As the weather gets colder and coffee shops get warmer, there is one drink on the beverage menu that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves— hot chocolate. As someone who has never liked coffee and didn't become a tea drinker until several years ago, I've drank a lot of hot chocolate in my life. The richness, viscosity, and presentation can vary greatly, so first, let's take a look at what makes a good cup.
Like many Americans, I grew up on the idea of hot chocolate being made from hot water or milk mixed with a powder that comes from Hershey's or Nesquik. Unfortunately, this is not actually hot chocolate. Actual hot chocolate consists of two core ingredients:
- Cream (whipped or liquid, i.e. milk)
- Melted chocolate
In the purest form of the words "hot" and "chocolate", solid dark chocolate is melted with a touch of cream to keep it smooth. This is what I was served this past Spring at a Paris tea salon, La Maison Angelina. Founded in 1903, Angelina is world famous for their "Chocolat L'Africain" hot chocolate recipe, which is so thick it starts to chunk back into a solid state as it cools. I took a video so you can see what I mean.
A melted chocolate and cream drink is a rare find in the United States (Dallas has two!), but I found it everywhere in Paris from their most famous tea salon, La Duree (founded 1862), down to the common street corner brasserie. Check out the six different hot chocolates I had in Paris and note what they have in common:
Most French hot chocolate is a much darker (purer) chocolate color than the Dallas photos you'll see below. The French also usually serve hot chocolate with the two core ingredients in separate containers, thus allowing you to mix your desired ratio of cream to chocolate. I haven't found this presentation yet in the U.S.
I've learned that the key to finding a good hot chocolate in the United States is to ask what kind of chocolate they use to make it. Ideally the answer would be "melted chocolate", but if the answer is: "I don't know", "Hershey's", or "chocolate syrup", then I don't order it. "Powder" is okay as long as it's a decent brand of cocoa powder, which is likely to be Godiva or Ghiradelli, unless you're at a chocolatier shop.
Now that you know what I look for, here is my list of best hot chocolates in Dallas. Click to jump to your favorite place or scroll to read them all. You can also follow this list on Foursquare and save my tips to your to-do list: Best Hot Chocolate in Dallas on Foursquare.
- Dude, Sweet Chocolate
- La Duni
- Rise No. 1
- The Old Monk
- The Pearl Cup
- The Crooked Tree
Dude, Sweet Chocolate: A+
The most ugly, tiny cup in town is the most delicious one. Hands down, this is the best, thickest, darkest hot chocolate in Dallas; very similar to the French hot chocolates above. It's also topped with the most unique topping—frothed white chocolate (that's why you can't see the lovely dark chocolate color underneath). And don't balk at the tiny cup, because your body won't want to consume more pure chocolate than this cup can hold! Tweet @DUDESWEETDALLAS
La Duni: A
La Duni offers two hot chocolate varieties, both made with melted Belgium chocolate. Their "French" hot chocolate is made with half-and-half, while their "Latin" hot chocolate is made with whole milk. They also offer "Viennese Truffle Iced Chocolate Milk", which is the French version served over ice.
Pictured above is La Duni's French hot chocolate. It's wonderfully frothed on top, with a very good, rich chocolate flavor that tastes similar to Parisian hot chocolate. The chocolate is slightly bitter and was served with a container of sugar packets in case you want to sweeten yours. The only reason why this hot chocolate didn't get an A+ is because of that whipped cream on the side. Unfortunately, it tastes more like pure whipped butter than whipped cream. Someone needs to go easy on the mixer. Tweet @LaDuniLove
Going off the purist's path, I thought hot chocolate with 2–3 scoops of gelato sounded like a good idea, and it was. They call it Cioccolata Affogato. Most surprising to me, the gelato didn't melt much before the hot chocolate turned into a cold chocolate drink with scoops of gelato still frozen in it. Luckily, they started with a good, thick, Italian hot chocolate, or else when it went cold I don't think it would have tasted as good. Tweet @PaciugoGelato
Rise No. 1: A-
At this French soufflé restaurant you will find the only hot chocolate set up in Dallas that looks like the trays of hot chocolate they serve in Paris. Alas, the ingredients here are already mostly mixed for you. Further departing from an authentic French presentation, this hot chocolate is served table side in a French Press, which never happened to me in Paris. The hot chocolate flavor is slightly bitter, a bit liquidy, and therefore not as flavorful as La Duni and Dude, Sweet. The whipped cream is also very sweet, reminiscent of ReddiWhip, although I'm sure they whip their own cream here. It's an exciting French presentation that falls short of it's perceived authenticity, but for Dallas, this is still a very good cup of hot chocolate. On the menu you'll be looking for "Chocolat Chaud en Chapeau", where "chaud" is French for "hot". Tweet @risesouffle
The Old Monk: A-
The "Knox Chox" is hot chocolate with butterscotch schnapps, which is quite delicious. Served with a tiny bit of whipped cream on top, the base hot chocolate was not over or under chocolatey, and the alcohol couldn't be tasted (dangerous!). Note to servers: straws are not for hot beverages. Tweet @OldMonkDallas
The Pearl Cup: A-
With a Mexican spiced and regular hot chocolate to choose from, you can see above I've had several hot chocolates here. Depending on who makes it, the regular cup is middle-of-the-road to slightly watery in terms of chocolate richness. The layer of froth on top is thin, but still appreciated. The Mexican version is spiced with nutmeg, hazelnut, cinnamon and other spices, which I love. Sometimes they put a latte design on top, sometimes not, and sometimes the design is made with cocoa, cinnamon, or chocolate syrup. For people who like their dose of chocolate one level below the thick, dark chocolate French versions, this may be your A+ cup of hot chocolate in Dallas. Tweet @The_Pearl_Cup
The Crooked Tree: B
A most luscious layer of hot chocolate froth can totally negate the need for whipped cream, and Crooked Tree delivers on this, but only sometimes. On one occasion (photo on left) I was served whipped cream and chocolate syrup; on another occasion (photo on right) there was just a thick layer of froth on top. The chocolate syrup on top tastes more like real melted chocolate than Hershey's syrup, but the hot chocolate itself is average, tending towards a watery consistency. Minor bonus for the homey variety of mugs. Tweet @crookedtree
For times when you can't get to the cool coffee shops and chocolatiers, there is always Starbucks. I'm willing to close my eyes and try to discern whether franchised food is distinguishable from an independent coffee shop, and Starbucks hot chocolate is not that bad. It has a decent chocolatey flavor and more sugar than the rest, but at least they ask in advance if you want whipped cream. The main benefit here is that you can order your hot chocolate upside-down and sideways, just like any other drink on their menu, so go crazy with a nonfat sugar free vanilla grande hot chocolate. Tweet @Starbucks
The Great and Terrible
In seeking the best of any food, I always try the item more than once in the same place to check for consistency. These two places have served me both the best and worst hot chocolates I've had in Dallas, so I don't know what grade to give them.
Bread Winners Cafe
In years past, I recall having "A" level hot chocolates here, but when I went to photograph them for this article, myself and a friend were served the most thin, milky hot chocolates I've had in Dallas. On the left is their regular hot chocolate and on the right is right is Mexican spiced hot chocolate. Both tasted more like milk than chocolate (note the milk color of the regular one). The Mexican spice smelled marvelously like cinnamon and nutmeg from two feet away, but the chocolate flavor wasn't really there. In the past, their hot chocolate was served with a spoonful of homemade whipped cream floating on top, but that didn't happen this time. Tweet @Bread_Winners
The first time I had hot chocolate here (top photo), I watched the barista make it with something that looked like a chocolate paste, which he said was Zooma brand chocolate mix. It tasted full of dark chocolate flavor, yet without being too rich, too thick, or too watery. I was impressed. The barista wasn't happy with his latte design though, so I went back two weeks later to check their consistency and get a better photo. Unfortunately, this second hot chocolate was awfully thin on the chocolate, tasting nothing like the first one, but with a better latte design. Tweet @OddfellowsOC
Tasted, But Not This Season
Seattle's Best Coffee
The only reason I didn't re-evaluate this one is because I haven't seen a Seattle's Best Coffee shop since the Borders in West Village closed. I remember their hot chocolate wasn't called "hot chocolate" on the menu, but I don't remember what they code named it. I do recall it had a thick chocolate consistency, a rich chocolate flavor, whipped cream on top, and a drizzle of chocolate syrup straight out of a Hershey's bottle. I'd order it again (sans Hershey's syrup) if I happen to find a Seattle's Best Coffee shop again.
I didn't re-evaluate their hot chocolate this season because I've already ordered it more times than I would have liked. The three or four hot chocolates I've been served here were always 1.) so piping hot that it didn't cool enough to drink until I was done with my entire meal and ready to leave, 2.) served in an actual glass, which I couldn't pick up because it was so hot (see #1), and 3.) didn't taste as delicious as these other places. However, there is a small possibility that I burnt off my taste buds in finding out that it was ridiculously hot.
Need to Taste
If you know of a hot chocolate from a chocolatier, bakery, independent cafe, or barista who knows how to manipulate chocolate into a divine beverage, please leave a comment to let me know. I'll get this list started with a Bishop Arts chocolatier who tweeted me an invite to taste their hot chocolate on the day I had to close my research for this article: