Civilization

civilization1The end is coming and we can feel it. At the start of this tasting tour, Peggy and I were enthusiastic, even eager to sample some of the best hot chocolate drinks in Cleveland. Now, it seems we are just trudging along to the end and this was only evident in our most recent stop at Civilization in Tremont. Being our ninth stop, I am sure this is to be expected.

We met on a sunny afternoon. We approached the counter and asked for a hot chocolate. The non-enthusiastic guy behind the counter asked, “which kind?” We replied with a shocked, “you have different kinds!” Clearly, having been here countless times before we never ordered a hot chocolate. Wanting to try something new, I ordered the chocolate malt and Peggy got the white chocolate.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. I barely tasted the chocolate malt flavor till the last sip. Peggy enjoyed the white chocolate although commented it was not warm enough.
  2. Topping. The whipped cream on mine seemed to instantly plunge to the bottom of my drink taking most of the liquid with it. Before the first sip, I was left with little more than a half a cup of hot chocolate.
  3. Size. Pretty standard.
  4. Atmosphere. I’ve always appreciated the old world charm here. It takes me to another place and time. But that’s as far as the warm feelings go. The staff and other patrons weren’t overly friendly and kept to themselves.

While we appreciated the wide selection of hot chocolate flavors here, it wasn’t enough to shake us out of our tasting doldrums. Perhaps the way that Peggy felt about Blackbird last month is how I am feeling too. The novelty has worn off and all the hot chocolates are tasting the same. The one thing that has stayed consistent is the company. The tour has been a pleasant way to take a break, maybe try a new place and enjoy a good conversation with a friend.

Blackbird Baking Company

blackbbird baking

I wasn’t sure after Sweet Moses that another hot chocolate could be that good. I think Blackbird Baking Company came pretty close to proving me wrong. Peggy had previously been wowed by the hot chocolate here, which started us on this journey in the first place. I was a new to it on our eighth tasting stop.

We had both been to Blackbird countless times together and separately. Walking in on a late afternoon, the bright walls and friendly staff brightened my mood on a grey day. Peggy was already there. We ordered our hot chocolate and requested a mug. They asked if we wanted our hot chocolate sweetened. I said, yes, after the barista explained they use a vanilla syrup to do so. In fact, she informed me, they can add any flavor of syrup to it which I made a note of for future visits.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. A rich bittersweet taste is created by a piece of chocolate that warm milk is poured over. According to Peggy, it didn’t impress her as much as the first time she had it.
  2. Topping. Peggy lamented that they didn’t have a homemade marshmallow that she has now become accustomed after the delicious ones at previous stops. I sprinkled some cinnamon and cocoa on mine to liven it up.
  3. Size. They had the usual sizes. We chose a medium.
  4. Atmosphere. The bright and whimsical wall color and art provided a welcoming environment. It is usually busy and often can get too loud making it hard to hear the conversation at your own table. But otherwise, I’ve always had a pleasant time here.

Overall, Blackbird is one of my favorite places to work or meet up with people, because it is conveniently located. We will both come back.  Peggy normally drinks coffee while here and is likely to continue doing so. Although she realized that after that initial sip here, we’ve had a lot of amazing hot chocolate and her palette has been refined by that.

Sweet Moses

sweetmoses

Earlier in the week when I mentioned to someone that we were planning to go to Sweet Moses as our seventh stop on our hot chocolate tasting tour, they replied that they thought it would be the best one. I think she may have been right.

Peggy and I had planned to meet up on Friday afternoon but had to reschedule for Saturday.  Looking back,  we are both glad it happened this way, since before getting our hot chocolate, we stopped to see the Near West Theatre. The Open House showing off the new building was joyous and put us in a good mood by the time we got to Sweet Moses.

Although once there and inhaling the delightful smells of the sweet shop, Peggy admitted it was a challenge to order the hot chocolate when the ice cream that Sweet Moses is known for looked so enticing. She ordered hers with only a homemade marshmallow and I choose the marshmallow and the whipped cream as my topping. We also decided to split a brownie with walnuts.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. Rich and sweet. This may have been the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had. If not, it’s definitely in the top 3. Apparently, they use a recipe from 1911. It paired very nicely with the bittersweet brownie.
  2. Topping. Peggy said her marshmallow was the best yet. She said it melted perfectly yet still allowed her to enjoy the gooeyness of it. I would agree and loved both the whipped cream and my marshmallow. It was a nice touch to have both.
  3. Size. They didn’t ask us which size we wanted, so I assume they only have one. It was a typical size mug.
  4. Atmosphere. Being an authentically recreated soda shop, the atmosphere was fun with lots of families and friends gathered together enjoying sweet treats.

In the end, I am happy we had to delay our visit by a day, because it allowed us to enjoy ourselves more on an unusually sunny winter day and to partake in the festivities of the Near West Theatre. Plus, it was a wonderful kick off to my birthday weekend. I would definitely go back to Sweet Moses for the hot chocolate – and more. I’d also bring out of town guests looking to taste some of the best hot chocolate in Cleveland.

Phoenix Coffee Company

phoenixcoffee

On a bitterly cold day, we made the sixth stop on our hot chocolate tasting tour. Although Phoenix Coffee Company has several locations, we traveled to Cleveland Heights to taste their locally talked about Phoenix Hot Chocolate made with vanilla and cinnamon.

The drive to the other side of town was eventful as we ended up on back streets we had never been indulging in the visual new. But as soon as we stepped into the Lee Road Phoenix, that all evaporated as we were greeted by a contemporary and almost stark interior. The people quietly working also seemed a bit soulless.

We both ordered the Phoenix Hot Chocolate from an overly-friendly and eager barrista. I say eager, since she was intent on creating the perfect design on each of our drinks, but only somewhat succeeded on Peggy’s. By the time, I got mine it was already lukewarm.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. Surprisingly nothing dramatic. Pretty average flavor, although I didn’t stir mine as much as Peggy and so had a nice chocolate finish.
  2. Topping. We both had whipped cream and you can tell from above one of the designs was artful and the other a big abstract mess.
  3. Size. We both ordered mediums and delighted in the availability of mugs.
  4. Atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier, it was stark and so was the vibe. I noticed an annoyed glance from a couple of people as we were the only ones chatting, which was strange since it is a coffee shop and not a library.

As we were leaving, Peggy looked at me and said, “I really have nothing to say. It was a pretty bland experience and nothing really stood out.” I agreed. As usual the conversation was great, the hot chocolate was average and the only warmth inside was a rustic fake fireplace surrounded by books reminding us both of the Phoenix Coffee we remembered before the hipster re-brand.

Fear’s Confections

hot chocolate

With this stop, we made it to the halfway point of our challenge. We are now five down and five to go. Along the way, we’ve had some good experiences and some not so good experiences. I’d say Fear’s Confections in Lakewood would fall into the beyond good experience.

As soon as we stepped into the adorable little shop, we were hit with the sweet smell of chocolate and quickly followed by a warm and gregarious greeting from the guy behind the counter. We later learned through a nice exchange with the owner on Instagram that he was her husband.

We ordered our hot chocolates and were pleasantly surprised when we were offered a homemade marshmallow for half off and just 25 cents. Peggy chose raspberry and I got vanilla chai. I also sampled a piece of chocolate and Peggy got some treats to take home, which she later reported were delicious.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. The hot chocolate had a yummy rich taste that was not too sweet and just right for both of us.
  2. Topping. Need I say more than, “homemade marshmallow?” There was a selection of four, including the ones we chose and chocolate mint and s’mores.
  3. Size. There seemed to be one size and it was just the perfect amount.
  4. Atmosphere. We loved how cute this shop was. Peggy commented that the two little tables they had were set beautifully. The Valentine’s Day decorations only added to the warmth on a cold January morning.

Overall, we loved Fear’s Confections. Peggy decided that it would now be her preferred chocolate shop. She plans to return soon with friends for more hot chocolate, and it will now top her list of places to grab a coffee with a friend in the neighborhood.

Dewey’s Coffee

deweyscoffee

After our last experience, I really needed our fourth tasting stop to be better and thankfully it was! When Peggy suggested Dewey’s Coffee in Shaker Square, the first thing I did was check their website and I am glad I did, because on it they describe their hot chocolate as: “No SwissMiss packets here – we make the real stuff!” With my lackluster experience at The Root Cafe, I needed to read that.

Neither of us had been to Dewey’s before, and on a late Saturday morning, it was bustling with a diverse group of customers. Walking in we were greeted with a bright and airy, but comfortable atmosphere. We quickly grabbed up the last remaining table in the back.

And then it was on to ordering, which turned into a comedy of errors, because when we asked for the Phoenix Hot Chocolate, we were told they were out of it. So we settled for the Dewey’s Own Hot Chocolate with whipped cream. Then, Peggy asked if we could have mugs and we were told their dishwasher was broke, so they didn’t have any available. All the while, the guys behind the counter were completely apologetic about it.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. We both agreed it had a good chocolate flavor that was not too sweet and just right.
  2. Topping. The whip was a delicious added bonus.
  3. Size. We both ordered the medium. It was a perfect size.
  4. Atmosphere. There was a comfy and friendly vibe. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood there, and it was contagious. The only oddity is that they share a space with a popcorn shop, so in the middle of enjoying our time there, we started to smell and get tempted by the freshly popped popcorn. As an aside, we both also had small bakery treats that were yummy.

The entire experience at Dewey’s was a pleasant one and a much needed improvement over our last tasting stop. We will definitely make a return visit when we are in the area again.

The Root Cafe

rootcafe

When Peggy messaged me and asked if I was available later the next day for our third hot chocolate tasting, I jumped at the chance. Since The Root Cafe, a hipster place located in the center of Lakewood, is convenient and we had each been there many times before, it appeared to be a simple decision to make.

It wasn’t until I arrived slightly earlier than Peggy that I remembered why I don’t frequent it as much. First of all, I believe there are many redeeming qualities about The Root Cafe such as their coffee drinks and their yummy food menu, but there are also a lot of turnoffs as well. The main one being the lack of seating and the isolationist vibe that emanates from it. I get it is a place where people park themselves to work but still the atmosphere is lacking the coziness of past places we visited on this tasting tour.

Now onto to the hot chocolate part. I went purist and ordered the plain hot chocolate, while Peggy, perhaps inspired by the two previous tasting stops, went with the Mexican hot chocolate.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. Mine was, well, just ok. I’ve had better hot chocolate out of a package at home. There was definitely nothing special or unique here. Peggy concurred about hers and said the Mexican one hit her in the back of the throat and hard like it’s supposed to.
  2. Topping. None. Nada. Nothing.
  3. Size. We both decided to get the medium. It seemed pretty standard.
  4. Atmosphere. Despite the inviting warm wood interior and eclectic decor, there is not much else here in terms of atmosphere. Peggy observed that there was no talking outside of your table. And unlike our last stop, there was no sense of community.

When we left, I almost wished I hadn’t taken Peggy up on her offer, because despite the company and the conversation, I left feeling unsettled. This was only reinforced when I returned to my car parked on a side street and noticed a parking ticket from a recently expired meter. Even after that, we agreed that we’d both go back to The Root Cafe, because it is popular with other friends but would unlikely go back because of the hot chocolate causing us to question why they made the list.

Angel Falls Coffee Company

Angel Falls Coffee Company

The second stop on our tasting tour took us all the way down to Akron. Angel Falls Coffee Company was the furthest destination on the list so we conquered it during a day off of work.

From the outside, Angel Falls has a cool retro facade and on the inside it is homey and was fully decorated for Christmas. The one thing we did notice when we entered was that it was busy. So busy for a late Tuesday afternoon that there were no seats available. Luckily, Peggy took it upon herself to meet some new friends and find a spot at a large round communal table.

But first, it was time to decide which of the four types of Venezuelan hot chocolate we would try. In the end, Peggy ended up going with the dark chocolate with cinnamon and cardamom, and I chose the regular with lavender. We also ordered a frosted sugar cookie to share.

Here’s what we thought:

  1. Flavor. According to Peggy, she was in love after the first sip. Hers was a perfect blend of spices to compliment the rich and sweet drink. Mine was more subtle. The lavender was a delicate afterthought to the rich chocolate. To say that we both loved our drinks is an understatement.
  2. Topping. Peggy asked for a little whipped cream, and I asked for the same. Although, when the drinks were ready hers was loaded with it and mine had just a hint. I believe the discrepancy occurred because two different people had made our drinks.
  3. Size. The size was extremely generous for the price, which was less than a chain latte in a smaller cup.
  4. Atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier, we were struck by the homeyness of the place. It was the quintessential independent coffee house. Everything from the mismatched furniture to the vintage Christmas albums decorating the walls to the steamed up windows made this a charming and comfortable place to be in. We even ended up chatting with the other women at the table who were interested in our challenge.

We both agreed that Angel Falls was a gem not only for their tasty hot chocolate but for the inviting vibe and relaxed atmosphere. We’d love to go back more but with the location being so far away we know that’s not practical. I definitely plan to go back when the weather is nicer to enjoy their patio and mural.

Bonbon Pastry & Cafe

bonbon

The inaugural stop on our tasting tour occurred at Bonbon Pastry & Cafe in Ohio City on a busy Christmas Eve morning. Bonbon had been selected as the first stop based on convenience but after a couple of missed attempts it appeared that wasn’t the case.

We finally settled on Christmas Eve morning because it fit into both of our schedules. The day was unseasonably warm, but I was ready to start this challenge as I arrived at the overly crowded and bustling cafe. Peggy joined me shortly after.

When I first walked in the door my eye caught the sign advertising the Mexican Hot Chocolate as the special. As a fan of this unique sweet and spicy treat and after exchanging some messages earlier in the week with Peggy about champurrado, I knew this was the one I wanted to try. Peggy concurred and ordered the same.

Below is the way we will rate each hot chocolate and location:

  1. Flavor. The Mexican Hot Chocolate had a nice blend of sweet and spice. It was not too sweet though and you could taste the quality bitter chocolate used.
  2. Topping. According to Peggy this was the best marshmallow she had ever tasted. It was a homemade one too. The green and red sprinkles were a pleasing holiday touch and also a possible ode to the Mexican flag colors.
  3. Size. We both agreed that it was too small and simply didn’t last long enough through us eating our meals and chatting.
  4. Atmosphere. Being at Bonbon always makes me feel like I’ve been transported to Paris. And the staff that day had a decidedly French manner as well. It seemed as if they were not having their best day likely caused by the largest crowd I’d ever seen there.

All in all our first tasting experience was a success with a few setbacks in the service department. We’ll definitely make a return trip just not the day before a major holiday.