When I was a child, I had two simple goals: to be fabulously wealthy and to know everything. I haven’t given up on learning as much as possible before I die, but I have accepted the fact that I will never have much in my savings account. Instead, I have replaced my desire for riches with a few more realistically attainable goals. Primary among them is to find a truly delicious cup of hot chocolate or cocoa.
I learned relatively late in life that hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, which is ground cacao beans with most of the cocoa butter removed; the powder is then mixed with milk (or water and milk solids) and sugar. Hot chocolate, on the other hand, is made from bar chocolate, which already contains cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar. Bar chocolate can also contain (or, depending on your point of view, be contaminated with) other stuff like soy lecithin, vanillin, and even artificial flavors, but the really good bar chocolate is more pure. This distinction between cocoa and chocolate is an important one, as I found when I asked in one establishment for a cup of hot cocoa and was told they had none, only to learn later that they did have hot chocolate. I blame the server for not expanding on his answer.
Having been raised on Nesquik (or, as it was called back in my day, Nestlé Quik – when, mercifully, there was no rabbit associated with the advertising), and having been subjected to Swiss Miss and other instant cocoas when circumstances such as tent camping required it, I was pleased to discover that I could make my own cocoa mix without all the chemical additives by combining cocoa powder, sugar, and a little salt: a simple process that allows me to adjust the amounts to get the taste I prefer.
Making my own cocoa mix is fine for home consumption, but finding a good cup of hot chocolate or cocoa out in the wilds of civilization is quite another thing. Occasionally and usually in the winter time, articles appear in local newspapers touting a list of places to get the best hot chocolate. I don’t really trust the choices offered, especially when the list includes places like Denny’s, which has some of the wateriest hot cocoa I’ve ever vowed never to taste again. But some people like Denny’s hot chocolate, and I don’t begrudge them their choices or disparage their taste buds. Some people prefer milk chocolate over dark chocolate. Some people even like white chocolate. I don’t comprehend it, but perhaps, if I ever achieve my goal of knowing everything, I will one day understand such currently incomprehensible preferences.
Many parents hope their offspring will follow in their footsteps, and I am happy to report that some of my children have expressed similar interest in moving beyond the commercial mass-produced chocolates. Because of this interest in hot chocolates and cocoas, we try sampling them from a variety of places both at home and when traveling. My hope is our search for a good cup of hot chocolate will inspire others to try our suggestions and, better yet, find their own favorite spot and share the discovery.