When it gets truly cold outside (by California standards anyway), there's a reason that the hot drink many people of all ages reach for remains the tried-and-true humble mug of hot cocoa. It's the quintessence of cozy: warm, creamy and revitalizing. And while many cafes and restaurants tend to treat hot chocolate as a kids-menu afterthought, we think our readers deserve better this holiday season. So we scoured the Peninsula to find the best hot chocolate – and European drinking chocolate – offerings around. We've got both boozy and alcohol-free options, some for drinking out and others for making at home, and even a best-served-cold option or two. Here's your classy cocoa guide:
Bird Dog, Palo Alto
Palo Alto's Bird Dog offers both no-buzz and boozy hot chocolate kit options for gifting (or keeping – we won't judge). The tradition started in 2020 during the pandemic, when the restaurant offered weekly takeout bundles, according to co-owner Emily Perry Winston. "The team loved them so much we continue to bring them back," she says. "They actually bring back lovely memories because even though it was a challenging time, our small team truly bonded then since it was only us in the space (without guests) for months." The hot chocolate kits come with Tcho chocolate and made-to-order marshmallows; the boozy option also comes with bourbon.
Après Village, East Palo Alto
Skip the Tahoe traffic and get your European winter lodge vibes a bit closer to home at the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto’s seasonal Après Village.
The menu includes boozy hot cocoa made with a secret recipe, plus Tullamore Dew whiskey, green Chartreuse and vanilla or cherry whipped cream. Reservations required.
Coupa Cafe, multiple locations
The spicy Maya hot chocolate at Coupa Cafe has warm cinnamon notes, plus a touch of cayenne and pasilla chile. They also offer a "deluxious" hot chocolate, made from melting down dark chocolate and combining it with "just enough" milk to make it a rich drinking chocolate. The first Coupa Cafe, offering Venezuelan-style coffee and chocolates, came to Palo Alto's Ramona Street via Jean Paul Coupal and Nancy Farid-Coupal in 2004.
SWEET55, Half Moon Bay and Palo Alto
This hot chocolate is lighter and frothier than some of the other options we sampled, but with each sip still infused with a rich chocolate flavor – the perfect way to warm up on a rainy day. The retailer also offers tins of hot chocolate mix to make at home. Owner Ursula Schnyder says the cool coastal climate of Half Moon Bay is ideal for working with chocolate; this year she also opened a shop at Palo Alto's Town & Country Village to serve more customers.
Saffron, Burlingame and San Carlos
This drink isn't hot, but it does offer a sophisticated hint of chocolate. The seasonal Rasa cocktail by Delhi-born chef and restaurateur, Ajay Walia, is made with ghee-infused bourbon, Alessio, Cynar, orgeat, mint and chocolate bitters. The ingredients lend it dark chocolate, cinnamon and spice flavors, with a hint of bitterness and a note of cacao, according to spokesperson Makenna Lepowsky.
Shekoh Confections, Palo Alto
Shekoh Moossavi of Shekoh Chocolates in Palo Alto says a copper vessel is expected to arrive any day so that she can begin to offer drinking chocolate next week. Moossavi trained at l'École Valrhona and brings a palette of global flavors from her time spent in countries around the world to her chocolate craft.
Timothy Adams, Palo Alto
The European sipping chocolate available at Timothy Adams stood out for its quality and options. The team infuses 110 grams of specialized chocolate into whole milk or almond milk at a variety of richness levels, from 30% to 100%. You can also add whipped cream and spices, or make it a mocha or milkshake. It comes with a complimentary marshmallow.
According to co-owner Adams Holland, the 100% cacao sipping chocolate is difficult to drink hot, but ideal for turning into a milkshake and blending with ice cream. A serving of the 64% dark sipping chocolate was so rich it entirely halted my usual chocolate cravings for a whole 48 hours afterward. My colleague Magali, who sampled the 35% sipping chocolate, and I agreed that the beverages made our throats feel like the chocolate-coated pipes that suction up the character Augustus Gloop from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – but in a very good way.
ZombieRunner, Mountain View and Palo Alto
Known more for its coffee and espresso drinks, I figured this would be a good spot to try out given the high-quality chocolate sold on this shop's retail shelves, and the hot chocolate did not disappoint. Made with Tcho chocolate, it was rich, sweet and frothy.
Lula's Chocolates, Santa Clara
This chocolatier offers sipping chocolate kits with chocolate flakes and marshmallows for making at home. Formerly Mrs. Lund's, the operation rebranded in 2006 and moved from Salt Lake City to Monterey, where they have a factory available for tours now. An added bonus: Santa Clara visitors are offered samples upon entry.
Snake & Butterfly, Campbell
Campbell's Snake & Butterfly is an organic chocolatier that sells bars for making hot chocolate at home. You'll have to provide the milk (or half and half, as the recipe suggests) and the suggested extras, which include whipped cream, Bailey's, orange peel, marshmallows, peppermint and Amaretto.
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