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Taste Test: Hot Chocolate

There’s hot chocolate, and there’s hot chocolate. Or, to be more precise, there’s hot cocoa—that innocuous frothy drink—and then there’s its grown-up counterpart, the dark and mercilessly rich indulgence known as drinking chocolate. Made by melting haute chocolate into milk, cream, or water, the diet-be-damned drink is best taken in dainty sips from china cups, with equal degrees of abandon and remorse. It is one of winter’s saving graces, and should be administered, like medicine, in enough regular, potent doses to carry you through to spring. Here are the city’s best, in order.

1. The City Bakery
3 W. 18th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-366-1414
A year-round staple, New York’s best-known hot chocolate is celebrated each February with a rotating selection of oddball flavors. But the original, with its assertive bouquet, signature tang, and soft, aerated mouthfeel, is perfection in a four-ounce $2 shot.

2. MarieBelle’s Cacao Bar
484 Broome St., nr. Wooster St.; 212-925-6999
The drinking chocolate is made from Colombian beans and served in two styles: “European” is blended with water, “American” with milk. Tellingly, only the European is available in the petit size, which is really all you need of the bracingly bitter “dark” variety ($5.50).

3. Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
1 Fifth Ave., at 8th St.; 212-995-9559
No one will look askance if you commandeer a seat at the bar or a spot at a marble counter just for a cup of gianduja calda, a medium-thick, mouth-coatingly rich blend of milk and hazelnut chocolates, melted with hazelnut-steeped milk ($4.50).

4. Pierre Marcolini
485 Park Ave., nr. 58th St.; 212-755-5150
Each day one of three rotating “single origin” varieties is on offer at this Belgian chocolatier: Madagascar, Venezuela, or “Equateur.” A thinnish body belies an intensely strong flavor, making for a drink easier to finish than many of its creamier rivals ($3 for a petit).

5. Bar Jamón
125 E. 17th St., nr. Irving Pl.; 212-253-2773
In the Spanish tradition, this ultrathick concoction comes with cinnamon-sugar-dusted churros, which one may dunk in the subtly spiced, espresso-machine-steamed chocolate during the relative quiet of a weekend afternoon ($6).

6. Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man
841 Broadway, nr. 13th St.; 212-388-0030
The single sign of sophistication in a glitzy kiddie candyland, the Italian Thick Hot Chocolate (“dark” variety) is well balanced and not too sweet, with an appealing aftertaste ($4.90).

7. Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson St., at King St.; 212-414-2462
A household name among New York chocoholics, Torres reigns over a cocoa cottage industry. With its quick-forming skin and incredibly thick, creamy mouthfeel, his is a hot chocolate for chocolate-pudding lovers ($3).

8. La Maison du Chocolat
30 Rockefeller Plaza, nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-265-9404
You’ll pay dearly for the elegant presentation: the triple-decker Deshoulières china, the mocha-colored napkin tucked just so. But the bittersweet Caracas is deep, dark, pleasingly acidic, and just sweet enough ($8).

9. Tisserie
857 Broadway, at 17th St.; 212-463-0850
This Venezuelan import steams its native “Organic Carenero Superior 57%” with milk for a drink with a caramelly sweetness, thinnish body, and foamy head—unless you request the dark, mildly tangy molten-chocolate base straight up, which would be our suggestion ($2.95 for a small).