Winter is back in Miami. We don’t get days below 70 degrees too often, but when we do, the coveted puffy jackets and old Ugg Boots come out to play. It’s time to set aside our cold brews and cortaditos in favor of a mugful of cocoa to warm our hands and soothe our sunburnt souls.
It is a known fact that I’m a hot chocolate fiend. When my favorite hometown coffee shop closed, I convinced them to give me their never-miss cocoa recipe. I ordered horká čokoláda practically everywhere I went when I was studying abroad in the Czech Republic. I’m not an expert in any academic sense, but if the amount of hot chocolate I’ve ordered over the years qualifies me to rank Miami’s foremost cocoas, then this list is it.
Zak the Baker
This is the best hot chocolate that I’ve had in Miami. When I look for hot chocolate, I look for 1) a uniform distribution of chocolate, 2) steamed milk for lightness but not too much foam, 3) a drinkable but not lukewarm temperature and 4) flavors that actually emphasize rich, dark chocolate. Nothing is more disappointing than Nesquik-type mixes that mask a lack of flavor with excess sugar. A layer of small bubbles on top and a uniform dark color are indicators of a good hot chocolate.
Zak the Baker has it all – a complex chocolate with hints of winter spices and coconut, not overburdened with sugar. It also has masterful, naturally-leavened pastries to pair and the pastrami down the street at its deli is beyond compare.
I led with the best one, which is such a faux pas in click-bait, listicle “journalism.” But I live to serve my readers, so if you want you can stop reading here and have a delicious hot drink. Or you can keep reading and see if a different cocoa fits your preferences and more importantly learn which cocoas not to order (looking at you, Honeybee Donuts).
Zak the Baker Bakery: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 295 NW 26th St.
Panther Coffee (I go to the one in Coconut Grove) is second to ZTB. Hot chocolate isn’t readily apparent on the menu because its specialty, as the name suggests, is coffee – and interesting small-batch roasted coffees at that.
I have absolutely had better hot chocolate. I’ve been drinking it around the world after all, but this is a solid, standard coffee shop cocoa for when you want to feel classier and more indulgent than microwaving skim milk and adding clumpy, 2-year-expired Swiss Miss. You’ll get delicate clouds of foam and uniform consistency and flavor. But unless you’re really in the mood for a cocoa, stick to its specialty and get a coffee.
Panther Coffee: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, 3407 Main Hwy.
Do yourself a favor and take a nice stroll over here from campus and get yourself one of these donuts. They’re great. But this is not Annie’s Gotta Eat donuts today. Do yourself another flavor and do not order one of its hot chocolates. It seems enticing, let me tell you, with a whole “hot chocolate bar” featuring all kinds of toppings.
But this is a classic example of Miamians just not knowing how to do hot chocolate.
The majority of the toppings on the hot chocolate bar just don’t make any sense for the drink, such as sandy graham cracker crumbles and flavorless rainbow sprinkles. The most egregious – gummy bears. Who wants congealed gelatinous bears swimming in a tepid chocolate drink until they drown and dissolve into an artificial fruit-flavored blob clinging to clumps of chocolate powder at the bottom of the cup? Not me. Other options such as chocolate chips wouldn’t have even begun to melt in the drink that was the temperature of that last helping of lasagna you take after it’s been sitting out for an hour. Now that I think of it, the texture of the excessive amount of barely dissolved clumps of chocolate powder made the mouthfeel of the drink similar to little pieces of mushy lasagna noodles.
Honeybee Donuts: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m Sunday. 7388 Red Road. Store may close if donuts are sold out earlier.
Green Gables Cafe
Green Gables Cafe’s cocoa is last, not because it was the worst but because it completely defies categorization and comparison to the rest. It is its own creation. My fans (as if I have fans) out there who love culinary adventures and trying new things will want to head to Green Gables this cocoa season. The hot chocolate comes unsweetened and is made from organic cocoa beans. That means you can practically taste that nutrient-rich soil of tropical rainforests where the beans were grown. It tastes earthy but still manages not to taste like dirt. The steamed milk definitely helps to cut the bitterness of the unsweetened cocoa. But there’s no shame in adding a packet or two of the organic sugar that comes on the side.
Green Gables Cafe: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 327 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables.
Annie Cappetta is managing editor of The Miami Hurricane. She is a senior majoring in political science and ecosystem science and policy.