Someone at home was hooked on making hot chocolate but wasn’t happy with what mixes were available at the shops. Most of the hot chocolate mixes at the supermarket were too sweet or too powdery. I ended up buying Blai a bar of Lindt dark chocolate for him to make it himself but he couldn’t be fussed to actually prep it and ate the entire bar instead. Huh.

When the opportunity arose to try Hans Sloane drinking chocolate, I jumped at it. This would make our nightly hot chocolate ritual actually happen! Yes, the company is named for the eminent physician and botanist who, in addition to the rest of his work and collecting, developed a way of mixing cocoa with milk to make a drink and pioneered drinking chocolate in Europe.

The company were kind enough to send me a pack each of their milk and dark chocolate beads and also a Christmas special, a single serving dark chocolate bauble filled with more dark chocolate beads. That last little Christmas ball was the first thing we tried.

Hans Sloane Hot Chocolates

Christmas Bauble

Into a mug it went…

Christmas Bauble in Mug

…and we poured hot milk over. Stir, stir, stir and we had a mug of hot chocolate. (OK, we made a bit of a mess.)

Hot Chocolate

What I was particularly impressed with was hot smooth the hot chocolate was – when I’ve made hot chocolate from scratch before, I’ve always had to whisk the mixture but here we only used a spoon. The flavour was excellent – the dark chocolate was rich and coated the mouth nicely. If there was a problem, it was just a teeny bit too sweet but it was still much better than anything available at our local supermarkets. It certainly deserved its Great Taste Awards! We’ll be working our way through the other packs through the winter.

The bauble retails for £2 (it would make a nice stocking stuffer) and the bags of beads are £4.99 each (270g each). Hans Sloane hot chocolate can be purchased at Tesco, Waitrose, some independent shops and through their website.

A friend of mine went on a last minute trip to the Dominican Republic last year and brought back a most interesting jar of cocoa balls for me. After a lot of questioning on Twitter, it turned out that this wasn’t for hot chocolate but for a Caribbean chocolate drink they call cocoa tea.

Cacao Balls from the Dominican Republic

I believe this is pure processed cacao, complete with cacao butter, in ball form. From what I gather online, they also come in sticks, which, though less aesthetically pleasing, are easier to grate.

Cacao Balls

Well, after many months of procrastination, I finally thought about making us some cocoa tea and opened the jar. I cobbled together a set of instructions based on what I found online and what was on the side of the jar. In a small pot, I placed half a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf and grated in about 1/8 of a nutmeg. In went 500ml of semi-skimmed milk and the whole pot was set on a medium heat to simmer.

Spices

Meanwhile, I grated up one of the cocoa balls (each is about the size of a walnut). When the milk was simmering, the grated cocoa was added and whisked in until well combined. As there’s no sweetening in these balls of cacao, some sugar was also added to taste (about 1-2 tbsps, I think).

A Grated Cocao Ball

Finally, a little bit of cornstarch slurry gave the thin mixture a little thickness.

Cocoa Tea

The result was delicious! Not too sweet, a bit bitter, very deeply chocolaty but not in a cloying way. I might try to grate the cocoa ball a little finer as we were chewing a little on the larger cocoa nibs but this was not unpleasant. If you do manage to find cacao like this, do try it!

Another visit to Barcelona, another new place for hot chocolate! Blai discovered the hot chocolate at Cacao Sampaka over Christmas and was excited to have it again when I went along at Easter. The shop was co-founded by Albert Adrià and when it first opened in Barcelona, I remember popping along to try their products; I hadn’t been back in a while though. It looks like they’re no longer just in Barcelona though: there are now franchises around the world. We went to the branch in Eixample off Rambla de Catalunya and the cafe was situated at the back of the shop. While the menu was full of lovely sounding things, we were there for their hot chocolate, not the ice creams, nor the sandwiches, nor the milkshakes. I’d love to try those next time.

Our favourite order at any granja is always a suís (hot chocolate with whipped cream on top). Their Suís was made with their traditional xocolata, made with 70% dark chocolate and cinnamon. It was very good – the high quality dark chocolate really did make a difference when compared to the versions at other granges.

Suís (xocolata amb nata)

We also split an Asteca, a very dark hot chocolate made with 80% dark chocolate and spices. It was intensely dark and rich and very delicious but between the two of us, we just couldn’t finish the very large cup – it defeated us.

Asteca (80 % cacau i espècies)

We weren’t having the hot chocolates by themselves, of course. As it was the end of the day (the cafe closes at 20:30), their xurros had run out so we made do with their melindros. These Catalan sponge fingers were fabulous, so far the best I’ve had in the city (I really want to try all the city has to offer!). They were sweet but this balanced the bitterness of the dark chocolates.

Melindros

While their hot chocolates are excellent, I’ve never been taken with their chocolates. I tried some more on this visit but again, disappointment. I’ll stick to their cafe rather than their shop.

Cacao Sampaka
C/ Consell de Cent, 292
08007 Barcelona
Spain

Another quick granja post while I boo hoo hoo about the weather in London – these grey skies are really starting to get me down. The day of blue skies cheered me up yesterday but there’s nothing like a grey Monday morning to get one down. Ah well, I will think of xocolata to cheer me up.

The very simply named La Granja hadn’t been on our radar at all but I passed it one evening and saw from the Time Out cuttings in the window that it was quite highly rated. And then Blai’s mother brought him one afternoon to that granja and the next thing we knew, my brother and I were brought there too, before a tapas dinner. The granja is quite small but is less known that those on c/Petritxol and so the queues are quite short and manageable. We were seated right at the back, right by their exposed Roman wall, which was quite the highlight of the visit for me. You can just see it in the background of the first photo in this post.

Our Order

I think my brother isn’t as much into hot chocolate as we are and so opted for a cafe amb llet (coffee with milk/cafe con leche). He liked it.

Cafe amb Llet

We with the sweet teeth order Suïssos again, of course. Mini Suïssos, as we had a dinner ahead of us. And no pastries to fill us up either; La Granja does not sell xurros and only has the very Catalan melindros. I think other pastries were also available such as croissants and ensaimadas and there was a list of savoury sandwiches on their menu too. They’ve even got quite the extensive drinks list, from flavoured hot chocolates to cold milkshakes.

A Mini Suis

Look at that mountain of freshly whipped cream!

But how was the xocolata? Well, it was thinner than I’ve ever had before but that didn’t mean it was bad. It was very deeply cocoa-y and by default there was a sprinkling of cinnamon on top of the cream. It was good; I can’t say it was my favourite xocolata in Barcelona but Blai believes it might be his.

La Granja
C/Banys Nous, 4
Barcelona, Spain

Granja Dulcinea, in the Barri Gòtic, was the very first that Blai ever took me to in Barcelona when I first visited about 8 years ago. The place is adorable with a little upstairs part allowing the cafe to sit more people than you imagine. As it was the first granja I’ve ever visited, I held a bit of a soft spot for it. It had been a while since I’d tasted their hot chocolate and I got the chance to when we revisited this year. Suïssos (xocolata with whipped cream on top) all around, of course!

Suísos

The thick hot chocolate here was slightly sweeter than that at Granja La Pallaresa on the same street (C/Petritxol). I think I still prefer the chocolate at the latter but both places are excellent for drinks. Judging from the crowds at both places, each has an equal number of fans.

Xurros

The xurros could have been a little crisper but otherwise they were good. I’ve not yet encountered a bad xurro!

Chocolate Time

Whatever your hot chocolate preference, Granja Dulcinea is still not a bad place to try some – it’s quite a classic granja and there’s a great buzz inside. Just to warn you though, the queues to get into these milk bars on Petritxol are always quite long around the holiday season.

Granja Dulcinea
c/Petrixol, 2
Barcelona