Story by Jill Moorhead l Photo by Alysia Burton

Making great hot chocolate is not a simple task--it goes way beyond dumping a packet of utility-grade cocoa and miniature marshmallows into a cup of hot water.

A former roommate and mother to a five-year-old first taught me to make perfect hot chocolate. Add cocoa powder and a teaspoon of sugar to slowly simmering milk; the drink is done precisely when a fine layer of skin appears atop the mixture. Her method creates a hot drink that brings warmth and peace to even the most frigid and tumultuous day.

While this base recipe stands the test of time, countless upgrades are available in Columbus eateries. Our city's best chocolate drinks--hot and cold--have the power to entice us to stumble out of our homes in the depths of February. This is no easy task.

Punched up with everything from espresso to booze to habanero syrup, these chocolate drinks will temporarily take you away from the cold rain, snow and ice and to a new cozy place.

For the whole family:

Northstar Hot Chocolate

$4 at the Northstar Cafes in Short North and Beechwold

Northstar Hot Chocolate's balanced flavors blend together for one singular experience. Not an easy task when considering the players involved: Callebaut chocolate; a spice mix of cinnamon, salt, chipotle pepper and cane sugar; and whipped cream with essences of both vanilla and maple syrup.

Enjoy the beverage on the couch in front of the restaurant's signature magazine collection and pretend like you have a subscription to every food publication in existence (and the time to read them).

Cherry Jubilee Hot Chocolate

$3.75 at Chocolate Cafe

Chocolate Cafe is a franchise of Indiana-based chocolatier The South Bend Chocolate Company. And that knowledge of one-after-another, pop-in-your-mouth chocolates is what makes their Cherry Jubilee Hot Chocolate taste exactly like a chocolate-covered cherry.

Topped with whipped cream and milk chocolate flakes, the beverage is one of several chocolate-themed drinks found in the Upper Arlington dessert venue. There are martinis, too, including the Dirty Girl Scout (essentially a grown-up Thin Mint).

Askinosie Hot Chocolate

$4.80 at Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream shops in Clintonville and Powell

Our hometown ice cream parlor's Askinosie Hot Chocolate couldn't be more premium. Made with Askinosie chocolate (a company boasting that their ethical standards in sourcing chocolate make them leaps and bounds beyond fair trade) and whole milk from Athens County's Snowville Creamery, this drink is the locavore and socially conscious chocolate lover's dream beverage. The excellent winter warmer is frothed together using the store's espresso machine and topped with hand-whipped Snowville heavy cream.


Identification required:

Whole Latte Love

$9 at Latitude 41 and Bar 41

Latitude 41's drink menu is duplicated in the adjacent Bar 41. With competing sounds of jazz and sports on the television, the cozy bar has something for everyone--including chocolate.

At first sip, Whole Latte Love tastes like equal parts espresso and vodka, with a hint of chocolate that comes out as the drink warms to room temperature. Keep this in mind as you imbibe: Coffee makes for an awake drunk. (Lesson brought to you by D.A.R.E.)



Al-Cachino

$11 at Knead

Knead's atmosphere does not scream "fancy drinks." Rather, its bright colors and rotating dessert case filled with sweet temptations are more reminiscent of the Double R Diner in "Twin Peaks." A second glance will reveal the restaurant's commitment to seasonal and local is as consistent at the bar as it is in the kitchen.

A constant on the drink menu, Al-Cachino was invented by a Yoo-hoo-loving regular. The drink, a mature version of the kids' drink, is chocolate milk spiked with espresso vodka, chocolate liqueur and a quarter-inch of delicate frothy foam from organic egg whites.

Spicy Chocolate Martini

$9 at Sage American Bistro

The first taste of the North Campus bistro's Spicy Chocolate Martini brings sweet on the tongue and fire to the throat. Power through the multi-textured cayenne-cocoa-and-sugar rimmer, and the result is a well-balanced cocktail where the cream counteracts heat provided by cayenne and a house-made habanero syrup, and the vanilla vodka and chocolate liqueur steal the show.