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Cuckoo for cocoa

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dec. 21 marked the first official day of winter, the season of snowball fights, roaring fires and wooly sweaters. Of course, it’s also time for runny noses, bone-rattling winds and dusk right after lunch. Thankfully, there’s one beverage that both celebrates and soothes the feelings that this time of year provokes: hot chocolate.

The term “hot chocolate” is often used interchangeably with “hot cocoa,” although technically, the two are different. The former is made with actual chocolate, which contains cocoa butter, while the latter is made with cocoa powder and has had all the fats pressed out of it.

The Mayans were the first civilization to mix cocoa into a palatable potion of water, wine and chiles. (Here, we’ll visit Park Slope’s Chiles & Chocolate for an Oaxacan interpretation.) Centuries later, Europeans adapted their own versions using chocolate and cream or milk, and sometimes flavored liqueurs. (We’ll give you the scoop on a blend of cocoa spiked with Grand Marnier that’s served up at Le Gamin in Prospect Heights.) Today, in true, over-the-top, American fashion, we top ours with whipped cream and marshmallows. (See the Chocolate Room in Park Slope for housemade ’mallows.)

We all know about the famously rich versions at shops like Jacques Torres in DUMBO, but the cold weather had me looking for less well-known — but equally decadent — concoctions from Greenpoint to Carroll Gardens.

Brooklyn Bean & Tea Company

Recently, this funky, tiny, new coffee shop in Boerum Hill has added drinking chocolates to their extensive menu of coffees and teas. I stopped by early one morning and, on a whim, ordered a “Moroccan Hot Chocolate” ($3.50). While it may have lacked the caffeine kick of my usual cup of joe, I barely noticed. The silky, dark chocolate was expertly blended with the milk. Even though I ordered mine with — gasp! — skim milk, I still felt like I was sipping something sinful. The seasonings — cinnamon, ginger and cardamom — were light yet distinctive, especially on the nose and in the finish. Each sip began with their heady fragrance, gave way to full chocolate flavor, and ended with an extra-warming note of spice. Whipped cream was offered, but I declined; this hot chocolate was absolutely perfect unadorned.

Brooklyn Label

This popular Greenpoint joint has an extensive hot chocolate menu. While all the versions sounded enticing, I opted for our borough’s namesake — the “Brooklyn Cocoa” ($4.25). It’s a blend of Venezuelan chocolate and whole milk, topped with whipped cream and grated orange peel and dusted with cocoa powder.

After my first taste, I determined that the point of this hot chocolate is not the drink but the garnishes. The whipped cream took up over half my mug, which would have been a disappointment if it weren’t so fresh and delicious, very airy and only mildly sweet. Likewise, the orange added a bold note of citrus that contrasted beautifully with the buttery cream.

The hot chocolate, hidden away at the very bottom, was like a tepid afterthought. Overall, the “Brooklyn Cocoa” is a satisfyingly sweet beverage, but it’s not one that will warm you up on a freezing day in January.

Chiles & Chocolate

There are two kinds of hot chocolate on the menu at this tiny, hole-in-the-wall Oaxacan restaurant in Park Slope: the first, the “Chocolate Mayordomo” ($3), is a blend of chocolate and milk flavored with cinnamon and almonds. It was sweet, nutty and warm, and the high-quality cinnamon imparted a complex finishing note, like a hint of a Red Hot candy at the back of my throat.

The second, the “Chiles Y Chocolate” ($4), mixes chocolate and milk with “the essence of chipotle.” Before being filled, the inside of my mug was smeared with a spicy paste, and while it was a little uneven (one side of the mug was more heavily coated than the other), the overall flavor was addictively smoky and peppery and provided a double dose of warmth; first from the heat of the milk and then from the fiery chipotle.

The Chocolate Room

When Brooklynites are in the mood for cocoa, the Chocolate Room in Park Slope is a no-brainer. The “Classic Hot Cocoa” ($4.50) is a delightful take on tradition, as both chocolate and cocoa powder are blended with steamed whole milk and a hint of vanilla. An additional 50 cents will buy you a homemade marshmallow.

If you’re looking for a super sweet treat, this is the way to go. There is absolutely no hint of bitterness — just pure, milk chocolaty flavor. The beverage is surprisingly light, about the consistency of a cappuccino, and has a similar (if slightly less prominent) layer of bubbly foam at the top. The temperature was just right.

D’Amico’s

In the very back of D’Amico’s, Carroll Gardens’ oldest and most revered coffee institution, past the bustle of workers scooping and grinding beans from giant wooden barrels is a small, whirring machine. It is inconspicuous — easy to miss next to the larger, shinier coffee makers — but it dispenses some of the richest, most velvety hot chocolates I’ve ever tasted ($1). The portion is very small — only four ounces — but trust me, it’s all you need. More dessert than drink, D’Amico’s hot chocolate is like molten, melted ice cream. While it is seriously sweet, the sugar takes a backseat to the intense, dark chocolate flavor. If you’re craving the kind of hot chocolate that will coat your throat, look no further.

Le Gamin

This rustic French bistro in Prospect Heights serves up a lethal concoction of Valrhona cocoa, steamed milk and Grand Marnier called the “Chocolat Gamin” ($6) in a bowl the size of the one I use for my breakfast cereal. The flavor was floral and slightly bitter (if you have a sweet tooth, you might need to add a packet of sugar) but not bracing, like really good, unsweetened chocolate. Unfortunately, when I was first served, my bowl wasn’t so much hot as it was lukewarm. However, my waiter graciously and carefully reheated it, and the result was the perfect anecdote to the icy, blustery afternoon outside.

Brooklyn Bean & Tea Company (355 Atlantic Ave. at Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. The shop is open Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 7 pm, and weekends, from 8 am to 7 pm. For information, call (718) 855-3580 or visit www.bklynbeantea.com.

Brooklyn Label (180 Franklin St. at Java Street in Greenpoint) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 11 pm, Saturdays, from 8 am to 11 pm, and Sundays, from 8 am to 4 pm. For information, call (718) 389-2806 or visit www.brooklynlabel.com.

Chiles & Chocolate (57 Seventh Ave. at Lincoln Place in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday, from 11 am to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 am to 11 pm, and Sundays, from 10 am to 10 pm. For information, call (718) 230-7700.

The Chocolate Room (86 Fifth Ave. at Warren Street in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. The shop is open Tuesday through Thursday, from noon to 11 pm, Fridays and Saturdays, from noon to midnight, and Sundays, from noon to 11 pm. Closed Mondays. For information, call (718) 783-2900 or visit www.thechocolateroombrooklyn.com.

D’Amico’s (309 Court St. at Degraw Street in Carroll Gardens) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. The shop is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 am to 7 pm, and Saturdays from 7:30 am to 6 pm. Closed Sundays. For information, call (718) 875-5403 or visit www.damicofoods.com.

Le Gamin (556 Vanderbilt Ave. at Dean Street in Prospect Heights) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. The shop is open daily, from 8 am to 10 pm. For information, call (718) 789-5171 or visit www.legamin.com.

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Reader Feedback

Geraldine from Park Slope/Windsor Terrace says:
How can you have a Brooklyn article about chocolate and not mention the Cocoa Room? If you don't know about them, you've missed out. The have the best chocolate, chocolate drinks, cakes and even vegan options too boot!
Jan. 11, 2008, 12:32 am

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