The Annual Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival, Part 1
The Hot Chocolate festival has started and it runs from January 19th to February 14th of 2017. It is almost a month, where a hand full of restaurants, cafes, dessert parlours, and chocolatiers; offer you a different reason to visit them. Those participating have come up with 1 to 4 different hot chocolate variations for you to try during its limited release. Some contain coconut milk, others red wine, and beer. Last year there was even one that used chocolate covered crickets. This would be my first go at the festival, as a self proclaimed non-chocolate fan. However they use enough “other” ingredients and promise enough novelty to have this adventurous blogger going on a crawl with a handful of her friends. Today’s assembly included one who is vegan and lactose intolerant and another who is as adventurous as me but just requires things to be gluten free. And lastly one guest who doesn’t have any dietary restrictions and whole heartedly loves her chocolate. Between us four we would have a good panel.
Of note, a few of the establishments are offering multiple hot chocolates, at varying times, thus giving you a reason to come back and try something new week after week. Or giving you a reason to come back and have as much of what you like before it is off the menu. Therefore this is more a recall post, than a resource on where to go. Take it as motivation to try the fest next year earlier, or fuel to head out to experience what they are serving up now.
In total there are 29 local businesses participating over 27 days, with 61 different types of hot chocolate. The event organizers were thoughtful enough to offer a print out walking map of these participating businesses, orangized to their in specific areas. However, today we would be hitting a few stops around town by car. And not only does the festival offer a fun way to explore more of the city, but it also fundraises for the “DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE WOMEN’S JOB TRAINING PROGRAM”.
3992 Fraser Street, Vancouver BC
But first, by chance, I was dessert-ing at local ice cream favourite, “Earnest” and they had two different hot chocolates they were advertising. I passed on the vegan option made with chai spices, and coconut and cashew milk; served with a slice of vegan chai chocolate cake. And instead when the boozier way. Both choices are $8 each and available during the entire duration of the event.
Their “Sons of Vancouver” (S.O.V.) Spiked hot chocolate is a milk hot chocolate inspired by their own chocolate ice cream, topped with a S.OV. Amaretto infused whip cream. And accompanied by a scoop of their S.OV. Amaretto ice cream on the side. Both cups are sprinkled over with their house made crunchy brittle.
It was great to have a scoop of the ice cream to try, it was actually what I was considering to order, had the limited edition nature of the hot chocolate not swayed me. It was nice to have the contrast between this cooling ice cream and the warmer hot chocolate. The latter was the prefect, ready to drink temperature, which meant if you were looking to sip and enjoy, it cooled down a little too quickly for you. It was rich chocolate, but not so much so that you wouldn’t go back to drinking. It was not overly sweet, being partnered with a nice alcoholic after note, and the crumble on top to bringing it into the dessert realm. This would be one of my favourites and the one I’d recommend to date.
Forward to our crawl date, we started at 4pm, which didn’t leave us much time for the cafes that close between 5-7pm. Which meant I had my planning and driving cut out for me. To watch this recap instead of reading it, click the link to visit my YouTube food vlog channel: MaggiMei and subscribe! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UWuB6nQoyTQ
4717 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC
I stuffed my three companions into my car and kept them on pace with short shouts. I had endeavoured on an ambitious ten stops. The plan was that we would dine in, sharing one or two cups and then hit the road for the next. There was no time to remove our coats, let alone sit and sip.
Starting in Burnaby and working our way back, our first destination was “Chez Christophe”. As far as I know, this is the only artisanal chocolate and patisserie shoppe in Burnaby. Here they are serving two different hot chocolates for $6.95 each, both available until February 13th.
The “Tropical storm” is a dark chocolate served with a coconut marshmallow, featuring spiced pineapple gel. It is best when all mixed together and all the flavours are allowed to mingle. You didn’t get much of the pineapple, but plenty of coconut as you pick the annoying shreds out of your teeth.
The “Breakfast in Burnaby” was the one most of us preferred. It is a French toast inspired white hot chocolate, topped with a maple drizzle, and a pecan crunch. It tasted like French toast with the cinnamon and sugar used and the flavour of the maple at the forefront, it just lacked the eggy taste and chewy texture that comes to mind when you think French toast. It was served with a hard brioche, that was made soft via dips into the foam and cream. I personally would have preferred some food symmetry instead,and liked to have a French toast point served with the hot chocolate it gave inspiration to.
143 East 3rd Avenue, Vancouver BC
Our next stop was “Swiss bakery” better known for the popularization of the dessert that brought together the cakey-ness of a doughnut and the flakiness of a croissant. They two had two hot chocolates available during the entire three week festival period. At $5.50 each, they were the best value for price hot chocolates that I have experienced to date, and on this crawl. Both of their hot chocolate options highlighted their skills as bakers with their complementary cookies.
The “Shining star” hot chocolate had a starry rainbow chocolate cookie paired with its bittersweet dark chocolate milk, prepared with coconut milk and turmeric power. This was incredibly creamy and perfect for dipping. Though I couldn’t differentiate between the bittersweet nature of the chocolate used and the coconut milk. It was the flavour of the turmeric that was most dominant.
The “Winter’s harvest” was a contrast to the above in flavour and appearance. A white chocolate milk to its dark, made with genmaicha tea. “Genmaicha” is a Japanese matcha tea roasted with rice. This comes with a black sesame short bread shaped like a leaf. We agreed it was a well mixed matcha, a deep flavour without the slightest hint of bitterness. I preferred this cup, but would pass on the hard and dry shortbread, preferring a softer cookie instead, (something we would get from one of the cafes below).
2029 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver BC
We were disappointed at stop number three. “Gem chocolates” was quite the drive away, but we thought, worth it for the chocolate embellishments that was promised to top each of their whipped cream hot chocolates. However, I had misread and thought all three of their specialty hot chocolates would be available throughout the whole event. But this was not the case.
And instead of the “shot in the dark” one we wanted, which cleverly had Darth Vader’s helmet moulded in chocolate and Bailey’s, or the “island float” with chocolate lips and lemon meringue over its cardamon flavoured chocolate milk; we had their only available option then, the “flower power”. Each went for $7 in a to go cup.
The “flower power” was marshmallow flowers and whipped cream over a blossom infused milk chocolate. It was a pretty taste with the lingering lightness of rose water. A delicate drink with the marshmallow flowers that melted on your tongue. We were treated to a flower each, in the cup that we shared; and were also given our choice of one of their chocolates to try. This was a gesture for our troubles in coming all the way and being disappointed. A kind service and truly one that was much appreciated, especially as the misunderstanding was the fault of our own.
We had the earl grey creme, black current, peanut butter, and a vanilla golden chicken for Chinese New Year.
Racing for time we just made it to “Koko Monk” before they closed. We were able to enjoy our drink in the dark of their cafe, before being reminded of the time by it owner. He also took the time to chat our table up. He interviewed us on which was our favourite hot chocolate of the crawl. He did not like the truth that I spoke, explaining how it is not possible to compare each that we had from the next, as they were all so completely different. Here, the best is based on preference and not an accurate science or the answer that he wanted. However, my guests were able to recall and regale him in all that we already had tonight.
1849 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver BC
Here at “Koko Monk”, they too had a rotation of flavours released at limited times. They are the only place to charge by size. Small for $5.95, medium for $6.95, and the large went for $8.25. We went for the medium to share between us four, and weren’t able to finish.
And today, during our visit, it was only the “Sin and salvation” that was available. It used organic lavender white chocolate and combined it with fig and chamomile. With it we were given a choice of any cookie from their window. We went with the short bread, believing it would best accent the light lavender in the brew. It was dipped in fresh chocolate for us, as a little bonus. This is the perfect example of a soft and buttery shortbread, the type that I like. It easily crumbled under the pressure of my teeth.
As for the hot chocolate itself, even my guest who doesn’t like the distinct floral flavour of lavender found enjoyment in this drink, going back for multiple sips. The flavour of the lavender starts out strong and grows comfortable on you, with every additional sip. But overall, it was mostly rich from the cream, and a drink many would not be able to finish alone.
4090 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC
From here there were a few other possible stops, with later closing times. However the consensus of the others were, they were tapped out on chocolate and sweets, and up for just one more. So we fast forwarded to our planned last hot chocolate stop of the night. One that offered some savoury with their drink of sweet. We drove back Burnaby to “Glenburn soda”, the popular later night dessert place that offers up classic sundaes and makes their own pop. A soda fountain and confectionery reminiscent of the ones from the 50’s and 60’s with soda jerks, paper hats, and even the old timey candy to match.
They too had a rotating selection of hot chocolates for the fest. They went out of the box with their “all that and a bag of chips” for $6. It is a salted toffee, milk hot chocolate, literally served with a bag of home made potato chips. The latter was definitely a new one for them.
The chips were the crispy and salty bite that the others needed, and it very loosely connected to the drink beside it. Topping the whipped cream and hot chocolate was a potato chip shard coated with toffee nut chocolate on one side and drizzled over with a chocolate sauce on the other. There was far too much cream to sift through with your lips to reach the drink with ease. But when you did finally get the slightest bit of liquid, you need not more, given how sweet it was. We ended up passing on most of the hot chcoolate, simply using it occasionally as a dip for our chip. When we brought it to the owner’s attention, we couldn’t be bothered with our feedback. He simply took the cup and saucer and “hmm” in response.
I was disappointed by our last hot chocolate. I would have loved the chance to try all their other flavours at once. To be able compare and contrast them all together, instead of one every week, as I don’t see myself returning to do so. And especially as all the others sounded more interesting than the chips with its too sweet toffee chocolate milk.
However, the idea to keep flavours rotating during the fest is a smart one, from a business standpoint. You loose sales from one shot customers like me, but you gain more money in the long run. A lure to bring those willing in more than once a month. And chances are when they visit, they will order something in conjunction to their hot chocolate, like we did. The options certainly sound more interesting from here. Next they had the “float your boat”, a cola infused dark chocolate with ice cream available from Jan 26 to Feb 1. And after the “freeze tag” a frozen peanut butter milk chocolate available from Feb 2 to the 8th. And lastly from Feb 9 to the 14th it was a hot chocolate made by infusing red hot cinnamon hearts, timely given Valentine’s Day being on the 14th.
In short, the our hot chocolate fest crawl was a fun experience. As an event, it is a great way to see more of the city and the keep warm on days that still leave you shaking from the chill. I enjoyed the ability to jump around and try as much as we did so much, that I immediately planned a downtown hot chocolate fest crawl with another friend. The vlog and blog of that to come. Don’t deny your cravings.