For many a hearty Minnesotan, hot chocolate is an important survival tool during these dark and frigid months. It’s no surprise that people have been sipping it up for eons: the first chocolate drinks arrived around the year 2,000 B.C. with the Mayans and the Aztecs. By the 17th century, hot chocolate was considered a luxury among the nobility in Great Britain and France, as well as a remedy for bad moods (if you believe such things as Wikipedia).
We can relate to the part about fixing bad moods: Hot cocoa, especially at this time of year, has sacred powers to soothe and nurture. We know it’s good for the soul and, lately, the foodie powers-that-be say chocolate might be heart-healthy thanks to the antioxidants and flavonoids inherently found in the cacao bean.
All of this means hot chocolate is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. In some parts of the country, you can find single-source, artisan, organic “drinking chocolate” that is served in thimble-size cups. For the most part, we’re still content with our hefty mug, which conjures up nostalgic thoughts of snow days, roaring fires, a ski lodge or an ice fishing house. Here, a few of our local eateries weigh in on how to make this most heavenly stuff: Join us for a comforting cup.
Peg's Countryside Cocoa
Peg’s Countryside Cafe
Peg’s is a dear old favorite: It always has the classics that we yearn for, and owner Peg Rasmussen’s delicacies always taste just as we expect them to. This is the place for a straightforward, reliably comforting cup of hot chocolate. It’s made with cocoa powder and hot water, so it’s not as rich as all-milk versions, and it’s topped with whipped cream, but with a twist: The whipped cream is showered with a confetti of colorful sprinkles, cheery enough to make you smile before you plunge in. $2.25.
842 Hwy. 55, Hamel
Sunshine Factory Bar and Grill
Hot chocolate needn’t be chaste: Check out the exciting adults-only versions at the Sunshine Factory. The Chocolate Dream includes Bailey’s Irish cream, coffee liqueur and amaretto amidst the hot chocolate, all topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Or try the Chocolate Raspberry Brownie, a classic cocoa made with Bailey’s, Chambord and whipped cream. (It really does taste like a chocolate raspberry brownie.) $6.95 each; $4.95 during happy hour.
4100 Vinewood Lane N.
White Chocolate Mocha
Alright, we know white chocolate is not technically chocolate; it’s derived from cocoa butter mixed with sugar and milk and has no caffeine, which some may welcome, but that means it also has no antioxidants like its darker cousin. Still, when it comes to a comforting cup, it’s rich and sweet, especially when made into a hot mocha. Mountain Mudd mixes white chocolate powder with steamed milk, espresso and whipped cream for a dreamy, sweet elixir; a large has three shots of espresso, and you can get extra caffeine on request. $2.80 small, $4.30 large.
7530 42nd Ave. N. New Hope
Painted Turtle Chocolatier
Despite the name, hot chocolate is most often made with cocoa powder rather than straight-up chocolate. Cocoa powder is chocolate with most of its cocoa butter removed. Drinking chocolate, on the other hand, is melted chocolate, making it thicker, richer and altogether more decadent than the usual. This sweet little chocolate shop makes its confections by hand, as it does its beautiful drinking chocolate mix—ground high-quality chocolate to make the most decadent cup of hot chocolate ever. $5.95.
10100 Sixth Ave. N.
Original Pancake House
The thing about the hot chocolate here is the whipped cream: It’s freshly whipped. Guests have been known to clap their hands with delight when the scallop-edged white cup arrives at the table, as the swirled peak of whipped cream is as tall as the cup itself (and sometimes even taller). Dependent on your server; smile nicely when you order. $2.80.
1415 County Road 101
Mint Condition Mocha
Minnesotans are proud of our homegrown answer to that other chain, and Caribou uses real chocolate, not cocoa powder, melted into steamed milk for this signature beverage. Caribou Coffee’s Mint Condition is a seasonal favorite of many; a few shots of espresso and mint flavor, et voila: a sweet white chocolate candy cane. The whipped cream on top is decorated with Andes chocolate mint candy chunks. $4.71.
2720 Annapolis Circle, Suite F