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Hot stuff! ; A NeXt quest to find the perfect cup of hot cocoa

There is no better cure for a Buffalo winter than a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Buffalo is full of cafes, restaurants and coffee shops that provide customers with a chocolaty oasis. With this in mind, a group of high school students recently set out to visit five such locations, seeking the best cup of hot chocolate.

All five spots can be found within a few blocks of each other. They are located up and down Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo (some with many other locations in Western New York). The hot chocolate was judged based on five criteria on a scale of 1 to 5. The first category was temperature. The hotter the hot chocolate, the higher it scored on the temperature scale. A 4 on the scale was considered the perfect temperature. The hot chocolate was also judged based on its chocolate taste, creaminess, presentation and overall taste.

The first stop was Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons has become a symbol of Buffalo culture. Its red and yellow logo always signals delicious hot drinks. Tim Hortons serves regular hot chocolate and for a treat during the holidays, candy cane hot chocolate.

While the regular hot chocolate is good, the candy cane hot chocolate is an ideal holiday drink. The peppermint flavor is an excellent addition to the traditional hot chocolate.

Here are the results:

Regular Hot Chocolate/Candy Cane Hot Chocolate (Small, regular, $1.21; candy cane, $1.71)

Temperature -- 4/4

Chocolate -- 3/3

Creaminess -- 2/2

Presentation -- 3/3

Overall Taste -- 3. 5/4

Spot Coffee, at Delaware Avenue and Chippewa, has an impressive atmosphere. Bring your friends and relax in a plush chair or couch, as you listen to music and drink rich Ghirardelli hot chocolate. The presentation of the hot chocolate at Spot Coffee adds to the experience. One of the employees at Spot Coffee says they can "make you a hot chocolate that looks like a bride."

(Small, $2.85)

Temperature -- 4

Chocolate -- 4

Creaminess -- 4

Presentation -- 4

Overall Taste -- 4.5

Starbucks was the next stop for the group. Starbucks' hot chocolate is for the dark chocolate lover. Its hot chocolate is the only hot chocolate out of the five locations visited that had a distinct dark chocolate taste.

(Small, $2.55)

Temperature -- 2

Chocolate -- 5

Creaminess -- 4

Presentation -- 3

Overall Taste -- 3

The next destination was Dunkin' Donuts. What Dunkin' Donuts lacks in style, it makes up for in a unique-tasting hot chocolate. Dunkin' Donuts has a lighter hot chocolate than any of the others sampled. It seemed to have a marshmallow flavor to it. It is not fancy or creamy, but simple.

(Small, $1.49)

Temperature -- 5

Chocolate -- 4

Creaminess -- 3

Presentation -- 1

Overall Taste -- 4

The final hot chocolate sampled was from the Chocolate Bar. As Virginia Demske, a senior at Frontier High School, put it, "This is the winner."

Tasting this hot chocolate is like tasting liquid gold. Warmed to the perfect temperature, its rich consistency sends ripples of happiness down a person's throat.

Nathan Roach, a senior at Frontier, described the experience: "I feel like I'm tasting chocolate syrup, but better."

Frontier senior Darius Edwards said, "I could drink this every single day and be fine with it."

(Small, $5.79)

Temperature -- 4

Chocolate -- 5

Creaminess -- 5

Presentation -- 5

Overall Taste -- 5

Whether you are looking for a light marshmallow drink, a dark chocolate binge, a splash of peppermint or a deluxe creamy experience, there's something for everyone at these cafes. Though you may not crave a chocolate drink every day, you never know how much fun it may be to take a day and try some of the area's finest hot chocolate.

Monica Disare is a senior at Frontier High School.

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