My second daughter has one of those dreaded late-December birthdays, the kind that make both the birthday and Christmas feel a little less special because of their proximities. I confess that last year, budget and time combined forces to make me combine gifts. So this year, I told her we’d make a special just-us-two run for fancy hot chocolate every day from December 26 to 31. Here’s my list of go-to spots for the week.
2145 Fern Street, South Park
1) Eclipse Chocolate in South Park offers ten different flavors of drinking chocolate. “They’re made from chunks of house-made chocolate that we steam in with the milk,” said the hostess. “We can also make them with soy or rice milk.” Sea-salt caramel, smoked brown sugar, and cardamom rose petal are popular flavors at the moment. Cost is $5.50 for a 10 oz. cup; for $.50 more you can add a shot of espresso or two artisan vanilla-bean marshmallows.
3485 Del Mar Heights Road, Del Mar
2) Chuao Chocolatier in Del Mar offers four types of hot chocolate. “We have the regular dark chocolate; the spicy Maya, which is dark chocolate blended with cinnamon and pasilla chilies; a mint hot chocolate; and the winter blend, which is dark chocolate blended with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and black pepper,” said associate Vicki. “They’re all powdered mixes that we add water to and then steam with an espresso machine to make it frothy. We can also put whipped cream on top for you.” Prices are $3.85 for 12 oz. and $4.25 for 16 oz. Also, the regular dark and spicy Maya powders can be purchased: $15.95 for a 12 oz. tin or $79.95 for a 5 lb. bag.
643 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
3) Ghirardelli Chocolate in the Gaslamp features sea-salt caramel hot chocolate ($4.50–$5.95, depending on size) topped with whipped cream and served with a square of the company’s milk chocolate on the side. You can also get Decadent Drinking Chocolate ($4.95), which is made with melted Ghirardelli mini semisweet chips and steamed milk, then topped with whipped cream. “We use four ounces of chocolate and four ounces of milk,” said manager Ulysses. “It’s a little bit thicker and more bitter in flavor, but it’s velvety smooth in texture.”
3896 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
4) The Chocolate Creamerie has two locations: Downtown (619-238-9400) and Hillcrest (619-574-8500). Cassandra in Hillcrest told me, “Our hot chocolate is made with steamed milk from the espresso machine. We serve either a rich cocoa or a Nutella hot chocolate, which has a hazel nut flavor.” She also gave me a proper Best Buy tip: “The cost is $4.27 for a 12 oz. hot chocolate, but if you get it to go, it’s served in a 16 oz. cup for the same price.”
2690 Historic Decatur Road #103, Liberty Station
5) Chi Chocolate in Liberty Station is dedicated to helping customers reach their personal “chocolate bliss.” You can get your cocoa drink hot or blended with ice. Standard Chi hot chocolate is made with callebaut dark chocolate and steamed milk. They also offer a spicy version with chili, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and honey, or a Mexican hot chocolate made with Mexican chocolate and steamed milk. Prices range from $3.50 to $4.75 depending on size.
2929 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
6) Extraordinary Desserts downtown offers three hot chocolates, all made with cocoa powder and topped with whipped cream. The standard hot chocolate comes in two sizes: $5.50 for a single and $6.50 for a double. The hot dark chocolate is made with Valrhona cocoa powder ($7.50 for a large). And the pink (really) hot chocolate tastes mildly of strawberries ($6 for a large).
7) The Living Room Coffeehouse in Rolando (619-286-8434) and La Jolla (858-459-1187) steams up two hot chocolates: white or dark. Both are made from chunks of chocolate and steamed milk. Price is $3.75 for a medium or $4.25 for a large. Add syrup flavors such as pumpkin, mint, or cinnamon for $.50.