Short of reading “The Polar Express” in front of a fireplace while listening to Bing Crosby, few things in winter are as comforting as a cup of hot cocoa. While those chalky, just-add-water mixes will do in a pinch, why bother when the D.C. area abounds with some seriously sophisticated options? “When it’s too sweet, you taste all kinds of chemicals and you wonder what you’re drinking,” says Noah Dan, CEO of Pitango Gelato, where you can order a classic European sipping chocolate. “The best hot cocoas have a mix of bitterness and sweetness.” And you certainly won’t find any dehydrated marshmallows floating in these cups.
2719 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-869-6522, boccato.com. (Clarendon)
In the summer, this Clarendon gelato shop alleviates the heat with icy scoops. In the winter, the addition of a three-chocolate hot cocoa ($4.75) brings temps back up. Made with Ghirardelli chocolate mocha mix, white chocolate syrup, dark chocolate syrup, cane sugar, organic whole milk and dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, the temperate offering is sweet and aromatic. “We churn the chocolate for an hour and a half so it’s well-blended and rich,” owner Christian Velasco says. Top it off with whipped cream or marshmallows.
1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington; 703-243-2410, bayoubakeryva.com. (Courthouse)
Made with 64 percent cacao Valrhona chocolate, Bayou Bakery’s hot cocoa ($3.25) is more bitter than sweet. Chef David Guas adds a hint of vanilla and tops it off with whipped cream. “It has enough body to feel indulgent,” Guas says. The New Orleans native also whips up some mean beignets: Order a side of three ($3) to add sweetness to your piping cup.
Various locations; pitangogelato.com
Pitango’s sipping chocolate ($3.50) makes Swiss Miss taste like water from the Potomac. The intense concoction from the Baltimore-born gelato chain includes just three ingredients: whole milk from grass-fed cows, organic cane sugar and lots and lots of organic cocoa from Turin, Italy. The puddinglike treat should be consumed slowly. Those who can’t handle the richness can try it with steamed milk ($4) or a scoop of hazelnut or chocolate gelato (called a chocolate affogato, $4.50).
Poste Moderne Brasserie
555 Eighth St. NW; 202-783-6060, postebrasserie.com. (Gallery Place Chinatown)
Chef Dennis Marron drew inspiration from pimandes — chocolate- and chili-coated almonds — for his spiked hot cocoa of the same name ($15). First, Marron steeps cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, vanilla sugar, chili, milk chocolate and dark chocolate in milk. Next, he adds WhistlePig whiskey and Grand Marnier and tops it with Frangelico-laced whipped marshmallows for a hint of hazelnut. “The Grand Marnier is not traditional, but I like the way it gives the drink a longer finish,” Marron says. Try the cocktail in Poste’s outdoor winter lounge, equipped with fire pits and blankets.
The Sweet Lobby
404 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-2404, sweetlobby.com. (Eastern Market)
Yes, it’s European-style hot chocolate, which means it’s thicker than your average cup of cocoa. Yes, it’s made with 70 percent Belgian dark chocolate, so it’s rich and bittersweet. Yes, it’s made with a touch of brown sugar and a little cream, so it’s got a depth of flavor. But the real draw of The Sweet Lobby’s hot cocoa is the house-made marshmallows available in maple rum, vanilla bean, cardamom and chili varieties. “The marshmallows float on the top and slowly melt,” owner Winnette McIntosh Ambrose says. “But some people can’t wait and mix them in themselves.”
Home Sweet Home
Prefer to enjoy a cup of quality hot cocoa on your couch? The following local sweet shops offer take-home mixes, available for purchase in-store or online.
1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, 703-524-0007 and 2910 District Ave., Fairfax, 703-992-6130; artisanconfections.com
Just add hot milk to this decadent mix of dark and milk chocolate, cocoa powder and vanilla bean ($16).
Co Co. Sala’s Hot Co Co. Pops
929 F St. NW; 202-347-4265, cocosala.com. (Metro Center)
The chocolate lover’s paradise offers single-serving chunks of chocolate on a stick that you can stir into warm milk ($4). Flavors include dark chocolate and salted caramel.
Fleurir’s Cocoa Mix
3235 P St. NW, 202-465-4368 and 724 Jefferson St., Alexandria, 703-838-9055; fleurirchocolates.com
Fleurir’s bittersweet cocoa mix is made of a smooth combo of four chocolates, while the spiced white cocoa mix has hints of almond, nutmeg and clove ($15).