By Carolyn Wyman
Originally published February 2017 at philly.com
For most of history, chocolate was consumed only as a drink.
This Valentine’s Day, instead of handing out boxes of chocolates, why not enjoy a chocolate-drinking experience with your loved ones at one of the many places in Philly dedicated to serving chocolate the really old-fashioned way.
Cafe Y Chocolate
Both the regular hot chocolate and the namesake signature coffee/hot chocolate hybrid at this cheery Mexican breakfast/lunchery feature Oaxaca, Mexican chocolate made from ground cacao beans, cinnamon, and sugar. Here it’s melted in hot milk or milk and espresso, then poured into bowl-sized ceramic “fortune” mugs: Drink down a quarter to uncover an encouraging saying (en español). $4.50 to $4.95, at 1532 Snyder Ave., 267-639-4506.
There are vats of white, milk, and dark chocolate ganache on tap behind the bar to make hot chocolate at this chain chocolate mecca. Those chocolate/dairy blends are mixed with your choice of hot whole, skim, or soy milk to make one of eight hot chocolate varieties, including a Skippy-infused peanut butter version and a Nutella-containing hazelnut blend. Classic marshmallow is the reported favorite of the kids who can turn this chocolate paradise into sugar-fueled tantrum hell on weekends.
Adults should try the Italian Thick, which eats like simple melted dark chocolate (it actually contains a vanilla sauce). Most hot chocolates are served in the store’s signature handleless “Hug Mugs” requiring Brenner’s chocolate worshipers to assume an apropos prayerlike pose. $5.25 (child’s) or $5.95, at 1500 Walnut St. (entrance on 15th Street), 215-344-8150.
Rene Kobeitri doesn’t call the drinks he makes from cocoa and milk in his curiosity shop of a cafe “hot chocolate”: They’re Volcanos, named for the way the whipped cream he puts in the bottom of the glass cups bubbles up to the surface after he pours the hot chocolate in. He tops that with all manner of housemade syrups, chocolate-nut bark shavings, and — for his mozzarella brulee Volcano — marshmallows and mozzarella cheese that he toasts with a blowtorch while performing a French-accented dramatic monologue on whatever you ask him about. You don’t wait for Kobeitri to make your drink so much as gape in wonder and disbelief. This is not hot chocolate; it’s a hot chocolate show. $8 to $15, at 1172 S. Ninth St., 215-465-3515.
The cartoon on the window showing cocoa tree branches growing out of the mind of a chocolate alchemist pretty much sums up the story at Sazon, coincidentally located just four doors away from where Milton Hershey opened his first candy business. Robert Campbell got hooked on chocolate for its health properties as a mountain bike racer living in Venezuela, where he also met his future wife, Judith. Now he roasts, grinds, cooks, and blends fair-trade cacao beans with other unrefined, organic ingredients in a corner of her Venezuelan restaurant in one of the city’s most serious, small chocolate-making operations. How small? Campbell separates the cocoa shells from the nibs — the cocoa bean “meat” — with a hair dryer. Bitter, thick, and complex (the house Clasico combines five different beans), his hot chocolates are best enjoyed by serious chocolate pilgrims. $8 and $9, at 941 Spring Garden St., 215-763-2500.
The Chocolate Cafe
A dose of history comes free with the sweets at this under-the-radar, four-seat cafe at the back of Shane’s Confectionery. It’s reflected in the ragtime music, Gilded Age decor, and hot chocolate flavors, including: a spicy nod to Spanish conquistadors, hot chocolate à la Thomas Jefferson (minus the brandy), and an unsweetened Mayan tea made from cocoa nibs ground and steeped in a French press to order, to a surprisingly stout consistency. The limited-edition rose drinking chocolate featuring chocolate infused with real rose petals should be of special interest to Valentine’s visitors. $4 to $6, at 110 Market St., 215-922-1048.