London’s Best Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate always provokes… hot debates. People often become emotional about it, believing the ‘secret’ little place they’ve discovered serves the best hot chocolate in the world – and they won’t hear otherwise.
This is because our tastes vary, and there’s much that’s a point of contention. Should it be made from real chocolate, or is top-quality cocoa powder just as good? What percentage chocolate should be used? Does the drink taste better with milk or without – and can plant-based ‘milk’ do as good a job as dairy? Should it be thick enough to stand a spoon in, or do you prefer a more practical thinner consistency? Plain like a purist’s preference, or perked up with spices? Topped with marshmallows and whipped cream, or are those mere distraction that stop you focusing on the main ingredient?
We say have your debates by all means… but do it with a hot, steaming cup of chocolate in hand. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite places in London to indulge in this cold-weather favourite. Just remember that a large dollop of extra whipped cream always makes everything in life better.
Paul A Young Fine Chocolates
Award-winning chocolatier Paul A Young is renowned for his experimental and innovative chocolate flavours. His ground-breaking hot chocolate – one of the first of its kind in London – is made traditional Aztec-style, without the addition of milk. It’s created from a mixture of Valrhona 100% chocolate powder, 70% chocolate pieces and light muscovado sugar. Young tells us: ‘When making our hot chocolate… we only use water. Using dairy would cloud the purity of the chocolate and you would miss all the tasting notes. The drink is even more rich and warming, perfect for a winter’s day.’
You can ask for this deliciously perfumed drink to be made even more aromatic with spices like ginger, nutmeg or chilli.
Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, 143 Wardour Street, W1F 8WA; 33 Camden Passage, N1 8EA; 20 The Royal Exchange, Threadneedle Street, EC3V 3LP
SAID dal 1923
Almost dessert-like in its consistency, the rich and indulgent ‘cioccolata densa’ (thick hot chocolate) at this Italian chocolate shop and café is one of our favourites in London. Made from chocolate powder, it comes in dark, milk and gianduja varieties – the latter, a hazelnut praline from Turin, is the one we usually opt for.
The small, smart shop is the London branch of a well-established, family-owned brand in Italy. Along with chocolate truffles and powder, it sells cutlery and crockery made from chocolate too, should you wish to host your very own chocolate extravaganza at home.
SAID dal 1923, 41 Broadwick Street, W1F 9QL
Jaz and Jul’s Chocolate House
We were happy when Jasmine and Juliet, two friends who started out selling their popular hot chocolate in Broadway Market, opened a permanent home with a cosy vegetarian and vegan chocolate café. The venue, which boasts an entirely chocolate-centric menu, a chocolate ‘happy hour’ in the afternoons, and a chocolate weekend brunch, is dedicated in particular to hot chocolate.
The drinks are made on-site from single-origin chocolates from small producers in Madagascar, Peru and Brazil, or chocolate shavings flavoured with spices or fruit essential oils, and then topped with whipped cream and hand-made marshmallows. Current flavours include garam masala, peppermint, and raspberry, plus festive gingerbread and orange spice.
Somewhat uniquely, the venue even has a selection of vegan ‘milks’ to choose from. Co-founder Jasmine Kershaw explains their merits: ‘We love to use non-dairy milks in our hot chocolates, as it allows dairy avoiders to have the full chocolate experience, and dairy drinkers to try something new. We always have options of oat, soy or almond milk. Different milk options complement different chocolate varieties for taste and texture; for instance, cinnamon rose goes particularly well with the subtle nuttiness of almond milk, and the caramel tones of our new Colombia 55% are lovely with the thick creaminess of steamed oat milk.’
Jaz and Jul’s Chocolate House, 1 Chapel Market, N1 9EZ
Sweet specialist Chloe Timms is renowned for her salted caramels – they flavour everything from pretzels to popcorn. She uses only fresh cream, organic butter and sea salt, along with a special caramelisation process. Is it any wonder the popular flavour crops up in her indulgent hot chocolate too? As a bonus, the drink comes in a cup with a toasted marshmallow rim. Which would you pick first – the chocolate or the mallow?
Fatties Bakery, 21 Club Row, E2 7EY
Dark Sugars Cocoa House
We can never walk down Brick Lane without popping into this buzzy, vibrant, colourful chocolate shop, which specialises in West African chocolate made from Ghanaian cocoa beans. Maybe it’s the loud music and the cool vibes – or simply the allure of their strong, full-flavoured ‘pitch black hot chocolate’ made from cocoa powder and heaped with chocolate shavings. Spice it up with chilli, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger if you wish. There’s another shop nearby, but it’s here that you’ll find their much-loved drinks.
Dark Sugars Cocoa House, 124–126 Brick Lane, E1 6RU (Dark Sugars Chocolate Shop at 141 Brick Lane, E1 6SB)
Melange Chocolate Shop and Café
Founder of Brixton’s marvellous Chocolate Museum, Isabelle Alaya has moved premises of her popular chocolate shop and café from one part of Peckham to another – but her hot chocolate offerings remain as strong as ever. In addition to the regular plain and spiced varieties made from real chocolate, she has also introduced ‘diet hot chocolates’. These give options to add almond or oat milk, and natural non-refined sweeteners such as maple syrup or lucuma sugar (made from a fruit that’s grown in Peru and surrounding countries).
Look out for unusual flavour combinations too, including white chocolate with matcha, or milk chocolate with lavender and lemon.
Melange Chocolate Shop and Café, 2 Maxted Road, SE15 4LL
Featured image is Jaz & Jul’s; credit Kirsty Owen