Vancouver’s Hot Chocolates

February 21, 2012

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By Lindsey Thoeng

Even with its notorious annual rainfall of 1117mm, the city of Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia continues to rank highly on Mercer’s Quality of Life index. The survey results may have had something to do with the city’s apt remedy: irresistible hot chocolates.

The Goretex and fleece-wearing Vancouverites aren’t bothered by the sight of it pelting down yet again, with a regular dose of the diet-be-damned drink as their saving grace. Chocoholic Lindsey Thoeng tastes her way across Vancouver and indulges herself in the city’s cacao delights.

Vancouver’s combination of big-city lifestyle and outdoor fun makes it a perfect destination for the traveller who’s up for anything. It’s possible to hit the Grouse Mountain slopes, enjoy Stanley Park’s beaches, dine in Chinatown, and head back for a cocktail in Yaletown on one day. Surely, you don’t want to be short on energy to sustain such a level of activity. A hot chocolate quota of at least two per day should suffice to keep your stamina up and running. And there’s plenty to choose from.

Kits and Commercial Drive
I start my hot chocolate trail in Kitsilano. Along with the area around Commercial Drive, Kits is one of Vancouver’s alternative neighbourhoods, attracting young urban professionals. A city of new immigrants, Vancouver’s locals almost all have foreign roots. Here you’ll find a dozen different languages and tons of foreign and healthy cuisine. Speaking of which, Notte’s Bon Ton on West Broadway offers delicious and cute-looking pastry with a hot chocolate that’s just as sweet. Across the street is Calhoun’s; it looks like a large après ski bar where the hot chocolate comes in pints.

I affirmed my hot chocolate trooper status by finishing the entire 400ml before it turned cold. Prado Café on Commercial Drive has a perfect combination of a minimalist aesthetic, wifi-access (with hilarious daily passwords), and great hot chocolate, which make it an ideal place to work (on your chocoholism). Their cups are plain white, their whipped cream is plain white, and the fact that you secretly know that underneath all that white is the magic brown liquid, make the hot chocolate-experience at Prado an aesthetic delight.

Yaletown: my hot chocolate is better than yours
Yaletown is a trendy urban community in what used to be a warehouse district. It has gradually been transformed into one of the city’s most expensive areas and comprises a mix of residential, business and cafes.

That, and heaps of dog boutiques. Sitting on Coo Coo Coffee’s sun-drenched terrace, I wonder if there’s anything better than people/canine watching while sipping a hot chocolate with whipped cream. There’s about a 1:1 dog-human ratio; attached to every semi-hip Yaletown local is at least one dressed-up chihuahua or pug, their designer t-shirts provocatively announcing ‘My dog is cuter than yours’. In the meantime, I order another cup. Coo Coo’s chocolate whipped cream is evil. Living just around the corner is not a good thing for a girl with a cacao-weakness. And the fact that the superfriendly Asian staff eventually started greeting me with “Hi, How Are You? Hot Chocolate again?” is reason for concern.

I head to Yaletown Gelato for the real deal; cioccolata densa. We’re talking thick stuff here; the mercilessly rich texture makes my heart beat just a bit faster. Note to self: bring a banana next time – this hot chocolate has serious dipping qualities.

Other Yaletown cafés include Subeez Café and O-Cha Bar on Homer Street.
Subeez’ version is simply terrible. The glass of water they serve with it is probably to thoroughly rinse the nasty taste from your mouth. O-Cha is a tea bar. I was sick when I came in and the chatty tea-girl behind the counter prescribed an orange tea with Cajun peppers. I regret listening to her. I bet hot chocolate would have made me feel way better than a healthy and vitamin rich tea. It always does.

Chocoholism: responsible drinking
So much hot chocolate is definitely not making me any skinnier. Aware of my growing waistline and in an attempt to feel less guilty, I cycle around Stanley Park’s 9km seawalk each day. On clear days, Stanley Park provides an irresistible lure to those who enjoy the outdoors. Especially during Indian Summer, when the leaves turn into a spectacular show of autumn colours.

Depending on your mood, you can walk in utter silence or go where busloads of tourists hop off: the First Nation’s totem poles or the Vancouver Aquarium. The aquarium is Canada’s largest with over 9,000 sea creatures, amongst which extremely cute beavers and beautiful Beluga whales. Sipping a terrible aquarium hot chocolate, I’m pondering if it’s really a good idea to have these giant creatures in such a tiny tank.

On the way back to the city, you’ll encounter numerous cafés that offer hot chocolates. Many are great, some not-so-exquisite. Blenz on Robson St. tries too hard with its Belgian milk chocolate, where a Plain Jane version would have sufficed. Caffe Artigiano on Hornby St. offers cups that are easy on the eye, but the award winning baristas forget to thoroughly stir the cacao in the bottom of the cup. Sciué on Pender St. gives hot chocolate a bad name; the wonderful taste of their pizza is spoiled with the first sip of it, qualifying as possibly the worst in Vancouver. True Confections on Denman St. is for the hardcore chocolate junkies. I actually dream about their dense chocolate mudcake and smooth hot chocolate at night.

Enjoying the snow
You can’t visit Vancouver without hitting one of the surrounding slopes on Mt. Seymour, Cypress or Grouse Mountain. From Grouse, when the sun starts setting it’s amazing to see the city light up right in front of you. There’s a Beaver Tail hut up there, and their intense hot chocolate-with-mini-marshmallows is exactly what you need after a couple of hours of skiing or boarding.

If time and budget permit, don’t hesitate to go to Whistler as well. The powder on the Whistler-Blackcomb mountains is magnificent and the place is home to Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, if a local offers to take you up there, do not go! Their main objective is to get you off those ‘lame hot chocolates’, only to get you addicted to a new, and less liver-friendly après-ski treat: the notorious Jaegerbombs at Whistler Village’s Garibaldi Lift Company.

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