Satisfy your chocolate cravings and warm up from the winter cold by participating in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest at various locations across the city during February.
Now in its sixth year, the Hot Chocolate Fest is hosted by Calgary’s Meals on Wheels and invites local businesses to register and compete for three prizes — Best Hot Chocolate, Best Spirited Hot Chocolate and Cup Runneth Over for the most funds raised through both sales and donations.
The competition’s opening ceremony was on Jan. 28 at the Calgary Farmer’s Market. The voting opened Feb. 1, marking the official start of the competition.
YYC Hot Chocolate has gained popularity since it began in 2011. Calgary Meals on Wheels marketing and communications coordinator Chris Mattock said these past two years of hot chocolate have been momentous for the festival.
“The number of vendors participating is through the roof. Last year was the turning of the corner — we doubled our vendor number from the previous year, we thought it was fantastic. This year we aimed for 50 and we wound up with 77,” Mattock says.
The 77 competing entries consist of 44 in the regular hot chocolate category and 33 in the spirited category. One dollar from every regular hot chocolate and two dollars from every spirited hot chocolate will go towards Calgary Meals on Wheels, a non-profit organization that makes and delivers meals to those unable to provide for themselves. Voting closes Feb. 28 and the winners will be announced in early March.
Gauntlet writers visited three competing vendors to review some of this year’s entries.
The Chocolate Orange — Oolong Tea House:
Located at the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St. NW, Oolong Tea House is a neighbourhood staple and features a wide variety of teas in minimalist yet decorative glass jars. The tea house is an unusual participant in this year’s YYC Hot Chocolate Fest, as other participants are predominantly coffee shops.
For their entry, Oolong created the Chocolate Orange — a beverage that combines orange rooibos tea with hot chocolate. The drink is reminiscent of a warm Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but is far more flavourful and far less sweet. The tea is multifaceted, with the chocolate complementing the citrus notes. The Chocolate Orange from Oolong is a unique experience — a thinner beverage that has the same “hug for your insides” quality you get from some dope hot cocoa.
Straying from traditional flavours may not be everyone’s cup of tea — or hot chocolate. But the orange flavour is subtle and doesn’t overpower the chocolate. Extra sugar isn’t necessary due to the sweetness of the chocolate. For those who prefer milk alternatives, Oolong offers a variety of dairy and non-dairy ways to customize your drink.
Oolong’s entry is worth a try since traditional hot chocolate often has a nasty habit of dulling the palate with sheer chocolatey flavour. While counter-intuitive, cutting the decadence of hot chocolate with tea is a welcome change in an otherwise overly sweet festival.
Salted Caramel Coconut Hot Chocolate — Higher Ground:
An organic coffee shop, restaurant and licensed purveyor in the heart of Kensington, Higher Ground serves fantastic coffee, baked goods and a surprisingly good Salted Caramel Coconut Hot Chocolate. I know what you’re thinking — another sickly sweet hot chocolate with some salted caramel and coconut jammed in to appeal to the masses — but this hot chocolate really does it well in the hectic environment of the café.
The Salted Caramel Coconut Hot Chocolate slaps you in the face with its coconut essence. The flavour is a mix of all the best parts of a classic hot chocolate with the after-taste of a fancy hipster drink. This hot chocolate would be best paired with a very cold day, some Uggs and a Snuggie. It will remind you that there is no possibility you will ever
have fresh coconut in this climate.
Either way, if you like salted caramel and hot chocolate, this drink is definitely for you. If this tropical twist on the classic hot chocolate doesn’t appeal to you on its own, remember that Higher Ground is licensed and a Salted Caramel Coconut Irish Hot Chocolate is a no-brainer.
Brothers in Chocolate — Janice Beaton Fine Cheese:
The hot chocolate that Janice Beaton Fine Cheese is serving up this February is anything but traditional. Christened with the name “Brothers in Chocolate,” Janice Beaton’s creation brings together ingredients sourced from across Canada. Dark chocolate from Master Chocolat — owned by Bernard Callebaut and operating out of the Calgary Farmer’s Market — is melted into organic cow’s milk from Rock Ridge Dairy in Ponoka, Alberta. This blend is then sweetened with Beeland Honey, which is produced in Spillimacheen, British Columbia and available at the Calgary’s Farmer’s Market. But the most unexpected component of their unique beverage is what lurks on the bottom — finely diced Five Brothers cheese from Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese in Woodstock, Ontario.
Admittedly, I was a bit wary of the addition of cheese — of all things — to my hot chocolate. It is a cross between Gouda and Swiss Alpine. When I tasted a piece on its own, it was sharp, with a bit of a pleasant tang to it. Aside from the slight sheen of oil that it produced as it melted though, the cheese wasn’t even initially noticeable in the beverage. I only picked it up if I focused on the taste or ate a small, deliciously melted piece as I neared the bottom of the cup.
This was one of the richest hot chocolates that I’ve ever tried, but in a thoroughly pleasant way. The dark chocolate adds a wonderful depth to the flavour and there is a perfect balance of sweetness — enough to offset the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate, but not so much as to be cloying. I also found it very creamy, which I assume is mostly the milk, but is likely increased slightly by the melting cheese.
If you’re feeling adventurous — or just want to make your cheese and chocolate pairing more efficient — Brothers in Chocolate is an excellent addition to your February hot chocolate tasting to-do list.