A little luxury during winter is hot chocolate, made all the sweeter when served in a setting that goes beyond the disappearing act of powdered cocoa in steamed milk or boiling water.
Hot cocoa is an especially decadent treat at these destinations, so consider a road trip to stretch out your time with a special Valentine.
Charmant Hotel, La Crosse: Take a seat near the fireplace in The Parlour, where hot chocolate is a signature drink because this boutique hotel was a candy factory in 1898. Your drink is made with organic milk and topped with whipped cream, plus a sprinkle of sea salt.
Stay overnight to get a treat from Indulgence Chocolatiers, based in Milwaukee and known for creating unusual flavor combos (blackberry espresso, anyone?). The Sweets Bar serves the chocolate maker’s flavored truffles and macarons, 24/7. thecharmanthotel.com
Chocolate Chisel, Port Washington: Travels to Spain and Mexico inspire offerings at a “hot chocolate bar” where drinks of steamed milk with melted chocolate are available “in flavors that match our truffles or your imagination.” Order dark, milk, white or a blend of grated chocolate.
Substitute soy, almond or coconut milk for traditional 2 percent, skim or whole. Consider a flavored syrup or a dash of spice. Pay attention to seasonal choices – like pumpkin spice hot chocolate in autumn. Add espresso to turn your drink into a hot mocha; indulge in a side of edible art (truffles, turtles, choco bars and barks are handcrafted). chocolatechisel.com
Chocolaterian Café, Middleton: Match 12 or 16 ounces of traditional hot chocolate with one of the 70-some desserts made inhouse. Think Badger Bait (a finger-length brownie, topped with buttercream and drenched with ganache) to a Box of Ugly (beautifully imperfect cookies with choco chips, cocoa nibs, toffee and more).
Another option: Savor a 4-ounce Parisian-style drinking chocolate that is dark, thick and decadently rich all on its own. “Like drinking a truffle,” says the owner, who creates tarts, truffles, mousse and more. Plus quiches and crepes, to make a meal. chocolateriancafe.com
Cocoa Crawl, Oshkosh: Pay $11 for a sample of specialty hot cocoas from at least 15 businesses, then vote for your favorite during this second annual event from 2-5 p.m. Feb. 23 downtown. Favorites during the inaugural year included You’re Bacon Me Crazy (dark cocoa, smoky whipped cream and candied bacon bits) and Liquid Gold (infused with butterscotch and caramel).
Another $12 pays for an event mug; one-half of proceeds helps a shelter for the homeless. Arrive early and take a spin on the city’s new ice rink, next to where the check-in for cocoa consumption begins. downtownoshkosh.com
Craverie Chocolatier Café, Kohler: Herb Kohler’s sweet tooth is showing on the choco-centric menu that includes a five-layer chocolate cake, chocolate-dipped cookie sandwich (with peanut butter and caramel filling) and nips of chocolate-infused brandy.
This is where a compact but fine line of Kohler-made chocolates sits under glass like fine jewels. A serving of hot chocolate is a blend of cocoa powder and 55 percent dark chocolate. Pair it with a dark chocolate and sea salt croissant or, at the other extreme, a Buddha Bowl of quinoa, brown rice, black beans and veggies. destinationkohler.com
Door County Coffee and Tea Company, Carlsville: Easily more than 100 products are made here, including nine types of hot cocoa: double fudge, French vanilla, salted caramel truffle and more. Buy them by the 7-ounce tin or order one with a meal at the roaster’s café.
This is where cinnamon rolls bake like French toast and are served with a warm coffee-caramel drizzle. Or munch on a Pilgrim Sandwich: turkey, cheddar, greens and cherry chutney. On weekdays, watch bean roasters do their work in small batches. doorcountycoffee.com
Red Elephant Chocolate, Milwaukee: Hot chocolate involves melted shavings of “black diamond” dark chocolate, which is good for making cookies and other desserts too. A low-calorie and caffeine-free version of hot chocolate uses crushed cocoa beans that are steeped like tea.
Consider this destination as a place to learn as well as indulge. Meet the world’s rarest chocolate. Sign up for a 45-minute class about the history, harvest and uses of chocolate. Buy elephant-shaped chocolate pops and bars. redelephantchocolate.com
Sjolinds Chocolate House, Mount Horeb: Buy hot chocolate by the cup or the mix (eight flavors – including the West Indies blend of ginger, peanut butter, allspice and dark chocolate – are sold in 9-ounce containers).
Top a steaming cup of hot chocolate with a pudgy marshmallow, made inhouse, or order a traditional Scandinavian breakfast (fruit soup, Swedish pancakes). Work here begins with raw cocoa beans that are roasted, so brewed chocolate (like the Red Elephant) is another drink option sjolinds.com