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 percent 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.
On the following pages, 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 after-dinner drinks 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.