After our first day of French class, I pulled Gabby aside. “Wanna go get hot chocolate?” I said. “That sounds nice,” said Gabby. I didn’t know Gabby, not well. We had mutual friends. I had met her before. But I wanted to try Parisian hot chocolate, and it was cold and Gabby seemed like the right partner for the job.
It turns out Gabby was the perfect partner. Gabby loves hot chocolate, maybe more than I do. What began that late afternoon in an off-shoot of the tearoom Angelina next to Jardin de Luxembourg became a quarter-long quest to find the best Chocolat Chaud in the city. This is not a task that Gabby and I took lightly. Angelina is the tourist favorite, but we asked locals for their opinions too. Our French teacher recommended places to us: Le Procope (bad) and La Coupole (also bad). The internet recommended Carette, and at first sip it was a delight, but it had this strange texture that was clearly due to thickening agents that I could not get over, so it, too, was bad. It was shocking what some places would try and get away with: Amarino charged us five euro, and proceeded to serve us hot chocolate powder mixed with steamed milk. As if!
Through our travels across Paris, I kept in mind an important distinction, which is how to order hot chocolate in French. Many menus offer a few things: Chocolat Chaud is the general translation of hot chocolate. However, this can commonly refer to boring, run-of-the-mill, American-style hot chocolate. Or it can be the thick and creamy kind — it depends on the establishment. Chocolat viennois, (Viennese chocolate) will be hot chocolate with whipped cream. If chocolat chaud à l’ancienne is on the menu, this is your best bet. The point is, there is no clear distinction between good hot cocoa and powder mixed, so if you’re ever looking for a thick Parisian hot chocolate, I suggest speaking with the staff.
- Flavor: Dense chocolate. Almost too dense before the whipped cream is added.
- Texture: should be thick, leaving a thin layer on the edge of the cup. Should not have the grittiness of added cornstarch or other thickening agents.
- Experience: Hot chocolate is meant to be enjoyed, not consumed. We preferred to add the whipped cream ourselves, having it primarily served in separate trays, not haphazardly piled on top.
- Best Overall: Angelina, Rue de Rivoli
- Note: I wish that Angelina wasn’t the best one. I wish I could tell you that a smaller, quainter, less touristy shop had thicker and more velvety hot chocolate. That would simply be dishonest. Angelina, at this specific location, is the best. We also tried the Jardin de Luxembourg location and the Rue de Bac location, and neither held up to the version here. Additionally, we tried it at this location both to eat in and carry out. Need I say it? It’s better if you eat in.
- Close Runner Up: Grom (near the Pantheon)
- The second-best hot chocolate in Paris may surprise you, because it has neither good ambiance, nor self-serve whipped cream, but that is a testament to the flavor and texture of this one. Grom is an Italian gelato chain, but their whipped cream was better than any other I found in Paris; I prefer the density of Italian whipped cream. Do not miss this unexpected gem.
- Also is good and worth drinking: Pierre Herme
- If you have a sweet tooth, Pierre Herme’s hot cocoa is not for you. If you like drinking hot chocolate that tastes medicinal, buttery and goes straight to your core: come here and treat yourself to a paper cup along with a flower-topped macaron (note: also the best macarons in Paris, in this writer’s not-so-humble opinion).
Cliche or not, my favorite part of finding the best hot chocolate in Paris was not the decadent drink but rather making a new close connection over mugs of the steamy confection. Traversing through arrondissements, metros and crowded streets, past Haussmann architecture and weiner dogs, Gabby and I talked of French men, French politics and dissected our lives — past, present and future. Being away from Stanford and the comforts of the United States made someone I barely knew before feel like home.