– Story by Gail Johnson Photography by Don Denton
With its bracing cold and damp days, winter seems to call for comfort in the form of chocolate. While there’s everyday hot chocolate, like the powdered stuff you find at skating rinks and ski hills, pure drinking chocolate is a whole other experience. Not the packaged product you grew up with, this refined beverage is luxury in a mug.
One sip may have you nodding in agreement with Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, who in 1519 described chocolate this way: “The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”
Here are a few places to find fine drinking chocolate in Greater Vancouver.
Makers of bars that have won multiple awards from Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America, Mink crafts sumptuous European-style drinking chocolate using pure dark and milk chocolate, Bernard Callebaut ganache and just a smidge of milk. Extra-thick and sumptuous, it’s ideal for “chocolate freaks,” says founder Marc Lieberman.
“Hot chocolate as we know it in North America is a very liquid drink,” he says. “You should be able to take a gulp if you want. You would never gulp drinking chocolate. You would probably dunk a biscotti in it or a churro or another pastry. You would sip it. If you waited too long and it cooled down, you would take a spoon to finish it off. Or you’d take half of it home and put it on ice cream.”
For a vegan option, Mink’s three locations offer a drinking chocolate made of oat milk and coconut-cream ganache with 74 per cent extra-dark, bitter chocolate.
The boutique chocolate shop in Kerrisdale prepares its intensely flavoured drinking chocolate from chocolate couverture, not syrups or mixes. It uses French Valrhona chocolate (62 per cent cocoa for dark and 34 per cent cocoa for milk) and Casa Luker Cumbre chocolate (58 per cent cocoa, sugar-free, Colombian origin).
For another layer of sipping sensation, you can add rose water, orange blossom or holiday spices. To go with it (or just to go), consider some of the glossy individual chocolates in wildly unconventional flavours, such as saffron chai; cinnamon and roasted pear; black garlic and balsamic syrup; and licorice and raspberry.
Pastry chef Paul Dincer makes Koko Monk’s bean-to-bar chocolate on-site, using unprocessed heirloom cacao beans and raw, unprocessed sugar. The chocolate lounge’s drinking chocolate comes in 16 distinct and daring flavours. The fragrant Istanbul Blues, for instance, earthy and exotic, consists of 74 per cent Venezuelan dark chocolate with ground wild orchid bulb. Sin and Salvation, meanwhile, is floral and refreshing, with 35 per cent single-origin white chocolate and organic lavender, fig and chamomile. For adult chocolate-lovers: the Brunette Bangle features curry and a hint of coconut liquor.
Award-winning pastry chef Christophe Bonzon, one of a handful of Canadian ambassadors of Cacao Berry, a premium French brand, brings a taste of Switzerland to the West Coast. With two locations, Chez Christophe serves a classic drinking chocolate created with three simple ingredients: a custom blend of 38 per cent milk and 63.6 per cent dark chocolate and steamed milk (or a non-dairy alternative on request). The chocolate is crushed on-site, ensuring that it melts easily and evenly into the warm milk, making for a rich, well-balanced and not overly sweet liquid treat.
Situated in Gastown’s historic Rainier Hotel and operated by the Portland Hotel Society Community Services Society, East Van Roasters is a social enterprise that supports at-risk women who are re-entering the work force. The café crafts artisan, organic, bean-to-bar chocolate and coffee, both of which are roasted and prepared on-site.
The source of its single-origin, ganache-based drinking chocolates changes regularly, with Tanzanian chocolate currently on offer; warming spices are infused in this Mayan-spiced version. Made with steamed organic Avalon milk, the velvety drinks are sweetened with honey from Hives for Humanity, a non-profit organization in the Downtown Eastside. Vegans can sip on a version made with organic coconut milk and agave.
West Vancouver-based chocolatier and pâtissier Steven Hodge has a knack for truffles, tarts and chocolate sculptures — the rounded teddy bears being a signature piece. Temper’s drinking chocolate consists of one part Valrhona chocolate (milk or dark) with three parts steamed milk. Enhance the indulgence with a Charlie Bite, a kind of pull-apart cinnamon roll named after Hodge’s daughter, or laminated ultra-buttery brioche.
A luxury French patisserie founded in Paris in 1862, Ladurée made its Vancouver debut in 2016 with its Robson Street tea salon. Known for elegant macarons in flavours ranging from rose to raspberry, the upscale spot with golden gilding also makes silky smooth drinking chocolate with Valrhona Guanaja 70 per cent chocolate, served with an optional side of Chantilly cream. Extraordinaire.