Arts and Entertainment

Your Guide to the Best Hot Cocoa in NYC

A review of different hot chocolate drinks from throughout Manhattan.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sunny Bok

In the middle of January, all that anyone can seem to think about is the promise of spring. We expectantly wait for the moment when we can finally remove the scratchy hats and scarves and showcase our shorts instead.

Winter has its highlights, though: the sight of towering piles of pure white after the first snowfall, the prospect of warm pastries after escaping temperatures below zero, and the joy that comes from holding an aromatic, sweet cup of hot chocolate.

A Swiss hot chocolate packet and some boiling water is fine if you don’t have any cafés within a five-mile radius, but if you’re passing through Manhattan, here are the best places to get some good cocoa.

Starbucks—Everywhere ($5)

Highly Priced Mediocrity: 2/5 tea cups

Can a place so well-known for its inventive coffees pull off a following for its classic hot chocolate?

Well, probably not. Like any Starbucks, the one we went to on 125 Chambers Street was filled with the impatient tapping of black high heels, suited arms being lifted to check the time, and the general sense of a frantic office environment. It is fast, efficient, and satisfies the average rushed New York worker. Therefore, for two high school students seeking to leisurely drink hot chocolate, the environment sadly fell short.

Yet, we paid for our exuberantly-priced drinks and moved to find somewhere to sit amongst the crowd. Once there, the hot cocoa proved to be utterly mediocre. The flavor was overwhelmingly sweet and reminded one of instant hot chocolate. It was neither terrible nor wonderful—just fine.

All of this would be decent, provided it didn’t cost an excessive amount. However, with the high price and chaotic environment, this drink didn’t seem to be worth the trip.

Laughing Man Coffee—184 Duane St, New York, NY 10013 ($7)

Brewing Camaraderie: 3/5 tea cups

Fueled and nurtured by celebrity Hugh Jackman’s face, this is a company born from the goal of sustainable coffee and supported workers, now nestled between boutiques on Duane Street, NY. Its message is clear: here lies expensive coffee that helps society, and buying it will not only relieve you of the weight in your wallet, but it will also give you that glowy “I did good” feeling.

Despite such a seemingly altruistic business model, we couldn’t help but expect to find the typical rushed barista and harried clientele. Instead, we were met with the kindest people and tiniest shop. So tiny in fact that the inside houses only a small counter and backroom, with seating all outside. On the street, fake grass lines the ground, and large wooden blocks are arranged around it. It’s clearly an attempt to create a little slice of hipster farmland squished into the chill and bustle of New York City. Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of the road only serves to create a frantic and chaotic feeling that we often try to escape from in coffee shops. Furthermore, in the middle of January, this is very simply, too cold.

The hot cocoa itself is small for its price but at least you know the money is benefiting someone—a quick look at their credentials can tell you just how the money helps coffee farmers. Sadly, the cup itself is thick enough that none of its comforting warmth can escape into your hands, quite a bad design. Well, no worries, it’s what’s inside that matters, right? However, the inside is not much better. Rather lumpy and thick with the bitter taste of cocoa powder alone, it’s the kind of drink that would make you feel healthy only because something this bitter must be.

Ultimately, the cheerful customers and promise of donated funds means this coffee shop produces more feelings of comradery than hot cocoa. It just depends on what you’re looking for.

Godiva Chocolatier—745 7th Ave, New York, NY 10019 ($6)

Hot Chocolate to Make a Religion Out of: 5/5 tea cups

This hot chocolate was just so, so, so good.

There were no remnants of hot chocolate powder that sat at the bottom of this cup. Made from Godiva’s chocolate collection, this cup of cocoa was silky in your mouth; the chocolate danced on your taste buds. If you’re lactose intolerant, you’d still be able to recognize how amazing this hot chocolate was.

This particular Godiva store sat on the corner of 7th Avenue and 50th Street, tucked away from the fast-paced movement of Times Square, the sounds of which disappear once you walk into the chocolatier. The hot chocolate totaled to an excessive $6. The price was then compounded by the size of the cup, which was a small. Once you finish the cup in five minutes, you’ll feel both satisfied, as you just found out what heaven tastes like, and unsatisfied, by the microscopic size of the cup.

If you’re trying to stay frugal, this might not be the best place. That was Godiva’s only failure, however, because the rest of the experience made it worth it. The entire room was coated in gold and chocolate adorned every shelf. The room was filled with parents and children, reminding you of a simpler time. It was manned by workers who smiled at you, complimented your belt, and discussed old New York with you. They try to relate to you, and that means they won’t fail to recognize the look on your face when you see the price of the hot cocoa. They’ll give you a pained smile, hand you the tiny cup, and as they bid you goodbye, they remind you that the drink is worth the money.

And of course, it is.

Maison Kayser—355 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013 ($4.50)

A Piece of Paris in New York City: 4/5 tea cups

“A piece of Paris in New York City” is their slogan, and it proves to reign true the moment you walk into the store. Traditional French pastries like éclairs, pâte à choux, and Saint-Honoré line the shelves in colorful fashion. French pop music echoes through your ears, as well as the bits of French that float around the restaurant from the French tourists who have decided to stop here for a piece of home. Pieces of French culture are also found in the workers, who attempt to add to the atmosphere by wearing stereotypical striped turtlenecks.

You are reminded that you’re in New York, however, when you see the prices. It’s not nearly as excessive as Godiva, but just expensive enough that you think your wallet feels a bit lighter the moment you walk out of the building. It’s alright, though, because it’s worth it—the quality of food is good, and the hot chocolate proves to be the same.

It’s warm, delectable, and the taste of chocolate is not overpowering—with more of a warm overtone, as if there was more milk than chocolate in the cup. Depending on the barista, you may or may not get an Instagram-worthy design on the top of your hot chocolate, but most of the time, it’s just bland whipped cream. That, of course, doesn’t deter from the hot chocolate, which is definitely one of the better ones we tasted.

It was enhanced by the whole dining experience there. If you decide to stay outside on the patio, which has French dining chairs, you can see the Hudson River, peeking from underneath the bridge that connects the buildings of Borough of Manhattan Community College. But with a croissant in your hand, the taste of hot chocolate in your mouth, and the muffled sound of Edith Piaf coming from inside the restaurant, you can pretend you’re overlooking the Seine.