Surely one of winter’s greatest treasures, a mug of hot chocolate can feel as restorative as a multi-dimensional meditative trance (FYI: nirvana looks like Beyonce eating a cronut). No matter how cold or dreary it gets, this elixir with ancient roots — the Mayans beat us to it by at least two millennia — has likely put more smiles on people’s faces than antidepressants. Whether staying traditional with plain milk, adding complementary flavors, or spiking your murky brew with booze, New York’s frigid months were made for hot chocolate. Here are the city’s 10 best.
10. Martha’s Country Bakery, 70-28 Austin Street, Queens; 718-544-0088
This Queens-based mini-chain goes beyond the standard cup of cocoa, serving up peanut butter, red velvet, and cinnamon-inflected Mexican varieties. In business since 1972, the bakeries all sport modern design elements like exposed brick and natural wood. Still, you’re more likely to find locals inhaling slices of cake than laptop-toting bloggers typing away between sips of macchiatos. The hot chocolate is smooth and rich with a light milkiness, and on occasion, you might just find a chocolate syrup smiley face staring back up at you.
9. MarieBelle, 484 Broome Street; 212-925-6999
Maribel Lieberman celebrates chocolate in all its opulence at her flamboyant SoHo shop and cafe famous for its ornate hand-painted ganache. Thirsty travelers can grab a cup to go in the powder blue shop up front, but the full range of hot chocolate options is best explored in the back cafe, where pampered pamperers pamper themselves with mesmeric drinking chocolates ranging from 60 to 80 percent cocoa content. Full of smoky fire, the chipotle and ancho-tinged spicy hot chocolate is particularly invigorating, though if you’re in the market for a liquid hug, check out the decadent white chocolate and hazelnut milk chocolate varieties, which coat the palate in a blanket of dairy richness.
8. Oro Bakery & Bar, 375 Broome Street; 212-941-6368
During the day, Dorina Yuen’s sliver of a space functions as a charming neighborhood cafe serving all manner of pastries, sweet treats, and coffee beverages from cortado to café au lait. Yuen’s hot chocolate is sugary and mild — perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. At night, Oro transforms into a charming wine bar, and that hot chocolate is available spiked. We can think of plenty worse ways to while away a chilly evening than commiserating over boozy hot cocoa until it’s pajama time.
7. Lavazza at Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue; 646-398-5100
Revered Italian coffee roaster Lavazza operates a small shop at the eastern mouth of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s buzzing mega market, brewing up aromatic cups of java for the many patrons passing through the busy thoroughfare. Thick enough to lightly coat a spoon, the cafe’s ‘cioccolata con panna’ arrives dark and burnished; a wavy cloud of whipped cream sinks just below the surface, submerged under its own heft. Along with the rosticceria’s prime rib panini, the molten chocolate is one of Eataly’s best offerings — though good luck getting any shopping done if you try to consume them during the same visit.
6. Nunu Chocolates; 529 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; 917-776-7102
Self-taught chocolate impresarios Justine Pringle and Andy Laird whip up an ethereal cup of hot chocolate at their Boerum Hill cafe and production space. The warm space, heavy on wood accents, smells like what Augustus Gloop would have wet dreamed about if he’d lived to reach puberty. Light in texture but deep in flavor thanks to 65 percent dark chocolate shavings, the shards are whisked into steamed and foamed milk; the beverage receives a final sprinkle of shavings. In its simplicity, Nunu’s standard brew is pleasantly bitter with only a back note of sweetness. A spicy version with creeping chili heat is also offered.
5. Jacques Torres, 66 Water Street, Brooklyn; 718-875-9772
At Mr. Chocolate’s flagship retail shop, Torres melts chocolate into an intense cocoa slurry. Though he’s moved the bulk of his production to an expansive industrial space in Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal, the bean baron’s DUMBO location still makes for an uplifting excursion. Spice lovers take note: other outfits may purport to serve spicy hot chocolates, but Torres’ Wicked version — ground with allspice, cinnamon, ancho, and chipotle chili peppers — delivers the most satisfying kick.
4. Le Churro, 1236 Lexington Avenue; 646-649-5253
This Upper East Side micro-focused fast food concept specializes in Spanish-style churros con chocolate, the latter of which is available in eight different varieties including chili, sea salt, mint, cinnamon, orange, Nutella, and peanut butter cup. Spanish churros are shorter and chewier than their sugar-spackled Mexican counterparts, with a lightly crisp exterior which yields with each dip. This is viscous stuff — molten, creamy, and dark. Thank goodness “churro pairings” aren’t a thing that exist yet, but we can’t help but tack on a cone of churros with milk caramel sauce to our order of sea salt hot chocolate.
3. L.A. Burdick, 5 East 20th Street; 212-796-0143
Chocolatier Larry Burdick brings the same obsessive attention to detail that he applies to his confections to the delectable menu of hot chocolates available at his Flatiron shop — the only location in New York (the others are in New England). White, milk, and dark hot chocolates are available and can be blended to create custom “black and white” versions. Better yet, add a slug of whiskey, rum, or kirsch cherry liqueur to your mug for a spirituous and quaffable elixir — part cocktail, part dessert.
2. City Bakery, 3 West 18th Street; 212-366-1414
Maury Rubin’s venerable bakery has earned its place as a destination-worthy detour for lovers of baked goods and hot chocolate, especially during the month of February, when the company holds a hot chocolate festival (now in its 22nd year) featuring special varieties every day of the month. Previous years have featured Earl Grey, lemon, and creamy stout experiments. The classic hot chocolate is archetypal: intensely rich in flavor without turning into sludge and slightly sweet without compromising in complexity. There’s hardly a more alluring winter sight than one of the sturdy house-made marshmallows bobbing on the surface of a cup of City Bakery hot chocolate.
1. Roni-Sue Chocolates, 148 Forsyth Street; 212-677-1216
Chocolate-covered ‘Pig Candy’ might be the hot ticket item at Rhonda Kave’s inventive chocolate shop, but her hot chocolate is an undeniable seasonal must. Built on the backbone of organic Belizean beans harvested in the Moho River Valley, the beverage hits the palate with a mild sweetness, which gives way to deep cocoa notes, slightly fruity from registering at 60 percent cocoa content. The chocolate is melted and whisked into steamed milk, drinkable with an almost syrupy quality. If somehow this potent refreshment isn’t luxurious enough for you, try melting a stick of that pig candy into your cup. Mmm…bacon hot chocolate.