I don’t drink coffee. Can’t really; it makes my heart go pitter patter, but not in a good way. I do drink other hot beverages primarily tea and hot chocolate. Finding a good cup of hot tea is not so challenging but finding good hot chocolate is another story.

Case in point. The other day I stopped by a coffee spot on Market Street. The menu had both hot chocolate and hot cocoa. Did they really have both I asked? No, the proprietor said as he smiled and shook a packet of Swiss Miss in my general direction.

Hot chocolate is not actually the same as hot cocoa. Here is how cocoa powder is made: the beans from the cacao tree are processed and the cocoa butter is extracted leaving what is called the chocolate liquor (not alcoholic) this is dried and powdered and becomes cocoa powder. Cocoa mix or instant cocoa is a combination of cocoa powder, sugar, some powdered milk and maybe some flavorings. What is it missing? In both the cocoa powder and the cocoa mix, there is no cocoa butter. A critical ingredient. In a chocolate bar it’s the cocoa butter that makes it rich and gives that distinctive mouth feel.

You can get amazingly good hot chocolate in Paris (visit Chez Pim for a listing of great places to find it) Here in San Francisco it is a little bit more challenging to find a great cup of chocolate but a couple of places are worth mentioning.

My two top picks for divine hot chocolate (not cocoa!)

Cafe Madeleine
43 O’Farrell Street @ Market Street
300 California Street @ Battery Street
Here they make hot chocolate from ganache, a rich combination of semisweet chocolate and heavy cream. It is used to fill and frost cakes or melted into a cup of milk for hot chocolate.

CocoaBella
2102 Union St @ Webster
A graduate of the local culinary academy developed several decadent hot chocolates including hot lava and a peppermint version.

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