Hot chocolate, the mild, milky drink topped with a couple of marshmallows, occupies the sleepy corner of the beverage menu right next to orange juice.
“Regular hot chocolate is sold to children and people who are having a bad day,” says Gabriella Mann, owner of Baba Cool in Brooklyn, New York.
Nearly half of all Americans like hot chocolate, according to research firm Datassential, yet only 17% of restaurants serve it. But give the drink an edge – spiking it, swapping chocolate in for cocoa powder or reimagining it as an energizing elixir – and adults will likely order it no matter what kind of day they’re having.
The key is curbing its sweetness and emphasizing its richness. In San Francisco, Dandelion Chocolate’s European-style drinking chocolate ($4.50) tastes like drinking bittersweet chocolate bars. A recipe for hot chocolate from Soframiz, the cookbook from popular Cambridge, Massachusetts bakery Sofra, made the rounds among food blogs for its unexpected inclusion of bitter-rich tahini. Wine doesn’t hurt, either – a trend that started gaining traction last year.
Three chefs share their hot chocolate recipes for grown-ups. Mann’s version contains Ayurvedic herbs with energizing properties, making it an alluring afternoon pick me up. Pastry Chef Rene Cruz opts for brown sugar instead of white for a rich hot chocolate, perfect for dipping beignets and using in digestifs at Presidio Social Club in San Francisco. And Chef-Owner Javier Canteras of Urdaneta in Portland, Oregon, embraces the red wine/hot chocolate combo, topping his creation with sherry whipped cream.
The lesson? A little bitterness makes things that much sweeter.
Kate Leahy is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, recipe developer and cookbook author who has worked in restaurant kitchens on both coasts. Follow her on Instagram @Kateleahycooks.