Drinking Chocolate

Drinking Chocolate

In Spain, it's not hot chocolate — it's drinking chocolate. Encountering this sort of blew my mind, and so my quest began.

The beverage I tasted in a Spanish streetside café was, as I understood it, a coffee alternative, not a dessert. It was very thick, and not very sweet.

Which brings us to the variations offered in this post. Below is a short evolution of related recipes that I came up with in my attempts to mimic and modify what inspired me about this. Try what intrigues you, and tell me what you think!


Milk Honey (optional)
Powdered baking cocoa Heavy cream (optional)
  Salt (optional)
  Baking spices (optional)

Prep time: 5 min

Before We Start

1. Let's talk about heating milk.

I hate to slow you down on your way to the recipes, but this is important. The flavor composition of milk does something really lovely at 155 degrees F. It scalds at 180. If you want your milk to taste developed, but not burnt, you want to aim for that range.

If you have a metal pitcher and a home espresso machine steaming wand, why not make this official and get yourself a milk thermometer, too. Start with a cold pitcher and cold milk (refrigerate both, if you're going all out), lay your hand on the side of the pitcher while you steam the milk, and find out how your skin feels once it hits 155. Memorize that feeling, and you won't need the thermometer anymore. In my experience, it's almost too hot to touch — almost. Like, it takes concerted willpower to keep my hand there, but I can, if I power through ... unlike the feeling of being actually burnt, in which your reflexes (hopefully) take over and you can't bring yourself to touch the hot metal anymore.

Now, the recipes below are written assuming you'll be using a saucepan, not a steaming wand. Of course you can put a milk thermometer to work here too, if you want to, but if not, that's okay. Just make yourself a student of what the milk is doing, until you know how to recognize the moment it's ready.

Here's what I mean.

The milk is cold. The milk is warm to the taste. The milk is beginning to feel hot. There is vapor rising from the milk, but it smells raw. It smells different now. The smell is still changing. There is more vapor. The side of the saucepan feels too hot to touch for long. The milk looks different: velvety, somehow. There are tiny bubbles forming around the edge of the milk — go no further!

Somewhere at or before the bubble moment is The Moment. But pay attention to smell and texture most of all.

2. Optional ingredients

The recipes below don't tell you to add salt or baking spices. You can make those decisions for yourself.

If you add salt, it'll add whole different dimension to the flavor that's sometimes just the thing, and sometimes just not what you want. What can I say; try it if you like salted chocolate.

As for baking spices, such as cinnamon, allspice, cardamom and the like, follow your heart.

If you want sweetener, but you don't want honey: of course, substitute it for something you like better.

3. What kind of milk and cocoa?

I prefer high-fat baking cocoa. And I use whole milk. In my view, the fat is kind of the point.

Now, the Recipes

Thick and Bitter

If you want a hardcore alternative to coffee — a beverage that comes to you dark, bitter and all grown up — try this. The portions are based on the Specialty Coffee Association's "golden ratio" for brewing a cup, which is two tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water. I started here on my quest for obvious reasons: if you want a hot and bitter beverage, black coffee provides a ready model.*

Pour 3/4 c. milk into a saucepan. Whisk in 2 T. baking cocoa. Heat and enjoy.

* Oh, words. Good coffee isn't bitter at all. However, if you want an antonym for sweet and desserty, bitter is pretty much the best choice we've got. So "bitter" it is.

Dark but Sumptuous

As I mentioned, the recipe above is where my quest began: not where it ended. I found the golden ratio appealing in some ways, but it wasn't what I wanted to drink on the daily. So I lightened it up a tad and added a touch of honey. The sweetness of the honey is imperceptible; it just adds a softness and smoothness to the flavor that's very pleasant. This recipe became my standby for a long time.

Pour 1 c. milk into a saucepan. Whisk in 2 T. baking cocoa. Dip a spoon vertically into a jar of honey, then use that spoon to stir the chocolate as it heats. Enjoy.

For the Kids

I've made the above for kids and found they're happy to drink it, but if you want to impart true joy to the littles, why not lighten and sweeten it some more. Also, this recipe has you divide the milk so you can deliver a precooled cup, no blowing or waiting required.

Pour 1/2 c. milk into a saucepan. Whisk in 1 T. baking cocoa. Stir in a heaping spoonful of honey as it heats. Meanwhile, pour 1/2 c. unheated milk into a serving mug. When the hot cocoa is ready, pour it into the mug of cool milk and mix. Serve and enjoy the enjoyment.

Keto Cocoa

Do you want to ingest 30g of fat in one delicious sitting without wishing for sweetener or tasting any goddamn coconut for once? Then you want this.

Pour 1 c. whole milk and 1/4 c. heavy cream into a saucepan. Whisk in 2 T. high-fat baking cocoa. Heat and enjoy.

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