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Posted at 11:44 AM ET, 12/20/2007

Cocoa Better

By Erin

When the weather gets cold, my cravings turn hot. Normally a faithful coffee consumer, I often eschew my morning caffeine in the winters in favor of hot chocolate. Needless to say, I'm always on the prowl for a gourmet version of the good stuff. I like thickness, love spice and I swoon for bittersweet. If you happen to enjoy warming up over cocoa, don't miss these favorites.

ACKC stands for Artfully Chocolate and Kingsbury Confections, two Alexandria stores that have collaborated on their first venture in the District. The 14th Street shop is a combination of cafe, chocolate shop and art gallery. The cafe and chocolate bar space is compact but perfect for recovering over a mug of hot chocolate.

The shop offers espresso drinks and European-style hot chocolate, made with your choice of whole, two percent or skim milk and any added flavors that you desire, but you'd be cheating yourself not to try at least one of the eight hot chocolate combinations, all named after iconic women and available in 12 or 16 ounces. My favorite was the Lucy, a spicy cup of semi-sweet chocolate with chipotle and cinnamon. My cup didn't last long. The Audrey is the classic French hot chocolate, thick and dark, while the Joan has a shot of espresso inside. The Marilyn is made with white chocolate and orange, and the Liz is quite simple with a touch of soothing lavender.

Patrons can sit on stools around the espresso bar, watching baristas mix up espresso and hot chocolate or at one of the dozen-or-so tables up front. If you need something to go along with your drink, the shop is well-stocked with goodies from Buzz Bakery. Overload on chocolate with several varieties of brownies (I like peanut butter), cupcakes, scones and morning muffins.

At Buzz, pastry chef Josh Short makes a mix of hot chocolate with whole milk, semi-sweet chocolate, cinnamon and nutmeg. The bakery won't let you go without a sprinkling of homemade marshmallows and a dollop of whipped cream. The hot chocolate is served in 12- and 16-ounce cups.

Mitsitam Cafe is a must-stop during my winter romps on the Mall. The haute cafeteria dispenses Mexican hot chocolate from a big warming thermos. The cinnamon-rich hot chocolate isn't as thick as some of the others on this list, but it is still rich and perfect for warming up before an ambitious museum agenda.

Baked and Wired makes a luscious version with dark chocolate chips and your choice of skim, low-fat or whole milk in small, medium or large. It is served steaming hot and goes perfectly with a slice of pound cake or snickerdoodle cookie.

Yes, I am a big fan of dipping sugary morsels into my hot chocolate. And what better for dipping than a churro? Dolcezza, which is a favorite for its gelato in warmer months, serves delicious mugs of goopy hot chocolate and cinnamon-sugar churros with dulce de leche filling.

Down the street in Georgetown, Le Pain Quotidien serves Belgian-style hot chocolate. The thick frothy drink is made with Belcolade chocolate, which has a bit of smokeyness to it.

With its many margaritas and fruit waters, Oyamel has a pretty good handle on delicious libations. That trend continues with its chocolate caliente. The beverage, which can be ordered by the cup or in a clay pot, is spiced with cinnamon, cloves and vanilla beans. It's soupy in consistency and ideal for arming oneself against the bitter cold.

It's no secret that I love the $5 hot chocolate at Murky Coffee. $5? Really? Yes, really. In ordering it, you must agree to ask no questions about why it would possibly cost five whole dollars. Rest assured that it's a sound investment for any chocolate-lover and more than enough to split between two people.

--Erin

By Erin  | December 20, 2007; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Comments

Erin - what about Churreria Madrid?

Posted by: saf | December 20, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

You must try the hot chocolate at Les Halles. It is out of this world and comes with warm brownie on the side for dipping.

Posted by: JBB | December 20, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Yeah besides leaving off Churreria, did you stop to taste any of ACKC's espresso drinks? I went in just last week and was told that their espresso machine was still not up and running. Maybe they started up between last week and this one but if not, your review was nothing but a day dream.

Posted by: cha | December 21, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Cha - You should definitely go back by. Their machine has been up and running for over a week. My first night in was last Friday and I've had multiple opportunities to stop in.

I've ordered and can vouch for everything listed above. Personal faves are Lucy and Liz.

Posted by: Erin | December 21, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

cheers. they do sound good! I was pretty disappointed to stop in and hear that their machine was not up. Glad to hear it's working.

Posted by: cha | December 21, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

your on crack

Posted by: joe | January 8, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but I tried Murky Coffee's hot chocolate...and couldn't even take in a full sip. VERY thick chocolate, in fact I could bet there was no milk in mine! Too bad you forgot to mention it was EXTREMELY thick and contained very rich dark chocolate. $10 down the drain (literally), my partner couldn't even finish 2 sips and he takes EVERYTHING in....

Posted by: Lola | January 14, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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