Cafés are mostly associated with a range of coffee-inspired beverages, but instead of caffeine, you can also turn to the cup-of-joe’s often overlooked, sweet cousin that will keep you just as warm this winter: hot chocolate. Disrobe yourself of pretension and take a sip of the best Cincy has to offer — trust us, these are a step up from hot water and Swiss Miss. Here’s a list of some of our favorites.
Most Aesthetic: Cross the bridge into Newport and enter the tweest coffeehouse in Northern Kentucky: Carabello Coffee. Along with a menu of craft coffee drinks and their rare Analog Slow Bar, patrons claim that this philanthropic endeavor also has the best hot chocolate around. And honestly, it’s hard to beat. The smooth and familiar mug o’ cocoa is delicate and made like a latte (instagram-worthy art included). It’s blended with dark chocolate Monin and a touch of vanilla syrup for softness that is perfect for keeping your insides cozy. It’s served with a spoon to scoop up the sweet, sweet foam on top. 107 E. Ninth St., Newport, Ky., carabellocoffee.com.
Most Airy: Listed under drinks without a jolt, this blend is dusted with light cocoa powder and made like a cappuccino (sans caffeine). It doesn’t overwhelm, making it the most balanced on the list. Though it’s not overly rich, it still satisfies on the sweet factor. If you work downtown, stop in for a quick warm-up before braving one of the coldest Queen City winters in recent memory. The baristas also offer an “Aztec-spiced” option, blended with spicy cayenne pepper. If you’re like me, though, opt for their Bumble Bee, a cozy and straightforward blend of soothing steamed milk, honey and vanilla. Sweet perfection, but minus the chocolate. 110 E. Central Parkway, Downtown, coffee-emporium.com.
Maverick Chocolate Co.
Most Rich: OK. This drink will blow you away. Maverick’s “drinking chocolate” has to be the richest, creamiest beverage ever to touch my lips. So rich, in fact, that I had to take breaks in between sips just to process the profound nature of the chocolate. Melodrama aside, this local bean-to-bar craft chocolatier makes cocoa with their in-house drinking chocolate mix (65 percent dark chocolate) and whole milk. In the French style, this drinking chocolate is topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings (add marshmallows for 50 cents). It’s more bitter than its counterparts and could only be rivaled by Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. Located in Findlay Market, it will make you feel like royalty. Or Augustus Gloop. Either way, it’s magical. You can even buy a bag of mix to make your own at home. 129 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, maverickchocolate.com.
Taste of Belgium
Most Creamy: If you’re looking for something slightly less rich than Maverick’s blend, look no further than Taste of Belgium. Made with dark chocolate and topped with soft whipped cream, it feels snug and at home among the eatery’s waffles and seasonal tortes. Multiple locations, authenticwaffle.com.
Most Vibes: Not gonna lie, this one made the list because the Northside café has a pet bunny named Patrick. Somehow, a classic cup of hot chocolate and staring longingly at a cute rabbit go hand-in-hand. If you don’t feel like hanging out with the shop’s pet, take your cocoa to go and walk down the stretch of storefronts and equally cool restaurants. Or be a little extra and grab a White Rabbit latte with a blend of macadamia nut and white cocoa. The space is one-part cozy and one-part hip and a neighborhood fave. Go where the locals go (Alice would probably go here if it was in Wonderland, amiright?). 4181 Hamilton Ave., Northside, sidewindercoffee.com.
The Booksellers on Fountain Square
Most Traditional: Looking for something simple and to the point? Made with dark chocolate and nostalgia-inducing whipped cream, curl up with this delicacy and pick up that cozy cat mystery you’ve had your eye on (no shame). Located downtown, grabbing a no-frills cocoa at Booksellers is the perfect pick-me-up before ice skating on the Square or speed-walking back to your car muttering about the windchill. 505 Vine St., Fountain Square, Downtown, facebook.com/booksellersonfountainsquare.
Other notable cocoas:
Dojo Gelato — Dojo’s take on the warm delicacy is crafted from melted chocolate, steamed milk and pulls from Italian tradition; it’s rich enough to taste like a whipped-cream-topped candy bar. 137 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, dojogelato.com.
Echo Restaurant — This Hyde Park diner tops its hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream. It’s perfect paired with their Flying Pig Sandwich — ham, bacon and Swiss stuffed between two pieces of French toast. 3510 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, echo-hydepark.com.
Sleepy Bee Café — The Sleepy Bee blends Origin A2 Milk (or your choice of a non-dairy alternative) with housemade dark chocolate sauce. Get crafty and add other housemade syrups like vanilla, hazelnut or caramel, or a dash of local honey. 3098 Madison Road, Oakley; 9514 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, sleepybeecafe.com.
Roebling Point Books & Coffee — This bookstore and fair-trade coffee shop offers a classic hot cocoa along with advanced options like a Redlegs, with white chocolate and raspberry; Sidewalk Choc, with chocolate and amaretto; or the Muddy River, with caramel and chocolate. 306 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., roeblingpointbooks.com.
Rohs Street Café — Rohs Street kicks it up a notch with Xocolatl, cocoa (steamed milk and housemade chocolate sauce) dosed with cayenne pepper. 245 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, rohsstreetcafe.com.
The 86 — This coffee bar/concert venue’s Red Velvet hot chocolate also comes in a frozen frappe version and is just as colorful and creamy as the cake flavor itself. 2820 Vine St., Corryville, facebook.com/the86cincy.