Business and Operations
Warm up to hot chocolate
November 15, 2012 By Stefanie Wallace
As children, many Canadians spend cold, wintery days outside after school or on the weekends building snowmen and tobogganing.
As children, many Canadians spend cold, wintery days outside after school or on the weekends building snowmen and tobogganing. When it’s time to come inside, there’s nothing like a mug of hot chocolate, topped with marshmallows or whipped cream, to warm up with. The comforting flavour and sweet smell are hard to beat.
|Add a twist to a mug of hot chocolate with a unique garnish and flavour.
In its 2011 coffee and tea market intelligence report, Technomic states coffee and tea comprise 41 per cent of non-alcoholic beverages on restaurant menus, while hot chocolate holds only 2.1 per cent of the share. With so many beverage options, it’s easy to pass on hot chocolate in favour of something else. But the childhood favourite is making a comeback among adults, thanks to chains like Starbucks and Tim Hortons, which offer specialty hot chocolate creations like salted caramel and peppermint through the winter months. For those who aren’t coffee or tea drinkers, these beverages can offer the same sense of indulgence that a cappuccino or tea latte might bring. The rising popularity of hot chocolate with a twist couldn’t have come at a better time. A recent study published in Hypertension journal, led by Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, director of the geriatric division at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, has found that people given cocoa drinks had better working memories, higher scores in reasoning tests and improved blood sugar control than those without. If ever there were a good time to add more hot chocolate into our diets, it would be now.
Incorporating hot chocolate into the menu of their business was an easy decision for Joanne Mogridge and her husband, Carlos Vela-Martinez. The pair own Cocoa West Chocolatier, a chocolate boutique and café on Bowen Island, a small island municipality just five kilometres west of Vancouver. Besides its organic chocolate truffles, the Cocoa West Café is known for its artisan hot chocolate creations – a natural fit for the business. “We knew hot chocolate would be a large part of our business from the get-go,” says Mogridge, a Maitre Chocolatier. “Carlos’s father is from Mexico, and as a child, he would go to Mexico to visit family. That’s when he was exposed to his grandmother making hot chocolate for them . . . it’s a big part of tradition,” she explains.
Despite its hometown’s small size (the island’s population is approximately 3,500 people, which grows through the summer months thanks to tourists), Cocoa West Chocolatier has had great demand for its artisan hot chocolate. The business has been awarded the title of best hot chocolate in the lower mainland, and Mogridge and Vela-Martinez see a great mix of regular customers and new customers visiting to try their creations. Mogridge says her numbers are fairly equal when it comes to customers ordering hot chocolate versus coffee, tea or other hot drinks.
She says she has customers visit just because they’ve heard so much about their hot chocolate, but believes people are drawn to the drink for other reasons, too. “There’s definitely some comfort in it, and lots of people are trying to change their caffeine habits.”
|Cocoa West uses chocolate shavings, which provide a rich, smooth drink and help turn the beverage into an experience, according to Joanne Mogridge.
Mogridge says she has noticed a change in the chocolate industry since Cocoa West opened 10 years ago. “We’ve always had a strong demand here because we are a chocolate café, but the industry has changed a bit,” she says. “Chocolate has been marketed more like wine, in terms of origins and percentages . . . It becomes a destination; the chocolate that you have gives you the experience of something very fulfilling.” For some, it could be reminiscent of childhood; for others, it’s the opportunity to make the day stop, and to savour and indulge in something delicious. Regardless, Mogridge’s goal is to give her customers an escape.
Mogridge and Vela-Martinez have developed several artisanal hot chocolate blends, all using their signature organic chocolate shavings – added sugar and powdered cocoa have no place on their hot chocolate menu. But the unique flavours are what really sets one apart from the next.
Besides a classic hot chocolate, made with milk chocolate shavings and a touch of cinnamon and aromatics, some of Cocoa West’s signature hot chocolate options include the Seville, a robust blend of rich, dark chocolate. In a nod to Vela-Martinez’s Mexican heritage, the Poblano variety is named for the city and people of Puebla, Mexico, where his father is from. The name also hints at the flavours of the drink: made with a dark blend of chocolate and chili, the drink is spicy. Other varieties of their creations are added to their menu from time to time, including the rich and decadent Parisian: a mug of hot liquid chocolate with a separate serving of steamed milk, for customers to mix to their liking. Hungarian Heat, a variety with paprika flavouring that isn’t a menu mainstay, is a tribute to Mogridge’s brother, who lives in Budapest, Hungary. And the Sojourn, which is available for wholesale, is Cocoa West’s version of instant hot chocolate. “We’ve added organic skim milk powder [to the chocolate shavings] to give it creaminess when you add hot water,” she says, making it easier for their customers to enjoy a cup of Cocoa West’s hot chocolate wherever they may be. Its name is suggestive of the experience Mogridge and Vela-Martinez aim to provide their customers: making their beverages an experience, not just a drink. “We want them to be transported, to their childhood, or their vacation in Mexico.”
Experience and flavour are nothing without presentation. All of Cocoa West’s hot chocolate beverages are served in white china with a saucer, on a silver tray, accompanied by a small glass of water. “Presentation goes back to the experience – take your moment, sit down, and make the day stop.”
When it comes to creating artisanal hot chocolate recipes, Mogridge advises looking to your own tastes for inspiration. “To me, it mattered that things were organic; it’s a personal decision. Experiment! Think about the things you like – would other people like that? I tend to stay away from the crazy exotic flavours, like wasabi hot chocolate, for example,” she says. “It’s not something I’m going to enjoy myself. There may be one or two customers who would like it, but the reality is that people will try it once out of interest, and they won’t try it again.”
And of course, hot chocolate would be nothing without premium ingredients, which, Mogridge says, is the most important thing to keep in mind when coming up with new flavours and creations. “Using the best ingredients possible is always number 1.”
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