Did you know there's a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? The name should tell you everything you need to know, but let's be explicit: Hot chocolate is made with real chocolate; hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder.
The funny thing is, if you walk into most places serving either hot cocoa or hot chocolate in New York City, you don't know what to expect. You might know which you prefer - cocoa or chocolate - but you don't know whether the menu item will live up to your expectations.
If you order hot cocoa, you probably want something creamy, but not too thick. You basically want hot milk that tastes like chocolate. On the other hand, if you order hot chocolate, you probably want something dense and intoxicating. You want to feel as if you are drinking melted chocolate.
Ordering a hot cocoa or hot chocolate always feels like a gamble in New York City. Will the drink be too sweet? Will the beverage taste powdery? Will there be a giant artisanal marshmallow blocking your taste buds from the chocolate goodness?
For anyone seeking hot cocoa, the gamble is low stakes. After all, you are only asking for hot milk that tastes chocolatey. You are easy to please. Most bakeries and coffee shops will serve you a decent cup of hot cocoa. No big deal.
For hot chocolate lovers, to have the best chance of getting what you really want, your best bet is to seek out a place that specializes in chocolate. You must go to a chocolatier. Places like MarieBelle and The Chocolate Room will serve a proper drinking chocolate.
But there's another place that serves some of the best hot chocolate in New York City. And it's not just one place, but rather, a kind of place. Do you know what I'm referring to?
Italian restaurants. Yes. Italian restaurants serve some of the best hot chocolate in the city! And why is that? Well, it's probably because Italians take hot chocolate seriously. They make it with real chocolate.
So the next time you are craving hot chocolate, like the kind that literally tastes like melted chocolate, like the kind that people call "drinking chocolate" for a reason, take a chance at your favorite Italian restaurant. Most likely, they will serve you a proper cup.
And if they don't? There's always the chocolatiers. Good luck!