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Culture & Artsby Fern Shen9:38 amNov 27, 20140

Desperately seeking thick, rich European-style hot chocolate in Baltimore

The Brew goes on . . . a cocoa crawl!

Above: Pitango’s “Sipping Chocolate” is nothing like an American cup of cocoa.

When the Thanksgiving holiday forecast turned to “wintry mix,” I had a light-bulb moment. I flashed back on some spectacular hot chocolate I had a long time ago in Barcelona and wondered if I could find anything like it here in Baltimore.

I’m not talking about the “cocoa” we all grew up on made from Hershey’s powder mixed into hot milk or water.

No, this was a different beverage entirely, as I remember it – thick and fragrant and kind of like the best chocolate truffle you’ve ever had, liquefied. But it wasn’t too liquefied – this stuff stood up to a spoon.

Not just the Spanish, but the French and Italians make versions of this heavenly drink. Knowledgeable readers are welcome to hop onto the comments here and enlighten us further. (Or offer a recipe so we can just make this at home. Here are two, courtesy of Francine Halvorsen.)

And locals who know of other great hot chocolate makers around Baltimore please let us know about them.

This post isn’t meant to be definitive but more just to stimulate conversation (and your taste buds) and give you a fun mission that’ll get you out the house over the holiday weekend.

PITANGO, Fells Point

Here they call it “sipping chocolate” and serve it to you in a small espresso cup. But this is “hot chocolate” that’s so dessert-like, intense and tasty, that’s all you need.

“Have you had our hot chocolate before?” asks the staffer at this Fells Point gelato shop, warning me. “It’s kind of different.”

Pitango's version is more like dessert -or something you scrape from a bowl when baking. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Pitango’s version is more like dessert or something you scrape from a bowl when baking. (Photo by Fern Shen)

I guess some people are unhappy when they don’t get the all-American milky drink they were expecting.

If the Italian-style at Pitango is too much, they will mix it with milk. A pity it seems to me but, no accounting for taste. Scraping and slurping the last bits with your spoon is like something you do with the remnants of some decadent cake batter in your kitchen when no one is looking.

You can get larger quantities and a little shot of this stuff for a buck. But I had the $2.50 size and it was just right.

802 South Broadway (410-236-0741)

SPRO, Hampden

At this craft coffee shop on “The Avenue,” they advertise a dizzying array not just of coffee concoctions but coffee brewing techniques – vacuum pot, pour over, chemex, eva solo, aeropress, french press, clever and and cold brew drip.

The Mexican hot chocolate at Spro had a  spicy kick to it. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The Mexican hot chocolate at Spro had a spicy kick. (Photo by Fern Shen)

They have two hot chocolate offerings, one made from a chocolate ganache and the other made from a ganache of Mexican chocolate.

I chose the latter.

“It’s spicy, something a little different,” the barista promised. He was right.

It was not as thick as the Pitango version, but it was richer than American hot chocolate, fragrant and had a definite bite.

If you choose “The Mexicana,” you get a big cup of it for $4. I had mine with a piece of banana bread. A filling breakfast.

851 West 36th Street (410-243-1262)


CHOCOLATEA CAFE, Tuscany-Canterbury

Here they call the hot chocolate “cocoa latte” and it seems much more like a traditional American cuppa cocoa.

Cocoa lattes come in lots of varieties at Chocolatea. (Photo by Gregory Krauss)

Cocoa lattes come in lots of varieties at Chocolatea. (Photo by Gregory Krauss)

(We’re presuming even though it’s called a “latte” there’s no coffee in there. So far no caffeine buzz.)

A Hopkins Homewood student hangout – serving an eclectic mix of dumplings, Udon noodle bowls, high-end tea and coffee and truffles – Chocolatea seemed like a good bet to have what I wanted.

Their cocoa latte didn’t have the European viscosity or chocolate truffle taste I was looking for. But they do have a huge variety of flavors – Peppermint Candy, Strawberry Nutella, etc. So there’s that.

They range in price from $4 to $5. We had the Mayan flavor and it was fine.

811 Canterbury Road (410-366-0095)


This one tied for first place with Pitango, out of all the hot chocolates we tasted. (I had some help.) It was so good, in fact, we gobbled it down in somewhat of a frenzy, completely forgetting to get a photo of it. (So we had to order another.)

An ice cream shop, known for unique local-themed flavors like “Otterbein Sugar Cookie” and “Old Bay Caramel,” The Charmery is promoting their hot chocolate right now with a sign in the window.

It’s excellent. Thick (the consistency of a well-pureed soup), it’s ladled from a big pot and had that rich, fine-chocolate taste. I would definitely go back for another.

The presentation is nice too. Definitely get it with the big pillow-shaped home-made marshmallow, even though its an extra $1. (It looks a bit like a chunk of tofu floating in there, but it’s toasty and mallow-y.) You can get whipped cream on your hot chocolate, too. And why not?

801 West 36th Street (410-814-0493)

The Charmery's hot chocolate comes with a big slab-shaped marshmallow. (Photo by Greg Krauss)

The Charmery’s hot chocolate comes with a big slab-shaped marshmallow. (Photo by Greg Krauss)

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