The weather here in Vermont is getting cool (it even snowed a little last week!), and while I still sometimes crave our delicious home-made ice cream, it is most definitely hot chocolate season. To get the DL on the best hot chocolate in town, I consulted our Pine Street Store’s Café Master: Logan Bouchard.
LCC: We offer a lot of different types of hot chocolate in our cafés. Why is that?
LB: We offer a wide variety of chocolate types and confections in our store, so why shouldn’t we do the same with our hot chocolate? We want to make sure that everyone gets the flavors they like the best, so we give our customers the opportunity to choose from a variety of hot chocolate that suits every individual’s tastes. If you’re a milk chocolate fan, you’ll be happy with our regular hot chocolate. If you love dark chocolate, one of our dark, European-style hot chocolates could make your day.
LCC: What is the difference between our “dark” and our “regular” hot chocolates?
LB: Our regular chocolates use our hot chocolate mixes. They are recipes we came up with that we also sell in our store. The difference between how we make them for you in the café and how you would make them at home has a lot to do with our espresso machine’s steaming wand, our home-made marshmallows, and our lovingly whipped cream.
Our dark hot chocolates are created in a more European style. They are much more rich, with a deeper chocolaty taste. To make them, we literally melt down actual chocolate into our milk.
LCC: Which is the most popular hot chocolate drink among the people you serve?
LB: Our regular hot chocolates are very popular, although there is a dedicated Aztec Hot Chocolate following in our café. The other day, though, I made more Tanzania hot chocolate than any other. It was crazy. I really enjoy making the darker hot chocolates for people, because it allows people to experience a European-style dark hot chocolate right here in the heart of Vermont. It’s something special that sets us apart from other hot chocolate makers out there.
LCC: On the hot chocolate we sell, the instructions say mix with milk, and you do the same in your café here. Why use milk instead of water?
LB: Coming from Vermont, the land of more cows than people, I care deeply about the quality of good milk. When companies tell you to add water to their hot chocolate mixes, it’s because there is already dehydrated milk mixed into the cocoa powder. In our café, we add local Vermont cow’s milk to our hot chocolate, and this adds to the creaminess of the overall mixture. It adds a taste of place, and the hot chocolate becomes a creamy, rich experience instead of just a drink.
Think of it this way: when you drink a cup of hot chocolate, you want something warm and comforting, and there is nothing quite as comforting as a cup of warm milk. Hot water just doesn’t do the same thing.
LCC: Tell me a little about the science of hot chocolate. Why does chocolate and milk work so well together? What do you do to make it even tastier?
LB: In our café, we use the espresso machine’s steaming wand to make our hot chocolate. The constant motion combined with the heat helps to break down some of the lactose in the milk into simpler sugars. When making an espresso drink (like a cappuccino or a latte,) this creates a sweetness that counteracts with the intense flavor of the espresso. When making hot chocolate, this creates a nicer, foamy texture for your drink, and allows the chocolate and the milk to really become unified.
LCC: That sounds delicious, but most people don’t have an espresso machine at home. Is there anything they could do to recreate this?
LB: Sure! If you have a whisk, just heat the milk in a pan on the stovetop while stirring it with your whisk. This will also help to break down that lactose and you may even get a little foam! If you want to heat your milk in the microwave, try heating it in 20 second increments, whisking in between each time in the microwave. What you don’t want to do is heat the milk and then whisk it. The heating and motion have to be concurrent or it won’t create the same effect.
LCC: What about the Dark Hot Chocolates? What if somebody wants to make a Tanzania hot chocolate at home?
LB: You can do that! We use pistoles to make ours, so to make a hot chocolate like we do, add 4 rounded tablespoons of your favorite type of chocolate, preferable in pistole form (for instance, our Sao Thome Chips) to 8 ounces of milk. We add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to our dark hot chocolates as well. If you want to experiment further, you can cut up any type of chocolate and melt that into your milk.
LCC: You’re always experimenting with new drinks in the café. What do you suggest folks at home do to try their hand at that sort of creativity?
LB: The key is to start with simple alterations to classics. For instance, try adding cinnamon or cayenne pepper to a traditional hot chocolate (it’s how our Aztec chocolate came about!) Experiment with different spices and infusions (like a mint extract, for example.) You can also mix up the types of milk you use. I’ll tell you one thing: an old world hot chocolate made with coconut milk is out of this world.
LCC: What do you top it all off with to add that final café touch?
LB: in the café, we have two options whenever you order a chocolate drink. You can either get a home-made marshmallow (we actually have the recipe here) or you can top it off with whipped cream. I myself am partial to the whipped cream. It’s made with Monument Farm cream, so it has a higher fat content than most store-bought cream, and it’s whipped with love. We also add a healthy dose of Madagascar vanilla essence to it.
LCC: What is your personal favorite?
LB: I’m particularly partial to the Old World, topped with our home-made whipped cream. It’s the perfect combination of sweetness, richness, and comfort.
Stop in sometime and say hi to Logan, or let us know how your own hot chocolate experiments went at home!