix of heavy cream and couverture (confectioners) chocolate they use to ice their cakes. At $2.25 for a small serving, it packs a sweet punch when you drain your cup, and goes down easily enough to enjoy with a croissant as you watch the lines for pastries and breads ebb and flow.
Caffé Umbria, 320 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle, 206-624-5847: The taste of Italian-style hot chocolate? "It's like drinking chocolate pudding," a peppy member of Caffé Umbria's staff told me over the phone. She's right, but rather than flinch at the consistency of cioccolata calda ($3.56 with whip), it was pleasant — thick enough to scoop with a dainty Italian silver spoon yet still sippable. Make that two silver spoons to share the joy and stave off chocolate overload as you people-watch in Umbria's Pioneer Square coffeehouse.
Brasa, 2107 Third Ave., Seattle, 206-728-4220: Combine cinnamon-dusted churros with rich hot chocolate for dunking and you have churros con chocolate, a snack long popular in Spanish sidewalk cafes. So far, the closest thing we've found to this killer combo is the hot chocolate and Spanish doughnuts at Brasa. The Belltown restaurant just last month began serving cocoa ($3) made with dark Valrhona chocolate spiced with a little cinnamon and cayenne, and the doughnuts ($9) also come with their own separate chocolate sauce. All together it's an awful lot of chocolate, but a treat to savor with company.
El Diablo Coffee Co., 1811 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-285-0693: Step inside this Queen Anne coffee shop and it's as though a deck of Mexican Loteria cards exploded and splashed the premises in their vibrant images and colors. It's an antidote to gloomy weather, as is the Mexican hot chocolate ($2.35 for the small), a blend of melted chopped Ibarra chocolate, steamed milk and cinnamon. While not a true champurrado (warm, spicy chocolate-flavored corn masa sweetened with brown sugar), it's pleasant on the tongue and a nice companion to the coconut or tres leches cakes in the sweets case.
Source: Seattle Times