« Friday night in the 'hood | Main | official memos »

doubting your committment to sparkle motion

I am not a coffee drinker. My husband, the poor dear, is a connoisseur of the stuff and living in the The Coffee Bean House of Worship (aka Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest if you want to mollify Seattle) means that he essentially lives in Nirvana, Shangri-La, Eden, and Valhalla all at once. Which also means that I, the non-coffee drinker, spend a lot of time in coffee houses, bakeries, cafes, and bistros.

The good news is that these places all recognize the non-coffee drinker, offering alternatives of chai, tea, and hot chocolate.  Some even offer a variety of each of those things! Which means I, too, can enjoy the experience of reading a book or surfing the 'net whilst sipping from my goodwill mug in some esoteric little place with paintings of radiators and bird feathers by local artists decorating the walls and a mix of indie, rap, and 80s pop (played ironically, natch) in the background.

I order the hot chocolate*. I love tea and chai, but I almost always order the hot chocolate. With whipped cream. And a pastry on the side. It's the small luxuries in life.... And after countless cups of hot chocolate in a countless number of aforementioned coffee houses, bakeries, cafes, and bistros, I have learned that coffee places cannot make hot chocolate for shit.

*(Yes, yes, I know. It's not hot chocolate, it's hot cocoa. Hot chocolate is actual melted chocolate, generally served in a demitasse cup because no one could possibly drink 8 oz. of it at a sitting. I have enjoyed the ecstasy of actual hot chocolate -- drinking chocolate -- and I agree that the distinction is important. But I have grown up saying "hot chocolate" not "hot cocoa" in the same way I have grown up saying "pop" not "soda" and these language differences are a signifier of regional nuances and cultural variations make us a tapestry yada yada and some things you just can't beat out of a person.)

I'm pretty sure that 90% of the coffee people who put hot chocolate on their menus have never actually tasted the hot chocolate they serve, and they universally labor under the delusion that a squirt of chocolate syrup in a mug of warm milk, stirred until it's no longer white, is all that's needed to call it hot chocolate. I get that coffee people do not deign to sully their palates with the plebeian tastes of the great unwashed. Nonetheless, it seems sensical to taste the items you're selling. If for some reason you cannot, then perhaps it should not appear on your menu. I have been tempted on many occasions to march back to the counter with my mug, hand it back to the barrista, and say, "I ordered hot chocolate. This, sir, is tinted milk."

I am utterly baffled by the dearth of a decent cup of hot chocolate in this town. With only a handful of exceptions, every hot chocolate I have ordered has been an exercise in disappointment variance. You would think, in the gastronomical mecca that this city has become famous as, in which we have elevated the donut to a performance art, beer to an elixir of the gods, and bacon to a freaking staple, that we might have mastered the simple combination of chocolate and milk. I'm frankly surprised that we don't see the same experimentation with hot chocolate that we see with waffles, ice cream, and potatoes, but I would just settle for mastery of the basics.

So to the coffee joints of this city that I adore, a simple request: please, learn to make hot chocolate. Taste what you're selling -- you don't have to be a fan of hot chocolate to know that what you're serving isn't cutting it. It doesn't have to have the consistency of sludge to be considered chocolatey enough. "Pale brown" is not a signifier that you're done. Topping with a big dollop of whipped cream does not transform a crappy mug of hot chocolate into a gourmet treat. And the bitterness of straight unsweetened chocolate and no sugar whatsoever may please your coffee-conditioned taste buds, but for a non-coffee drinker, it just makes me hate you.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (2)

Hehehehehe! I love that you wrote this :)

Mar 21, 2013 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSister

Another bad cup of hot chocolate after we'd talked about it that day and I just snapped! :)

Mar 28, 2013 at 1:42 PM | Registered CommenterBitty

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>