CocoaWarm, comforting, and another way to enjoy gourmet chocolate. What could be better? Photo by Elton Lin.





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PETER ROT is the chocolate reporter for THE NIBBLE.



January 2006

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beverages


Gourmet Cocoas From Fine Chocolatiers

Hot Stuff For Cold Weather


You don’t need friends or family to mix up a cup: a great cup of hot cocoa is company all by itself. Don’t save “the good stuff” for a special occasion or Sunday Brunch: you deserve it now! You don’t need an excuse, but here are some: you’ve come in from the cold...are in need of some comfort food...are looking for a chocolate fix. Whatever, slowly sipping warm liquid chocolate makes a cold day feel warmer, a gray day shine more brightly, an aimless day have a raison d’etre.

It also may inspire you to organize a hot chocolate party, as we often do at THE NIBBLE: definitely a recipe for fun. Brew up several different brands of cocoa and invite people to a tasting...or tell each of your foodie friends to bring their favorite brand. Give everyone a rating sheet and let them discover a new favorite (one never fails that to leave a tasting with a new favorite). It’s an easy way to be a host: hot chocolate has universal appeal, and there are unsweetened and sugar-free versions for those who can’t have sugar. All can be made with soy milk or rice milk for vegans friends.

First, a distinction should be made between hot cocoa and hot chocolate. The differences are simple but are important.

  • Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder and milk.
  • Hot chocolate is prepared with actual chocolate, i.e. the hard chocolate bar you might eat (which contains both cocoa liquor and cocoa butter), which is melted and then mixed with either milk or water. Hot chocolate mixed with water is less rich; some people use a mixture of half and half and milk (or add a tablespoon of sweet butter) for an even richer brew.
  • Some of the mixes reviewed here are a combination of cocoa powder and chocolate; others, like last year’s winner from L.A. Burdick, are pure chocolate.

Beverages in our tasting were produced according to manufacturers’ directions, but it is certainly acceptable (and sometimes necessary) to add more mix than recommended for a deeper flavor.

The Contenders

Chocolat Moderne

Who ever said hot chocolate had to be plain or spicy? Chocolat Moderne offers three exotic twists on this classic favorite, in addition to a plain version as well…to satisfy the purists. All four mixes contain a base of tiny 70% chocolate chunks (for quicker melting) plus cocoa powder.

Kama Sutra has an Indian influence: coconut, cardamom, and clove tickle the taste buds with a soothing Eastern enchantment.

Madame ‘X’tasy is an awakening blend of espresso, burnt caramel, and Fleur de Sel. The overall flavor leans heavily towards the caramel side, with a smidgen of coffee peaking in; while the salt serves as a mediator to balance the two.

Snake Charmer is perhaps the most refreshing of the bunch. Floral anise, star anise, cinnamon, and vanilla merge to form a heavenly matrimony that will surely put a spell on your taste buds.

Chocolat Moderne

Kama Sutra Hot Chocolate

Madame 'X'tasy Hot Chocolate

Midnight Oasis Hot Chocolate

Snake Charmer Hot Chocolate

  • 13 Ounces
  • $16.00

Midnight Oasis is the unflavored of the lot, without any added ingredients. Overall, each beverage is satisfyingly chocolaty with a thinner consistency in the mouth, and added ingredients are very well pronounced, yet balanced superbly with the chocolate. Deliciously flavorful and highly unique, each mix will certainly add a zip to your ordinary hot chocolate routine. 

Chuao Chocolatier

The bases of both Abuela and Spicy Hot Maya consist of cocoa powder and hefty amounts of 58.5% chocolate chunks. When melted, this combination produces a somewhat thick and medium-bodied beverage that will lovingly satisfy one’s hot chocolate craving.

Spicy Hot Maya is subtle in spiciness but slightly stronger in heat: the chilies lend tempered bursts of heat that are neither too hot nor too restrained. Their presence is short-lived, however: the spurts of fire slowly expire as each sip slowly progresses down the throat. Heatophiles may be disappointed, but if you ask me, this merely provides incentive to continue sipping!

Despite the 58.5% chocolate chunks, the chocolatiness is somewhat mild, but it is still very satisfying and filling. It doesn’t taste sweet, per se, but the already included milk powder is definitely noticeable. In the end, the sparks of heat, subtle spice, and warm chocolate culminate into an all-around excellent beverage. If you prefer your hot chocolate unflavored, then you can enjoy a steaming cup of Abuela, the same product without the spices and chilies. I found Abuela especially pleasing right before bedtime.

Chuao Hot Chocolate

Abuela Hot Chocolate

Spicy Hot Maya Hot Chocolate

  • 12 Ounces
  • $15.00


If hot chocolate were given a Scoville rating, Dagoba’s Xocolatl would probably get the highest mark. Dagoba’s reticent description, “we add a hint of chilies…to create a soothing chocolate experience,” is clearly a euphemism for, “CAUTION: Wash hands before touching eyes!” The fire from the chilies grabs the senses, and although the flames are intense, the addiction of the experience quickly overwhelms the heat. While it startles the senses at first, after the first cup, one longs for another. The mix is actually quite sweet, accented with cinnamon, but it’s an appropriate contrast to the chilies. The base is primarily composed of cocoa powder with a sprinkling of chocolate chunks, making the drink just mildly chocolaty without the richness of some of the other mixes. Overall, the consistency is rather thin but very satisfying—the tin was empty in less than a week! It lives up to the name of the product: consider this as close as you’ll get to an authentic Mayan xocoatl* experience in couture cocoa mixes. A great product for those who like their food haute and hot.

*Pronounced sho-KLA-til, the Mayan word for the original chocolate, a spicy, unsweetened tepid cocoa drink. The literal translation is “bitter water.” The word is more commonly spelled xocoatl, but alternatively spelled xocolatl.

Dagoba Xocolatl

Xocolatl Hot Chocolate  with Chiles
& Cinnamon

  • 12 Ounces
  • $8.60
  • Certified Organic
  • Certified Kosher by KSA

Lake Champlain

Aztec Spicy Hot Chocolate, by far the sweetest among all the varieties tasted, will leave more of a saccharine impression on the palate than chocolate. Lake Champlain opts for a dutched cocoa for the base, which makes it a hot cocoa, not hot chocolate (i.e., there is no solid chocolate in the mix). Although the cinnamon is subtle, it still provides a gentle spiciness; but the cayenne pepper holds a timid presence and doesn’t provide any heat. “Spicy” may not be the best descriptor for this mix compared to others in the category since the “kick” of the cayenne fails to connect—“spiced” would be more accurate. Expect a much sweeter cocoa-flavored milk drink rather than a deep hot cocoa. But adjustments can be made: adding extra mix to the milk, or even a tablespoon or two of Lake Champlain’s unsweetened cocoa powder, produces quite a lovely drink. Even without adjusting, those who want just a tad of spiciness in a mild chocolate beverage of much higher quality than supermarket cocoa will enjoy it.

New World Drinking Chocolate is the prizewinner for Lake Champlain. It consists solely of ground 70% chocolate that makes a thick and luscious beverage that “sticks to the ribs” (or throat). The sheer richness of this drink proclaims boldly of what hot chocolate should be. And since this mix is pure chocolate, it lends itself easily for other applications: sprinkling on ice cream and yogurt, or simply eating it by the spoonful!

Lake ChamplainAztec Spicy Hot Chocolate

  • 16 Ounces
  • $8.00

New World Drinking Chocolate

New World Drinking Chocolate

  • 12 Ounces
  • $12.00


Marie Belle

Marie Belle’s version of hot chocolate is as pristine as you can find: it’s pure chocolate. Aztec consists of 60% chocolate chunks (and is not spicy), while Dark is 70%. Spicy is the Aztec version enriched with spices and chilies. Depending upon your preparation techniques (two recommendations are provided), you can either produce an ultra-thick beverage similar to a thin ganache (European style), or a slightly thinner drink (American-style). The latter is still quite satisfying and thick in consistency with a filling, chocolaty richness. The former, however, is almost too luscious and must be consumed while warm before it thickens too much! Chocophiles and hedonists in general will want to pursue the European style almost exclusively to maximize the pleasure of these fine hot chocolates.

The Spicy mix is rather refined: the spices and chilies doesn’t attack the taste buds aggressively. Marie Belle employs her French finesse to mix them in subtle harmony: they don’t stick out as obvious additions. This should appeal to palates who don’t want some spice, but don’t want other flavors or chili heat to mask the flavor of the chocolate. Those who like a touch of coffee will enjoy the mocha. For the purists, Aztec and Dark await. The choice may be difficult, so the best choice is to try all of them in the gift pack.

Marie Belle

Aztec, Spicy, Mocha, & Dark Hot Chocolate

  • 10-Ounce Tin
  • 20-Ounce Tin
  • Gift Set
    10-Ounce Tins of All Four

Plantations Atomized Chocolate

No, this isn’t from an episode of The Jetsons. Atomized chocolate is an innovative cocoa product that dissolves instantly in both hot and cold beverages. Rainforest Alliance-Certified Plantations Arriba cacao beans from Ecuador undergo a unique “atomization” process that results in a fine ground powder that adds intense chocolate flavor to any food or drink without the hassle of heating. It’s extremely convenient, versatile and popular with chefs, lending itself to various applications such as yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream, crème brulée, dough and many other uses. However, it makes a wonderful hot chocolate or iced chocolate, naturally foamy and velvety, packed with rich chocolate flavor. The more chocolate you add, the richer the beverage. No instructions are included regarding preparation because the uses for atomized chocolate are only limited by one’s imagination.


Atomized Chocolate

35% Atomized Chocolate

  • 8 Ounces
  • 16 Ounces

Vosges Haut Chocolat

If an elixir can be defined as a substance to cure all ills, then Aztec Elixir needs a doctor’s prescription. As does La Parisienne, since just one sip from either of these luscious beverages will psychologically free you from all ailments. Everything about these drinks is full forward on the senses. Emitting a strong aroma of chocolate through the air, the drinks are dark and viscous, exciting the eyes and nose long before they reach the palate. Aztec Elixir’s cinnamon has a fresh flavor and is strong on the palate; after the first sip you detect the chilies. Sip after sip, they flicker in your throat, providing a mild heat that never fully diminishes. Unless you strain the hot chocolate before serving, when you near the bottom of the cup, coarse pieces of cornmeal and chilies find their way in your mouth to add an authentic Aztec touch (a touch we could live without). The same is true with Bianca (click here for our review), whose white chocolate buds are so appealing, it is tempting to eat them rather than make the hot chocolate (but at these prices...) La Parisienne, the “plain” alternative. It’s just as rich and thick as its cousin. Traditional hot chocolate in the European style, it’s the perfect chocolate relaxation.

Vosges Gift Set

Aztec Elixir Cocoa

  • 16 Ounces

Bianca Cocoa

  • 16 Ounces

La Parisienne Cocoa

  • 16 Ounces

Cocoa Gift Set (all three flavors)

  • $79.99


No matter what your style—thick and luscious or light and chocolaty, European tradition or nouvelle Aztec, nurturing cups of hot chocolate await. If you enjoyed those cups of Droste’s and Hershey’s, you’re in for a treat.

Tasting a variety of fine cocoas at once is not only fun and a treat for your guests: it provides a special perspective.



Chocolate,Cocoa, and... Hot Chocolate Crafting the Culture History of French Chocolate
Chocolate, Cocoa, and Confectionery Science and Technology, by Bernard W. Minifie. This 900-page text is pricey, but if you want to know what the experts know, it’s an educational and scientific tour-de-force. Click here for more information. Hot Chocolate, by Michael Turback. Preeminent chocolatiers from around the world contribute more than 60 recipes, including Lavender-Pistachio Hot Chocolate; Maple-Whiskey Hot Chocolate Toddy; Nutella Hot Chocolate; Malted Milk Ball Hot Chocolate; and the famous Frozen Hot Chocolate from Manhattan’s Serendipity 3. Click here for more information. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, by Susan J. Terrio. How a small group of French chocolatiers fought for survival against corporate giants. Click here for more information.


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