Earlier this year, Hotel Chocolat transformed from a fancy Back Bay chocolate shop into a fancy chocolate shop, plus a Cocoa-Bar Café, adding a cozy, social area in which to relax. With no kitchen, however, they’ve lost their open sandwiches, which were ideal for showing off the British chocolatier’s condiments, like cocoa nib chutney and white chocolate creamed horseradish, all of which the store sells. Hyannis bakery Pain d’Avignon’s excellent croissants, scones and cookies have replaced them for now, leaving the focus on cacao drinks that extend the store’s chocolate experience.
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Cacao is incredibly sustaining. The Cocoa Royale is made with crushed nibs (the inside of the cocoa bean) and shells, and is steeped like a tea. Add milk, or drink it without, which makes the grain-like flavor and bitter back notes that much more intense. Though the drink has negligible calories, as does the refreshing peppermint and cacao shell tea, both are surprisingly satisfying.
For full chocolate flavor and creaminess, there’s drinking chocolate in several permutations, from chili to salted caramel to “Made in Boston,” which is brewed from in-store conched (crushed like one would grind herbs in a mortar and pestle) beans. There are short espresso-style chocolate drinks — serious hits of caffeine and theobromine, cocoa’s stimulants -— and then there’s the full-on super deluxe Praline Luxe, the ultimate in satiny hot chocolate. Much of its decadent mouth feel is from cocoa butter, because skimmed organic milk is used for chocolate drinks, allowing for more cocoa exposure.
Come warm weather, The Bombe cools hot cocoa with vanilla ice cream and tops it with whipped cream infused with cocoa nibs. Hence, the moniker Drinking Chocolate, because not all these treats are served hot.
The drinking chocolate sampler allows comparison of beans from Saint Lucia, where Hotel Chocolat’s plantation is located, Vietnam and Ecuador. When tasting chocolate, Rosanna Bonnet, who grew up around cacao growing in the Dominican Republic and joined the Newbury Street store four years ago, advises sipping water in-between tasting varietals: “Take a bite,” she instructs, “close your eyes, and allow the flavors to develop.” Likewise, liquid chocolate is best sipped slowly.
If you go
Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Bar Café
141A Newbury St., Boston