Hot Chocolate: The Basics

Translation is a funny thing. As a student of English and Spanish, I feel compelled to believe in the beauty of the English language; our language is rich in words and concepts, and English is the foundation for some of the world’s finest literature. That said, we are lacking in two vital words: hygge and sobremesa. 

Hot chocolate is one of the most comforting things in the world, and it encompasses the meaning of hygge like no other drink. Usually enjoyed in winter, knitwear, open fires and home baking are never far away – and, whether you prefer sweet, milky drinks or bursts of rich, dark chocolate, hot chocolate is the perfect solution. You can add alcohol for a sophisticated kick, or keep it classic with cream and marshmallows. For me, though, there’s nothing better than the intensity and depth only a very dark chocolate can provide, especially on cold, rainy days – the very definition of hygge.

So, to understand and achieve this Danish phenomenon, we must discuss the numerous different types of hot chocolate. They vary quite a lot both in price and in quality, and first up are instant hot chocolates. These come in a range of different forms: you can buy powders, sachets, bars and sticks of hot chocolate, and my first piece of advice is to steer clear of the sachets. They are often advertised as low-calorie ‘treats’, but actually just provide you with a difficult-to-stir cup of disappointment. That said, instant hot chocolates are not to be immediately discarded: they’re faster and cheaper than making your own, and there are some fantastic powdered options available. My personal favourites are the many that can be found in the Whittards range, as well as the Green & Black’s organic hot chocolate.

With regards to bars and sticks, these can definitely be described as ‘hit and miss’, and there is undeniably a technique to melting and mixing the hot chocolate. I’ve found that the sticks often clump together when melted and aren’t that intense, although the bars often achieve more success.

My overall advice for instant hot chocolates, especially if you’re looking for an easy option, is to find a powder with a taste and texture that is to your liking – and avoid the sachets at all costs. That said, if it makes you feel warm and cosy, and can be enjoyed with friends, that’s all anyone can really ask for.

Next up are the high street hot chocolates, of which the main candidates are Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero, and this is where sobremesa fits in. Sobremesa is a Spanish term for what happens after you’ve finished eating and drinking; it’s the enjoyment of your friends’ company once the plates – and mugs – have been cleared. Of the high street hot chocolates, my favourite is definitely Caffe Nero; the atmosphere is relaxing yet elegant, and the dark interior is the perfect backdrop for conversations with friends and family. In terms of the hot chocolate, Nero manage to strike the difficult to achieve balance between dark and sweet. I also find the Hot Chocolate Milano to be impressive for a chain, although it’s quite pricey – but it’s definitely worth it, especially right around Christmas time.

Costa’s hot chocolate is milky and sugary – a firm favourite with my younger sister, but not so appealing for myself. That said, I love Costa’s mochas, and the atmosphere is again one I definitely enjoy. It’s lighter and more airy, and there are fewer men with glasses and briefcases who are clearly working very hard with their single shot of espresso than in Nero. While I love the fact that every conversation in Nero feels like a meaningful exchange simply because it breathes intensity, Costa is definitely a chattier place, an ideal setting for catching up and chatting around the table.

Out of the three chains, Starbucks falls short. I know many a Starbucks lover, so I won’t be too quick to criticise; however, the hot chocolate, the environment and the brand as a whole is just not for me.

After high street hot chocolates come individual coffee shops. I can’t really talk about these as a whole; the only way they can be classified at all is as shops that aren’t part of a chain. I’ll be posting reviews of some of these, most likely those from my main two areas of residence (South London and Southampton). What I will say, however, is that both hygge and sobremesa can usually be found in abundance in these small stores.

Finally, there are home-made hot chocolates. Again, I can’t speak for all of them, but they can superficially be broken into the categories of cocoa powder, solid chocolate or a mixture of both. My current obsession is the Sainsbury’s 70% dark Peruvian chocolate, and I have high hopes for its hot chocolate potential. There is nothing more homely than actually making your hot chocolate from scratch, and you can expect recipes – both from myself and other bloggers – in the coming months.

Translation is a funny thing, but the mere act of drinking a mug of hot chocolate would seem to unite three very different languages. Perhaps this is because the feeling of warmth and friendship that comes from enjoying hot chocolate with friends is a universal one; such an experience cannot be defined in a single word.



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