Given the recent opening of ACKC on DC’s 14th Street (check out Cynthia Hacinli’s review in the February Washingtonian) and the imminent debut of CoCo Sala, another chocolate-themed lounge slated to open in the Penn Quarter neighborhood next month, we’ve got hot chocolate on our minds. And this chilly weather makes it a perfect time to explore some of the area’s offerings. We disregarded watery versions with overly sweet powders or syrups and considered only drinks made with real-deal chocolate. Here are mugshots for some of our most wanted.
It’s just about impossible to surface from your first sip of Beck’s hot chocolate ($5) without a youthful “Got Milk?”-style mustache. With a slightly bitter taste (it’s made with bittersweet Belgian chocolate) and an intense richness that should be enjoyed slowly, this version would seem better suited for adults. Its mountain of luscious whipped cream, however, brings back memories of childhood cups, when the topping outweighed the drink. Dipping the accompanying ginger cookie into the drink is like dunking an Oreo into a glass of milk; the cookie softens and the zesty flavor nicely cuts the thickness of the full-bodied chocolate. With a unique thickness and a warmth that lingers long after that first sip, we could sip this mug for hours. Our one hangup with Beck’s molten drink? It’s available only at Sunday brunch.
1101 K St., NW; 202-408-1717; beckdc.com.
The “$5 Hot Chocolate” at these indie coffeehouses is the Vinnie Chase of the area cocoa scene: It’s so famous that it now has its own entourage. Whereas the rest of the drinks on the chalkboard (including the lower-priced plain hot chocolate) come only with prices, this renowned concoction includes a set of rules: no modifications, 12-ounce servings only, no whipped cream, and “NO QUESTIONS!” If you’re bold enough to ask anyway, the baristas claim their secret is that Murky is the only retailer in the country to sell Oompa Loompa chocolate. Whether or not the chocolate comes from some fabled chocolate factory, the verdict is in: This no-frills drink would be the it-guy of Hollywood, hot-chocolate style.
660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, 202-546-5228; 3211 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-312-7001; murkycoffee.com.
At José Andrés’s Mexican tapas spot, margaritas aren’t the only drinks served in a pitcher. The Chocolate Caliente ($4 for a small, $12 for a pitcher) arrives in a rustic clay receptacle etched with flowers and emanating a cinnamon aroma. Everything about the warm drink calls to mind Mexico, from its flavorings—cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla bean—to the pressed-tin saucers under the glass mugs. The best part about indulging in a pitcher of hot chocolate at the bar? You won’t wake up with a hangover.
401 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-1005; oyamel.com.
The Grille at the Morrison House
One of our favorite spots to warm up is the cozy piano bar inside this historic hotel, the newest acquisition by the Kimpton Hotels group, which recently renovated the restaurant. Here, not one but two hot-chocolate cocktails include bourbon for extra warmth. Chef de cuisine Dennis Marron created the Hot Chocolate ($10), with Bullet bourbon and Godiva chocolate liqueur. A layer of pillowy mint espuma adds a modern twist, while a hand-rolled chocolate “straw” melts delicately into the cocktail. Bartender Rosen Ivanov mixed up the sweeter Hot Chocolate Too ($10) with Maker’s Mark, butterscotch schnapps and a house-made vanilla marshmallow. Also, we haven’t found anywhere else in the area that makes the hot chocolate right in front of you. On a miniature gas burner, bartender Ivanov melts E. Guittard chocolate, stirs in whole milk, and adds nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla-infused sugar. Even by itself, the aroma is heavenly.
116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-838-8000; morrisonhouse.com.
This all-organic cafe proves that hot chocolate can be green—in an environmentally friendly way, that is. Here, chilly customers can choose between regular and soy milk, which makes an especially creamy drink. Both varieties ($2.97 each) are made with Ghirardelli chocolate from San Francisco, and the airy froth lasts until the cup is empty. Forget biscotti—the vegan baked goods from Sweet and Natural Bakery, including an oatmeal-raisin cookie sandwich, are perfect for dipping. One warning: Java Green takes “hot” to a scalding level. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a better antifreeze for less than three bucks.
1020 19th St., NW; 202-775-8899; javagreen.net.
Did we miss your favorite hot chocolate? Know of a can't-miss version we should try out? Make sure to let us know in comments.