Hot chocolate is something you grow up loving.
As a child, you have it at home, pouring crystallized powder with mini marshmallows out of brown, paper packets, into a mug. You order it at diners and fancy restaurants, as a warm stand-in for Coke or Shirley Temples, and can immediately tell if they used one of those packets with water or real chocolate syrup and hot milk.
When you grow up, and possibly turn over to the caffeinated dark roast side, hot chocolate becomes more of a rare treat than essential post-sledding-session fuel. But it doesn't necessarily have to. (Plus, if you really need that energy boost, you could always order the hot chocolate-espresso-hybrid, a mocha.)
Not all hot chocolate is created equal. Some excel in sheer chocolatey-ness. Others shine in creative flavor combinations.
Just like you can count on a cafe having coffee, you can count on ordering a hot chocolate, too. Here are some of the hot chocolate choices at Buffalo cafes.
391 Washington St.
Barista Johnny Jeter describes a special hot chocolate using words like "ganache" and "melt" that in a perfect world, would always be associated with hot chocolate, but in reality, are usually relegated to European dessert drinks.
"It's also fun to make," Jeter said.
At Public Espresso, they melt Belgian dark chocolate chips into heavy cream and whisk it up to create a ganache. ("It's something you usually find on pastries and in cakes," Jeter said.). Then add it to milk and steam the whole concoction. On top, they place a homemade marshmallow, either plain or the seasonal assortment, while supplies last.
"If you get a hot chocolate and it doesn’t come with a marshmallow, does it even count?" Public Espresso asked on Facebook.
If you get a hot chocolate and it doesn’t come with a marshmallow, does it even count? #publicespresso
160 Allen St.
Grindhaus was Buffalo's first all-vegetarian restaurant when it opened in 2015. So, we would expect vegetarian hot chocolate from the cafe.
"All of them are vegan," said Manager Ari Matteliano, adding said you wouldn't know the difference between their vegan hot chocolate and a non-vegan one. "I would say it's comparable because of how good the cocoa powder is."
For the Grindhaus signature hot chocolate, they use high-fat Belgian cocoa butter and almond milk. Other wintry options including a candy cane hot chocolate made with peppermint syrup, and a cocoa cafe, which is a half-hot chocolate, half-coffee blend.
All hot chocolates are seasonal. Grindhaus makes them in large batches, "only from around when it starts to snow, up until right before spring hits."
[Read more: A guide to Niagara County coffee shops]
1862 Hertel Ave.
Hot chocolate is best accompanied with a sled and a snowy hill, but live music works, too.
While warming up with a thick, chocolatey blend of milk, sugar and chocolate, cozy up in one of the cafe's well-loved leather couches and listen to local musicians tackle popular covers and showcase original music, generally while playing piano or strumming an acoustic guitar.
You can expect a "very creamy" hot chocolate, made with chocolate sauce and steamed milk. For a slight variation, try the Chocolate Hope, a hot chocolate blended with peppermint syrup with crushed peppermint candies on top.
423 Elmwood Ave.
When Root & Bloom opened, the entire dining area sat under a back patio/gazebo. A beautiful gazebo, that is, with natural wood furnishings, crocheted holders cradling lush plants, pillows and trinkets in hues of pink and cream. But once the weather turned, a patio wasn't going to cut it anymore.
Root & Bloom's indoor location is open all-year-round, filling the (slightly shrinking) vegan-shaped void in Buffalo's culinary scene. Over the summer, one could indulge in vegan milkshakes. They're planning to open a vegan ice cream shop, too. And as long as the weather is cold, order a peanut butter hot chocolate.
"It's decadent, rich and comforting, for sure. One of our best-sellers," said Kristen Brown, front-of-house manager.
They make it with house-made peanut butter chocolate syrup, vegan milk, and a splash of coffee, then top it with vegan whipped cream, a vegan marshmallow and a drizzle of syrup on top.
[Related: Restaurant review of Root & Bloom]
957 Elmwood Ave.
Caffe Aroma is an old-school cafes that remains open until midnight and also sells beer, wine and spiked hot chocolates. You could order a spiked version of the drink, featuring a shot of Bailey's or the anise-flavored liqueur, Sambuca.
You could enjoy the plain chocolate taste, alcohol- and-flavor-shot-free, of a beverage made with Ghirardelli sweet hot chocolate powder and steamed milk. Or you could order one with flavoring, choosing from shots such as peppermint, caramel and amaretto. A cinnamon hot chocolate is made with the ground spice. They're all available all-year-round.
220 Grant St.
At Sweet_ness 7, the hot chocolate is a made-from-scratch drink of cocoa powder, sugar, whipped cream and milk. Barista Derell Albro said the classic hot chocolate has a medium amount of chocolatey flavor "with a hint of cocoa and creamy texture." Or you can add your own flavors.
"It's a really huge selection of what you can throw in it ... but you have to ask for it," Albro said, listing off several potential flavors including cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, butterscotch, hazelnut, strawberry, peach, raspberry and peppermint.
Whatever your flavor, relish it in Sweet_ness 7's homey environment, where they cultivate an ideal hot-chocolate-consuming atmosphere.
1503 Hertel Ave., 5933 Main St., Williamsville
You'll need to check Lloyd's cocktail menu to find its hot chocolate, and you'll need to be older than 21 to order it. The Aztec hot chocolate is a heated libation of mezcal, hot chocolate and mellow, a housemade marshmallow made by Churn that has an orange-spiced flavor.
At a bar known for its icy margaritas, a torrid glass of chocolatey agave is a welcome change in the dead of winter, especially to help wash down a chicken and waffles taco.
388 Porter Ave.
VilaVerde's basic peanut butter hot chocolate offers a lower-calorie version than competing hot chocolates. Plant milk -- oat, almond or coconut -- mixes with Ghirardelli syrup and defatted peanut butter powder to create a "not super rich, not super sweet" drink.
"It has like a dark chocolatey taste," said Sydnee Alston, a barista.
The vegan cafe was recently opened by Pedro Manuel Freire, a Portuguese furniture designer. With a menu of avocado and ricotta toast and adventurous dishes using jackfruit and tofu, Freire's European-inspired cafe is yet another spot for healthy, meatless meals. Freire cultivated an atmosphere that is on-trend, minimalist and sleek.
There's even an attached yoga studio, which should make you feel a bit better about the fact that your hot chocolate used non-fat peanut butter.
[Related: Read more about the roots of VilaVerde Cafe]
448 Elmwood Ave., 346 Connecticut St.
At Perks, you'll find a couple of different hot chocolates. Using Torani dark chocolate sauce and pretty much any milk you would like -- regular, soy, almond, oat, walnut, hazelnut -- barista Zach Bennett said they whip up a "pretty balanced" cocoa drink.
"Sometimes people add extra chocolate and that will make it more chocolatey," Bennett said.
Perks offers 15 flavors you could add to your drink, or you could order their seasonal peppermint hot chocolate.