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Campus Life

Winter Warmers

Six places to curb hot chocolate cravings

The best way to taste chocolate is to “put it on your tongue and let it melt,” says Kara Nielsen (MET’06), a former staffer in BU’s culinary certificate program, who used to work for the Scharffen Berger chocolate company in Berkeley, Calif. But at this time of year, sipping from a cup of rich, warm cocoa ranks a close second.

Hot chocolate for grown-ups is more popular than ever, and specialty purveyors from around the globe are getting into the game. Greater Boston is at the forefront of the trend, with standbys such as L. A. Burdick’s in Cambridge facing off with newcomers like Temper Chocolates in the Hotel Commonwealth. BU Today staffers sampled the wares at six local purveyors, from the standard (Dunkin’ Donuts) to the sublime (Finale). Try one, or all six, to get in the holiday spirit.

L. A. Burdick
52D Brattle Street, Cambridge (Harvard Square)
Price: $3 small

The oversized mugs grasped by almost every customer at this cozy Harvard Square chocolate shop and bakery are emblazoned with the word chocolate — as if there could be any doubt. The luscious stuff served here, topped by a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg, is more appropriately called “drinking chocolate,” not hot cocoa. Indeed, using a high proportion of actual chocolate shavings along with cocoa powder is a practice that Boston native Larry Burdick, the establishment’s founder, learned during his years living in Switzerland. A drink this rich begs to be shared, so bring a friend. Note that on chilly weekends, the line of tweedy Cantabrigians and well-heeled shoppers can stretch out the door. 

Temper Chocolates
500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston
Price: $3.50 (small European), $3.75 (small American)

This hallway nook in the Hotel Commonwealth caters to those on the go, but you can bring your paper cup of liquid chocolate to sip on the lounge’s plush chairs. Despite the lack of seating, Temper serves hot chocolate so thick and rich you might forget your next meal. MarieBelle chocolate powder is mixed with either water, for a cup of gooey European hot chocolate, or milk, for the American version. Both come in three flavors: milk chocolate Aztec, dark, or spicy (with cinnamon, nutmeg, and chipotle). Temper also sells gourmet bonbons — from single malt scotch to salted caramel — to keep your blood sugar levels up all day long.

1306 Beacon St., Brookline (Coolidge Corner)
Other locations in Boston (Park Plaza) and Cambridge (Harvard Square)

Price: $8.95 (Finale Hot Chocolate), $9.95 (Hot Chocolate Flight)

If it’s pure decadence you seek, look no further than Finale, Beantown’s famous dessert cafe. One sip of this delectable drinking chocolate, and you’ll never again settle for a mug of Swiss Miss. Executive pastry chef Nicole Coady blends melted French Valrhona chocolate with heavy cream and steamed milk to concoct a beverage worthy of the gods. Can’t decide between dark, white, or hazelnut? Order the Hot Chocolate Flight, and you can sample all three. Patrons over 21 are sure to enjoy the Finale Hot Chocolate, a delightful concoction of bittersweet chocolate, steamed milk, Baileys Irish Cream, and butterscotch schnapps. The prices are steep, but after the first few sips, you won’t care. For the ultimate indulgence, pair your beverage with a delicious molten chocolate cake or Manjari mousse. 

Espresso Royale Caffe
736 Commonwealth Ave., Boston
Price: $2.10 (small)

There’s nothing fancy about the hot chocolate at Espresso Royale — they make cocoa from a powder and add milk — but it is quite good. What’s really great about this coffee shop is the atmosphere. The scruffy young characters who staff the joint always have music playing on the stereo, from old-school hip-hop to Irish folk, and they’ll loudly discuss a song’s merits while serving gourmet coffee, bagel sandwiches, and treats like banana-chocolate-chip muffins and vegan carrot cake. They don’t exclude customers from the conversation, either. In fact, one of ERC’s hallmarks is the friendly repartee that along with the good tunes and the crazy art on the walls completely takes the drudgery out of waiting in a long line. When you finally get your cocoa, take it to the packed area of tiny tables by the front window and grab some reading material from the shelf. If you’re lucky enough to get the easy chair in the corner, it’s the sign of a good day to come.

775 Commonwealth Ave., Boston
Other locations in the School of Management, 595 Commonwealth Ave., and at 874 Commonwealth Ave.
Price: $2.50 (small)

Chocolaty goodness meets prime people-watching when sipping a hot chocolate at the George Sherman Union. Take in the crowds whizzing by or become totally immersed in Starbucks’ cocoa creation. A distinctly flavored mocha syrup gives this classic hot chocolate a slight twist on the ordinary. Made with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle, your warm beverage will be sweet without being overly rich or sugary. For a holiday twist, try the peppermint-flavored hot chocolate.

Dunkin’ Donuts
1008 Beacon St., Brookline
Price: $1.52 small

Despite being made from a powder mix that includes nondairy creamer, Dunkin’ Donuts’ hot chocolate is underrated. The beverage is exceptionally sugary, so it will wake you up as effectively as the establishment’s coffee. If you want chocolate flavor to overrule the sweetness quotient, order the Kahlua hot chocolate. Other flavors are original, French vanilla, and hazelnut. If you live on — or venture into — South Campus, it provides a quick hot chocolate fix, as long as your visit isn’t during morning rush hour. Toppings include whipped cream and sprinkles. It goes without saying that the clientele is either in a big hurry or relaxed and reading the Boston Herald.