The underrated beauty of hot chocolate

Warm and soft, introspective and vibrant, only one drink can truly satisfy me throughout the year: hot chocolate. Now you might be thinking, hot chocolate? That’s a kid’s drink. How wrong you are my friend. Finely made hot chocolate can truly reveal the character and soul of a community, as long as one has a finely attuned taste to sweetness, flavor and texture. 

From a Slovakian teacup of viscous melted dark chocolate, to your everyday Swiss Miss mixture, hot chocolate has a story of its own. Starting in the fields of the Ivory Coast, West African farmers spend their days harvesting cacao beans, the main ingredient in chocolate (and therefore, hot chocolate). There are three different types of cacao beans – forastero is the most prevalent, whereas criollo and trinitario are more exclusive and expensive. The majority of cacao beans today are grown in West Africa, but they originated in South America, from as early as the Aztec Empire. It spread to Europe as a delicacy only for the higher classes, but with the invention of cocoa powder by the Dutch in the 18th century, it soon became more accessible to the public.

Closer to home, my girlfriend and I investigated one of the remaining hot chocolate spots in Portland. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, a lot of small, niche businesses have permanently shut their doors. Creo Chocolate is without a doubt one of the most unique and special gems that Portland has to hold. They have an impressive record in awards, winning a Good Foods Award four years running so far, along with an International Chocolate award in Milk Chocolate. At the store, you can see their story and their relationship with the farmers in Ecuador who supply their cacao beans, which are speckled around the store as natural decor. Their products range from unique chocolate candles to modern cacao nibs, to more traditional chocolate bars and truffles. Of course, I was there for the hot chocolate. 

Decadent and fluffy whipped cream with a sprinkle of grated chocolate sits atop the main treasure. Dark chocolate, not too thick but rich in flavor, populates the majority of the cup. The distinct taste permeates throughout the rest of the drink, as the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness sends a shock of energy into your mouth. 

Creo Chocolate is dedicated towards producing the perfect chocolate, and provides (in non-COVID times) tours of their factory and process. Not only is their hot chocolate phenomenal, but their extensive options of truffles and chocolate leaves something for everyone. I tried both a raspberry truffle and caramel pecan one, and while the carmel was a little too sweet and thick for my taste, the raspberry was a wonderful burst of bright fruit flavor coupled with the dependable deliciousness of chocolate. I encourage everyone to check this place out, and give hot chocolate a real chance as your new drink of the year!