Ah, the season of hot chocolate! One of my favourite things to look forward to in February is the annual YYC Hot Chocolate Fest. Participating restaurants (this year there are 91) create a feature hot chocolate. These range from devilishly simple to quirky and avant-garde. I'm not sure if hot chocolate has ever been called "avant-garde" before, but there you have it, it has now. This year the festival created an app that you can download, learn about the contestant entries, and plan your tasting route. And they are contestants, because while donations are made to Calgary Meals on Wheels from every purchase, the participating vendors are also competing to be voted as the "most popular" hot chocolate and/or the "top rated" hot chocolate. The app allows you to easily cast your vote once you've been able to sample your top picks. Now, while I wish I could have had a hot chocolate for every day of the month, these are the cups I have sought out so far. I tend to lean toward the slightly more unusual and creative flavours. The hot chocolates listed below are in the order I tried them:
Element Cafe Inc. "The Element of Love" Made with ruby chocolate, passionfruit, and raspberry whipped cream and drizzle, this packs a fruity punch. It is also lightly dusted with pink sea salt and pink peppercorn, to make it even more pink. Served with a red heart shaped sugar cookie.
Ten Degrees Chocolate "The Castaway" The title says it all; expect tropical flavours! They use their amazing banana chocolate as the rich and thick base. Ten Degrees Chocolate makes their own "bean to bar" chocolate in house. The drink is made with frothed coconut milk and served with a bruleed banana skewer. It wasn't until afterwards that I realized this drink was vegan! But it tasted so creamy!? How?!
Cafe Artigiano "Salted Miso Hot Chocolate" Super frothy, this hot chocolate is made with miso powder and Vancouver Island salt, topped with crispy chocolate "pearls", dehydrated marshmallow, and caramel drizzle. The salted miso chocolate cookies were nice additions too. I was expecting a bit more of an umami/salt flavour, but enjoyed this creamy drink nonetheless.
Sammie Cafe "Raspberry Crimson Hot Chocolate"
I mean, it is kind of hard not go out of your way for the hot chocolate with the red velvet waffle sticking out of the top... The drink itself was wonderful too. A raspberry red velvet hot chocolate with pistachio crumble, raspberry coulee, and a cream cheese
Monogram Coffee "Sesame Oat Hot Chocolate" Pardon me for being a "Drama Llama", but something disastrous happened... my big beautiful torched marshmallow immediately sank to the bottom before I could get a photo! So just know that there is a delicious treat lurking beneath the surface. This was yet another hot chocolate that I had to keep reminding myself was vegan. (But how?!)
Cacao 70 (Canmore) "Mexi Cocoa" The only participating vendor outside of Calgary, this quaint breakfast and brunch spot is featuring a lightly spiced and cinnamon scented hot chocolate. Beautiful for a photo and delicious to sip. They also serve extra cayenne on the side if you want to spice yours up even more. While you are here, don't miss their breakfast fondue.
Sauce Italian Cafe
This drink had a subtle blueberry flavour. The toppings of real blueberries, white chocolate sauce, blueberry whipped cream, and a baby cheesecake were a nice touch.
JusFruit "Strawberry Hot Chocolate" For starters, this thing is huge! It would be ideal to share with someone. You have your choice of white or dark chocolate and cream cheese or whipped topping. I tried the cream cheese for something different. This deluxe hot chocolate has real fresh strawberries in it! It basically tastes like a chocolate dipped strawberry. I'm going back their infamous "Egg Bomb" sandwiches.
Good Trade "Tres Leches Hot Chocolate" Inspired by the favourite Latin American dessert, this tasty white hot chocolate combines three different kinds of milk (usually sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream/milk). I especially liked the light dusting of nutmeg on top and the vanilla lady finger cookie to dip.
A1 Cafe "Kiss from a Rose" This hot chocolate was an ode to Turkish delight (cubes of jelly coated in confectioners' sugar, traditionally rose scented). It was subtly sweet, with a hint of rose and strawberry. I was expecting a bit more of the rose, but I'm sure they didn't want it to verge on tasting like perfume. The topping has a light dusting of crushed sugared rose petals, making for a nice floral smell while you sip!
Cafe Jindo "Yuja White Hot Chocolate" Yuja is the Korean name for yuzu, a floral citrus fruit that I am very obsessed with. I spent most of my long-ago trip to Japan trying to get my hands on anything yuzu related. This drink uses the Valrhona yuzu flavoured chocolate to add a delicate citrus flavour. It is topped with whipped cream, fresh citrus zest, a piece of the yuzu chocolate, and a cute ruby chocolate disc for garnish.
Lina's Italian Market "Cristalli" A little bit on the unusual side, this was sweetened with a house made balsamic-brown sugar syrup. It was very rich! I really liked the candy the drink had as a topping; tinny little shards of balsamic sugar. It was interesting to see the balsamic vinegar incorporated into a hot chocolate.
Vendome "The Rosemary & Sea Salt Hot Chocolate" Now, if it says "rosemary" and "sea salt", I really want to taste those flavours! This hot chocolate did not disappoint. You could really taste the rosemary and the sea salt was a nice touch. I would say this has been one of my favourites so far. It was nicely sweetened and not too rich.
Velvet Cafe "Ferroro Raffello Hot Chocolate" Of course the one I try on the very last day would be one of my favourites... Maybe it is because some of my all time favourite flavours are coconut and almond? Either way, this was one of the best! Creamy, sweet, with the flavours of marzipan, white chocolate, and garnished with coconut cream and toasted almonds. I wish they would keep this on the regular menu!
With 91 participating vendors this year, it wasn't easy to pick my favourites! The festival ran for the entire month of February. I updated this article as I sampled my way through the city's hot chocolate scene, one drink at a time. From classic flavours, to unusual ingredient combinations, each participating vendor showcased their unique take on one of our favourite winter drinks. And, good luck to all the contestants! If you sampled some of the hot chocolates this year, be sure to cast your votes on the app. In the end, I ended up trying 14 different drinks! That is one hot chocolate for every second day of February. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it... and I look forward to the festival returning next year!