Back when “winter” first began in Boston this year, I stumbled upon an article on Boston.com that listed the best places to get hot chocolate in the city and surrounding area. Considering how extensive the list is, including places that are better known for coffee or pastry or even lunch, I actually think it was just a list of places that served hot chocolate, period, not necessarily a “best” list. Nevertheless, I took it as a challenge. Why not check out all 18 places in the article and decide for myself who has the best hot chocolate?
I failed. Miserably. Over the last three months I have been to a whopping three places on the list. It’s not entirely my fault. It’s awfully difficult to think about going for hot chocolate when it’s 85 degrees in March. Had the list suggested “best places for iced tea on an unseasonable day in February” perhaps I would have had better luck.
The first place I tried was L.A. Burdick in Harvard Square. I went around noon, opting for a chocolate-overload lunch. Nutritionally, probably not smart, but in terms of beating the crowds, an excellent idea. L.A. Burdick is, at its essence, a chocolate shop. You can buy all sorts of delicious looking truffles and artisan chocolates, including their signature chocolate mice that have a cute little ribbon for a tail. The cafe portion of the shop is designed more for takeout than for sitting and savoring. There are only a handful of seats, awkwardly close together, and nowhere to stand while you wait for a table to open up.
I’ve actually been back to L.A. Burdick on a second occasion since my first time. The first time I ordered a dark hot chocolate – and a large! – believing that I had an unusually high choco-tolerance. Coupled with a slice of mocha cake, it was actually more than I could handle. The second time I was more sensible. I ordered a milk hot chocolate – a small! – and a little piece of flowerless chocolate cake appropriately named the “Harvard Square” (it was, of course, square). I would definitely recommend going with the less-is-more approach at L.A. Burdick. Even if you’re a certified chocoholic like me, that stuff is intense!
My second stop on the hot chocolate tour was 1369 Coffee House in Central Square. I’d actually been to the one in Inman Square before, but for coffee. Rather than getting a plain hot chocolate, I decided to try something unique to 1369, a Milky Way hot chocolate. I was a little disappointed. For starters, the 1369 Coffee House is not a very comfortable place. Like at L.A. Burdick, it’s hard to find someplace to sit. But that’s not because there aren’t a lot of tables. It’s because 1369 has free WiFi and people tend to set up shop and stay a while. I was one of the only people there without a laptop. I’m sure those people are used to doing work in public places, but I can’t help feeling like I’m disturbing them with my conversation. It’s awkward.
The other thing that was awkward was my hot chocolate. It came in a pint glass. That works for beer. You know, cold beer. It’s quite another thing for hot chocolate. Have you tried holding a glass of hot beverage without a handle? The Milky Way part was also kind of nonexistent. I expected there to be much more caramel flavor. For the price, it wasn’t much better than what I could make at home.
My last stop (so far) was Max Brenner. What a wild and wacky place! Inside, Max Brenner is kind of like an upscale version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The shelves are lined with beakers and tubes filled with different kind of chocolate, and there are brown pipes running across the ceiling. I half expected an Oompa Loompa in a tux to be our waiter. The minute you walk inside Max Brenner, you smell chocolate. You stop noticing it after a few minutes, but at first it’s very overwhelming… and tempting. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a legitimate smell coming from the kitchen or if it’s fake, piped-in chocolate smell, designed to get you to buy more. I don’t know, and I’m not sure that I care!
The menu at Max Brenner is also overwhelming. They have a full line-up of “real food” as well as a smorgasbord of chocolate delights, waffles and crêpes, fondue, s’mores, even chocolate pizza. The drink list is extensive, too, from martinis to milkshakes. But I was there for the hot chocolate, so hot chocolate I did have. Max Brenner is all about the unusual, hands-on chocolate experience, so I decided to try the Sucao “make your own” hot chocolate. It comes on a tray with a little ceramic egg that has a well on the top filled with milk and a hole in the middle for a tea-light. On the other side of the tray is another small pitcher of milk, and in the middle there’s a small plate of chocolate chunks. There’s also a long metal straw that doubles as a spoon. The waiter just put it down in front of me and left, so I had to call him back over to give me instructions on what to do. You’re supposed to scoop and stir the chocolate into the egg well and then use the straw to drink it from there. The extra milk is to replenish as you go along. It’s an interesting, but flawed, concept. Drinking hot chocolate through a metal straw is even less ideal than drinking it from a handle-less pint glass. Nevermind the inevitable burnt tongue, the straw even gets too hot to hold! Eventually, when I had drunk enough of it to fit all of the extra milk and chocolate into the egg well, I blew out the candle and let the whole thing cool down a little. Overall, I think the Sucao hot chocolate was a little too complicated to enjoy properly. Nevertheless, I intend to go back to Max Brenner sometime soon. There’s a long list of delicious-sounding items on the menu that I have to try!
Going to three of the eighteen “best” hot chocolate spots in Boston doesn’t really give me the right to judge, but I’m going to do it anyway. Based on this limited research, I say L.A. Burdick is definitely the place to go.
Have you been to any of the places on the list? What’s your favorite and why? Where should I go next? Leave a comment and let me know!