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Cold weather drinks heat up

Coffee and tea are served year-round, but come winter, operators start filling mugs with more inventive hot beverages. And cocoa is gaining steam.

“We’re making adult versions of kids’ classics, using quality ingredients,” explains Jon Payson, owner with wife Naomi Josepher of The Chocolate Room, two chocolate boutiques and dessert cafes in Brooklyn, New York. His Classic Hot Chocolate is brewed with a blend of E. Guittard 38 percent milk chocolate and Valrhona cocoa infused with bourbon vanilla. Dark Hot Chocolate is made with 60 percent bittersweet Belgian chocolate. “It’s powerful but not bitter, smooth and dark,” notes the chocolatier. Both drinks are $4.50. In summer, there’s an iced version of the Classic Hot Chocolate.

The Chocolate Room also offers a spiced version of the dark hot chocolate, spiked with chipotle chile powder, cinnamon and cloves for “extra kick.” The Classic is served in a wide-mouth mug; the darker Hot Chocolate, which is richer and thicker, is proffered in a cappuccino cup. Either can be topped with fresh whipped cream or housemade marshmallows (75 cents extra). For caffeine addicts, there’s Cafe Lou, the house-blend coffee mixed with bittersweet hot chocolate; and Cafe Torino, a cup of bittersweet hot chocolate and a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk. The coffee is organic and Fair Trade Certified, and Payson has recently embarked upon a cooperative project with farmers in Madagascar.

Sweet accent

Although hot cocoa is often considered an American classic, it has its roots in Mexico. The Mayans and Aztecs were drinking the bitter dark brew long before Spanish conquerors carried the New World delicacy back to the Old World. Indeed, the name chocolate comes from the Nahuatl word “xocolatl.”

Nowadays, Mexican chocolate is quite different from the familiar U.S type. It’s mixed with granulated sugar, imparting a gritty texture. And Mexican chocolate is invariably flavored with cinnamon and sometimes ground chilies or almonds. The leading Mexican chocolate brands are Ibarra and Abuelita.

“We just put the Abuelita hot chocolate program in all 45 of our restaurants,” says Cesar Chavez, general manager of Vancouver, Washington-based Muchas Gracias Mexican Food. “Our foodservice supplier recommended the product and connected us with the Nestle rep, who gave a presentation,” recalls the GM. “They came up with the right flavor; we liked it.”

The hot chocolate’s sweet cinnamon flavor is typical of Mexican hot cocoa and appeals to Muchas Gracias’ Hispanic customer base.

Promoted with big posters in store windows and other POS materials, the Abuelita hot chocolate is priced $2.25 for 16 ounces.

Next summer, according to the GM, a new Nestle dispenser will allow Muchas Gracias to offer iced chocolate drinks as well.

Hot and potent

As soon as the weather turns cold, customers are begging me to break out the glogg,” says Scott Martin, owner of Simon’s Tavern in Chicago. The Swedish hot mulled wine is a traditional holiday beverage, and Simon’s has been serving the winter warmer since 1934.

When Martin bought the bar 15 years ago, he continued the tradition, brewing up a family recipe but decidedly not in family-style portions. Every season he sells well over 1,000 gallons of glogg.

Located in Chicago’s Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville, Simon’s Tavern is crammed with Viking paraphernalia that includes a Norse shield, a horned helmet and an ancient axe, but it also taps trendy brews like Belgian ales and Rogue Dead Guy. And then there’s the glogg.

Martin won’t reveal all the details of his father’s recipe, but his glogg is based on Port wine simmered with raisins, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom seeds, orange peel and almonds. Every day, he reheats about five gallons to dispense from an insulated thermos. Martin serves four ounces of glogg in a mug garnished with a gingersnap for $5.

“On Thanksgiving Eve, I put a big neon sign in the window that announces, ‘It’s Glogg Time,’” he says, describing the annual ritual.

Lucky patrons are treated to a turkey dinner, and the season’s first batch is dispensed with great ceremony. Martin keeps hot glogg on the menu as long as it’s cold outside. In the summer, Simon’s offers Glogg Coolers and Glogg Slushies, which are non-alcoholic and not as popular as the hot stuff.

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