Hot Chocolate: The good, the bad, and the ugly
The arrival of winter leads to the arrival of snow, and that calls for the hot drink that can warm up a frozen pair of hands like no other: hot chocolate. While only a simple mixture of warm milk and melted chocolate, this drink can do wonders for the weary, cold, and runny-nosed student. Choices are abundant on and around campus but are in no way equal, both in terms of taste and price. While some boast the rich complexity of good chocolate, others offer little more than warm water and sugar, making a taste test more than necessary during these times of cold and suffering.
The first, and possibly most questionable, choice of hot chocolate on campus can be found at the Underground. If students can brave the distinctive odors surrounding the campus eatery located under Morewood Gardens, $1.50 will get them a large hot chocolate. There is nothing commendable about the hot chocolate at the Underground. A first whiff from the paper CulinArt cup will reveal a cloyingly sweet scent, but the drink is more water than milk and the flavor more sugar than chocolate (justified by a film of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup). Though the drink is nothing special, it will give a tired student a warm pick-me-up with the swipe of a card.
At the bottom of the spiral in the Gates-Hillman Center you will find the wide glass windows of Tazza d'Oro. Though the most expensive choice on campus, at $2.75 for a small cup, the hot chocolate here does not taste very much of chocolate. An abundance of milk (an improvement over the Underground hot chocolate) lets through only a subtle cacao flavor. The drink is lukewarm and incapable of heating up a cold student fresh out of the snow. However, it boasts milk foam (not whipped cream) and has a creamy consistency thanks to the milk, not water, it contains. Though not the ideal drink to be holding when walking across campus in the cold, this hot chocolate avoids ready-made mixes and employs quality ingredients for those who are looking for more than heat and sugar.
La Prima Espresso
La Prima Espresso in Wean Hall offers the best hot chocolate on campus. Though not much cheaper than Tazza d'Oro at $2.65 for a small cup, the hot chocolate here is hot, creamy, mildly sweet, and actually tastes of chocolate. The petite cup is topped with a dollop of milk foam and the milk in this drink tastes more like a complement to the chocolate than a flavor mask. This hot chocolate is truly creamy and will serve as a good companion during a chilly walk. It is perfectly balanced between mouth-scorching and warm, and the rush it gives comes from actual hot chocolate mix, not sugar.
As you venture off-campus, the choices are generally more promising with the exception of the closest choice, Starbucks. At $2.56 for a tall (or small), its price does not differ much from other hot drinks on campus. The first sip reveals an initial film of whipped cream, followed by a thin water/sugar concoction with a hint of chocolate flavor. A difference between the Starbucks hot chocolate and others with a water base is a mysterious creaminess that, while pleasant to some, will seem artificial to others.
Again on Craig Street, right across from Starbucks, is the Bagel Factory. Though more well known for its obvious specialty, the hot drinks here are all of good quality. At $2.50 the small hot chocolate is the same price as the one at Starbucks but is creamier, less sweet, and generally tastes more like chocolate. The hot chocolate here will both warm and satisfy any individual retreating from the cold.
The “chocolat chaud” (or hot chocolate) at Crepes Parisiennes, the small creperie at the end of Craig Street, is by far the best hot chocolate around Carnegie Mellon. A small disc of bitter chocolate poised on top of the drink as well as the highest price so far (at $3.85) reveals this hot chocolate's true character. It is not for the weak of heart. A first sip reveals a very rich, dense, dark chocolate taste and a creamy consistency. This is more than a drink, it is a dessert, and any tired, snow-frosted student deserves to have a sip of it at the end of a long day.