In a city of comfort food extravagance and unconventional thinking, the key ingredient to a great hot chocolate is something elusive. It’s called getting “personal.” These three places put a bold stamp on each cup, with formulas calculated like a Swiss watch, devilish spices, and really, really good chocolate.
Most Creative Selection: ALMA CHOCOLATE
Somehow, 10 years into its life as the city’s defining chocolate bon bon shop, Alma’s chocolate drink menu remains something of a secret. Let’s fix that right here, right now. The collection is impressive, with nine options, $2–$3.75. First and foremost: Thai Coconut Cup, a powerhouse of creaminess, chocolate goodness, and Bangkokian complexity. There’s dark chocolate, of course, but also milk chocolate ganache—the glossy, buttery, chocolate miracle that usually hides inside a chocolate truffle. Then comes lime zest, candied ginger, some chile tingle, and the sweet, delicate calm of coconut milk. Everything gets poured into a pitcher and steamed on the espresso machine. Move on to the Woodland Dream, a nutty wonder that makes good use of the shop’s hazelnut praline while paying homage to Portland’s favorite vitamin, Nutella. And frankly, all tea should be made the Alma way, steeped with milk and, essentially, a melted chocolate bar. Can you imagine the look on Carson the butler’s face at Downton Abbey?
Bonus: Choose your milk—organic, soy or coconut; no extra charge.
Find It: 140 NE 28th Ave or 1323 SE Seventh Ave, almachocolate.com
Stairway to Spicy Drinking Chocolate Heaven: XICO
Folks, I have four words for you: Habanero Caramel Drinking Chocolate. This is spicy hot chocolate as the gods meant it to be at Division Street’s house of casual Mexican cool. The kitchen goes the distance, blending three dark chocolates, pureed hot peppers, and caramel sauce carefully cooked to the edge of darkness. It’s a devilish swamp of heaven, earth, and fire, each sip a bi-level experience: warm liquid below and a chilly cloud of vanilla cream above. The whole thing is a contradictory pleasure, rustic and high-minded, hot and cold; a deep satisfaction for $5.
Bonus: There are no rules: sip it before, during, or after dinner. You know who you are.
Find It: 3715 SE Division St, xicopdx.com
Desert Island Drinking Chocolate Experience: CACAO
Cacao is an icon of Portland food love, a place that obsesses on one thing only and does it very, very well. Chocolate is the subject, all around, in beautifully wrapped bars and behind the marble counter, where it’s transformed into a kind of liquid dark chocolate pudding that pierces the deepest pleasure centers. The house calls it “drinking chocolate,” but it’s so much more than those two words convey. There’s three options, but the wise order a tasting flight ($6), served in a trio of porcelain cups, each a different experience: a pure-shot of 72 percent Ecuadorian chocolate; a cinnamon-singing blend of milk and dark chocolate tones; and a spicy wonder combusting with cayenne, ginger and smoked paprika.
Bonus: Italy has the affogato, a shot of espresso over gelato. Portland has Cacao’s churned chocolate, poured over Salt & Straw’s savory, grassy olive oil ice cream. Choose any drinking chocolate (my vote: the “spicy.”)
Find it: 414 SW 13th Ave, cacaodrinkchocolate.com