It's that time of year when we Portlanders need to look on the BRIGHT side, despite the gloom that is overtaking our skies. I'm as sad as the next person that fall is slowly succumbing to winter, but I know that with the cold comes a fabulous excuse to indulge in a warm treat—hot chocolate!
There are many reasons for loving this city, but let me add artisan hot chocolate to the list. Is that a real term? I don't know. What I do know is that there are lots of people in Portland who have raised hot chocolate to an artform.
Whether you're in the mood for a decadent chocolate indulgence, everyday hot cocoa or a vegan hot chocolate, you're sure to find a favorite on this list.
Baker & Spice is a bustling little bakery in Southwest Portland's Hillsdale neighborhood. I went in with the notion that I would get big, handmade marshmallows in my cup of cocoa, but alas, I was told it is a little too early in the season for that. (I learned from Retail Manager Kelly Smith that the marshmallows usually show up right before Thanksgiving. Not long now!) I drank it naked, and found it to be pretty much the stuff of childhood, and pretty good—a hot chocolate I could easily drink on a daily basis. It's made with whole milk, cocoa, Callebaut bittersweet Belgian chocolate chips, vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks. This drink is perfect for kids, and adults looking for a taste of nostalgia will find it fits the bill quite nicely. (12 oz, $2.25; 16 oz, $2.50)
6330 SW Capitol Highway
Cacao's minimalist design is echoed in their hot chocolate. I was imagining something more similar to their drinking chocolate—which is amazing—cut with a little milk. Instead, I'm told they make hot chocolate the "traditional American" way, mixing the drinking chocolate base with cocoa and a little sugar, then frothing it with the espresso steamer. The drink is made with good chocolate, for sure, but it lacked the intensity and wow factor I've come to expect from Cacao. It’s good stuff, just not overwhelmingly so. All I know is that I’ll skip the hot chocolate next time, and go for a mocha or a straight up drinking chocolate instead. (8 oz, $3; 12 oz, $4)
414 SW 13th Avenue
Coffeehouse Northwest serves their hot chocolate without any whipped cream, which is fine with me. It would be like gilding a lily. Starting with four generous scoops of Venezuelan dark chocolate chips from renowned French chocolatier Michel Cluizel, they add a bit of Portuguese sea salt and a splash of half and half to the milk, which is then frothed and dusted with cocoa powder. It's not as thick as drinking chocolate, but definitely meant to be sipped and savored—not gulped. Rich, balanced and complex, this drink offers the intense chocolate flavor I crave. ($5)
1951 W Burnside
For the purposes of this article, I can’t get into how much I loved this place, and its Swiss chef/owner Jack Elmer, but all I can say is that this old-timey, European bakery and chocolate shop has lots to offer other than their hot chocolate.
As for the hot chocolate? I tried the dark chocolate version, both on its own (with a little fresh whipped cream) and with an added drizzle of caramel and dash of sea salt. By itself the dark chocolate was rich, full of good chocolate flavor and a perfect consistency (Elmer uses a small French press to infuse a little airiness into the ganache-based drink). With buttery caramel and a light crunch of saltiness? It made my eyes roll in my head in a rather embarrassing display of ecstacy. Oh my, that man knows how to handle chocolate. Important to note: this drink is reserved for JaCiva’s After Dark, their after hours dessert bar that is open on Friday and Saturday evenings only. Pretty perfect date night, I’d say. ($3.50)
4733 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
I was really worried about going for vegan hot chocolate after my JaCiva’s experience. There would be no chocolate-butter-cream base to this drink. And it wouldn’t be served inside a store that looked like the interior of a Swiss bakery, but out of a teeny Silver Stream in the parking lot of the People’s Co-op in the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood. I needn’t worry, however, because these folks might not do cream, but they sure seem to understand chocolate! I was happy to hear that they use almond milk as opposed to soy or rice. Almond not only offers a creamier texture, but the subtle nutty flavor is a tasty compliment to the dark chocolate chips they melt down for the drink. A little heat from the milk foamer, and voila! All organic, all vegan chocolate-y goodness, with a whole lot less guilt than you might feel with other hot chocolates. (12 oz, $2.75; 16 oz, $3.50)
This place screams, “come in from the cold and get cozy!” A charming space that creates beautiful artisan chocolates, serves Spella coffee and has a chocolate drink menu? I love you, little Alma! Though the addition of candied orange peel or Chile-Cinn (Alma's houseblend of Chiles, Cinnamon, Clove) sounded tempting, I stuck with the traditional hot chocolate, made from 68% dark chocolate and no added sugar. It offered an intense chocolate flavor reminiscent of a drinking chocolate, but without the mouth-filling viscous texture those produce. Dark and chocolatey, and still something I could imagine having on a regular basis. Made with organic milk and cream. Soy and coconut milk available at no extra charge. (8 oz, $3.50; 12 oz, $4)
140 NE 28th Avenue