The 2nd Annual Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival starts today (Jan. 14 – Feb. 14, 2012). You can choose from 13 venues and over 50 flavours of hot chocolate (over half of which are “dark”). The hot chocolates also come “paired” with a treat (chocolate, macaron, waffle, etc.). Funds raised will be donated to the food services programs of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver.
I’m intrigued because I don’t ever remember having a to die for hot chocolate – perhaps I just haven’t tried one that’s worthy enough, and maybe one of Vancouver’s top chocolatiers can swoon my taste buds. Of course, I do love chocolate, and to keep things at least primalish, I’m only interested in the dark varieties – in fact, the darker, the better.
So to kick things off, I stopped by Hawksworth’s Bel Café to treat myself to a Citrus and Green Cardamom Dark Hot Chocolate.
70% Valrhona Guanaja Dark Chocolate, orange oil, orange zest, roasted green cardamom
Served with: Valrhona dark chocolate fudge cookie
They let me sub one of their macarons (almond flour) for the cookie (wheat). In case you’re wondering, it was good, but the pistachio didn’t shine through enough for me.
The hot chocolate, however, was definitely the best I’ve tasted thus far. Generally, I find hot chocolates tend to be overly sweet (usually even the dark ones end up being a low cocoa percentage), and don’t really taste like “chocolate”. On the other end of the spectrum, strangely enough, I don’t happen to be a fan of sipping chocolate, finding it too rich. What I was after was a hot chocolate that’s light, frothy, chocolatey and not sweet, without being bitter. Bel Café’s hot chocolate ticked those boxes. The orange flavour was very prominent, which made for an interesting and tasty experience. The cardamom, which can easily take center stage if too much is added, was a nice undertone and wasn’t at all overpowering. The orange zest on the whipped cream was a nice touch.
As for Bel Café, it was my first time there. I was excited to try it since it’s owned by David Hawksworth, along with his namesake restaurant next door. It’s got a clean minimalist layout, and the food looks tasty. But I gotta say that I was a little bit disappointed with the unfriendly service. Also, although I’ve heard that the service at Hawksworth is impeccable, at the Café I was surprised not to be asked whether my order was to go, nor which size I would prefer (I was served a small, whereas I would’ve preferred a medium).
But the hot chocolate itself was yummy, and nicely presented. It made me consider doing a little more hot chocolate “research” during the Festival. I do wish that the other venues would also list their cocoa percentage, and not just “dark”. However, other hot chocolates that look especially promising are: Thierry’s dark (chestnut), Thomas Haas’ extra dark (with fresh vanilla), and Leonida’s “tosca” (dark chocolate and rum).
There’s the whole month ahead to explore all the hot chocolates that Vancouver’s favourite shops are showcasing – let me know which ones you’ve tried!