Location: All Starbucks Stores
Author: My Husband
Let it be said that I am a big fan of drinking chocolates. Ever since I had my first cup of thick, rich and luscious cioccolata calda in Rome years ago, I’ve been hooked. I’ve also had the pleasure of drinking some really excellent chocolate chaud in Paris. But alas, I have never been able to find the equivalent of such drinks in North America. Hot chocolate here is thin, watery and – more often than not – gritty because of the mix used to make the drink. Since I didn’t manage to find the stuff I like in Vancouver, I convinced my other half that we should try making it at home. So we went and bought mixes from MarieBelle and Schokinag (not bad, but nowhere near what we had in Europe), looked up and tried different recipes from the internet, and used all manner of kitchen tricks to recreate the dark rich consistency that characterizes Euro drinking chocolate. Through trial and error, Christina eventually came up with a brew, made by whisking melted bittersweet valrhona, cocoa powder, cream and milk together, that tasted really good. The downside was that it took a lot of work to prepare!!
When Starbucks introduced Chantico in 2005, we became quick fans of the drink. Its smooth, lush texture, as well as the quality of the cocoa, really made it stand out in a sea awash with mediocre products. Suffice it to say, we drank quite a lot of Chantico until it was withdrawn from the market in 2006.
It has taken Starbucks two years to develop a proper replacement for Chantico (imo, the regular hot chocolate doesn’t count). The new product – actually, a line of products – finally hit the market in September 2008 and is supposed to address some of Chantico’s shortcomings. For instance, the new drinks – collectively referred to as Signature Hot Chocolate – are available in different sizes. Also, they are customizable (i.e. whole milk, 2%, skim, soy, with/without whipped cream). I didn’t view the inability to customize Chantico as a shortcoming, but well, it was withdrawn from the market, so what do I know? The timing for the introduction of the new Signature Hot Chocolate couldn’t have been better. With the chill of autumn setting in, who could resist a cup of hot chocolate or three?
Buoyed by my fond memories of Chantico, I redeemed a Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate for a quick taste test last weekend. The drink mix was prepared in a plunge pitcher and poured into a steel pitcher for steaming. The concoction was then transferred to a cup, topped with whipped cream, drizzled with caramel, and sprinkled with salt. Curiously, the barista had problems working the salt shaker, which resulted in a rather meagre amount of salt being added to my hot chocolate.
I took a sip and knew I wouldn’t be ordering this drink much. Too bad. In terms of consistency, the drink was slightly thicker and richer than regular hot chocolate, but it was no match for Chantico, much less cioccolata calda. On the mid-palate, it had some sweetness and was pretty chocolaty, but lacked any sort of complexity. I only got a very faint hint of the salt, but that wasn’t surprising given how little of it was sprinkled on my drink. I also thought it didn’t finish well; there was an after taste that reminded me of… scalded wax in a paper cup.
A Chantico, this Signature Hot Chocolate is not. For now, I’ll have continue getting Christina to make her special concoction just to tide me over until our next trip to Europe…