Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review - Ginger Elizabeth Hot Chocolate

I'll be honest with you - I can't remember how I found out about Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. They must have turned up in something I was reading online, or perhaps looking over a map of chocolate places here in California. However it happened, I'm glad I found them.

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates was started by Ginger Elizabeth Hahn in 2005 to be a responsible, sustainable chocolate company. They're located in Sacramento, where in 2008 they opened a small storefront. From pictures on their Facebook page, it seems the good people of Sacramento are perfectly aware of what a treasure they have there, as they line up down the block to get into the place!

After trying their amazing hot chocolate, I sent a message to them asking what details they could give me about how it's made. Wow! Traci, the manager there, gave me every bit of information I could have asked for! Unbelievably helpful!

When I ordered the hot chocolate tin from their online shop, I also bought a stick of their marshmallows. What a great way to package marshmallows! They form it in a plastic roll, and simply leave it there for the customer to cut into whatever size they choose.

Back to the chocolate! Traci informed me that they are not bean-to-bar chocolate makers, but that they source their chocolate from Valrhona in France, Felchlin in Switzerland, and Etienne Guittard here in the US. They are fondeurs, meaning they melt the sourced chocolate into their own custom varieties and flavors. Ginger herself creates those blends and flavors. The hot chocolate we're reviewing here is a 58% blend.

Online, they only have the Classic variety of hot chocolate available. In their boutique, they have a couple other varieties, Oaxacan and European. Go try them if you're near Sacramento! The Oaxacan also uses a 58% chocolate, but the European uses a 72%. Man, I sure wish I lived close enough to try them all out!

They have some recipes posted on their website, one for European hot chocolate and one for a Maya Coconut hot chocolate. As the European recipe on their site uses their Classic hot chocolate as the main ingredient, I'm guessing perhaps the one served in the boutique is a bit stronger at 72%.

The directions are straightforward, and I'm using milk rather than water. Like most amazing hot chocolates, the mix of real chocolate clumped together into perfect little morsels that dissolved quickly in the heated milk.

Someday I hope computers can transmit smells, because that picture above is worthy of the technology.

The finished drink is wonderful and rich, and that 58% is really obvious. Rather than a deep, bitter flavor, the hot chocolate tastes much more like a sweet milk chocolate. In fact, that's what got me writing to them in the first place. It didn't taste like the dark chocolates I was used to, so I was curious about the percentages they use. If you're not yet enjoying the dark chocolates, but want something much better than a typical powder mix hot cocoa, then this is your cup of chocolate! 

Click some of those links and order some, and be sure and tell them where you heard about them! And thank you, Traci at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. If only other hot chocolate makers were as responsive and informative as you guys are!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review - Commissary Hot Chocolate

Here in Burbank where I live, there is a depressing shortage of good hot chocolates. Sure, every diner on every street serves one in a small coffee cup, topped with whipped cream, but we all know that's just the powder mix. And cafes and coffee shops have hot chocolate, of course, but I've rarely found these to be up to the quality level I expect.

Earlier this year, Commissary opened right across the street from the Burbank Studios (formerly NBC). We had heard the coffee there was worth stopping in for, so one Saturday, my fiance, her sister, and I stopped by. And that leads us to this, my first review of a hot chocolate from a cafe or restaurant.

There was no hot chocolates listed on the menu, so I ordered a water with a pastry. As they were preparing the coffee my fiance and her sister had ordered, my fiance asked if they made hot chocolate. It turns out they do.

They told us they make a ganache with Tcho chocolate and use that with steamed milk to make it. Great! This is what I had been looking for here in my hometown! A great quality hot chocolate, using an amazing artisan chocolate like Tcho! Why wasn't it on the menu?
The next weekend we came back, and I asked about their hot chocolates. They make a regular and a cinnamon flavored one. I ordered both, along with a chocolate chip cookie. You can never have too much chocolate!

The verdict? Not bad, but not what I had hoped, either. The regular hot chocolate was tasty, but very mild. It tasted more of steamed milk than of hot chocolate. The cinnamon one had the same small amount of chocolate flavor but also very strong cinnamon. Cinnamon was definitely the dominant flavor, where as I thought the chocolate should have been.

I'm going to go again. Maybe the guy making it that day was a little off, or maybe I can even ask them to crank it up a notch for me. I'd love it if they really let the Tcho chocolate come through and be the main flavor. They're definitely on the right path, using the right stuff. They just need to amp it up a bit.

Los Angeles certainly has plenty of amazing hot chocolates, and I plan to review many more. In fact, sometime soon I'd like to do a post on my top ten in the city. Anyone have any recommendations? As for Burbank, I'm still searching. Have you tried the hot chocolate at Commissary? What did you think?

UPDATE 7/24/14 - I stopped in again, and this time when I ordered the regular hot chocolate, I asked them to make it double strong. He asked me "Double the chocolate?" to which I replied, naturally, "Yes, please!". Much better! This was the hot chocolate I had been hoping for. Very chocolatey and rich, you could really taste the quality chocolate this time. I'm not sure what kind of milk they used as the base, but it was a bit thin. That's a minor critique, though. If you go, order a double strong hot chocolate.