What’s better than a piping hot, decadent hot cocoa on a chilly winter’s day? I’ll tell you— tons of them! For a few years now, from mid-January to February 14, my husband and stepdaughters and I have made a concerted effort to hit up the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival for a delicious and calorie heavy month of indulgence in the cold of Vancouver winter. We’ve converted other participants too such as grandparents and siblings alike—not that it’s a hard sell.
At every cafe we get at least two of the special hot chocolates on offer and the four of us try them together, rating them and reviewing with the scrutiny and pickiness of those who drink a lot of hot chocolate—after all, I was a Mormon for 12 years and had to replace my coffee addiction with hot chocolate during that time.
So, without further ado here is a collection of all of our reviews from this year, collected from all of us at various times throughout the festival. It’s by no means comprehensive since we can’t possibly hit up all the locations, nor could our bodies handle that much sugar, but we managed to make a pretty good dent in this year’s offerings and we couldn’t resist going back to our favourite spots from last year.
#46 – ORANGE YOU GLAD IT’S HOT CHOCOLATE?
“A decadent, rich orange dark hot chocolate made with oat milk. Paired with a house-made, light and fluffy, orange tea cake with hints of candied ginger.”
It tasted like a Terry’s orange chocolate and was as decadent as a drinking chocolate, plus combine it with salted caramel ice cream and you are in for a most amazing treat. It was to die for. I couldn’t believe it was vegan, too! Honestly, I think this one was my absolute favourite of the entire festival but the score is a combined total from all of us, so really I would give it a resounding 5 stars, but the collective score is 4.5 stars.
I took my eight year old niece, Ellie back to try it again and here’s her review:
“Five stars!! Always do this at home, kids! It’s the way to go!”
The combination of flavours with the treat was what really made this time a 5 star experience. We dipped the cake in the salted caramel ice cream and then the hot chocolate and our lives were suddenly complete.
#45 – LET’S GET THE CARDI STARTED
“Inspired by our cardamom ice cream, this sweet, milk hot chocolate is delicately spiced with organic and fair trade cardamom. Paired with our classic Pecan Cinnamon Swirl ice cream.”
Decadent, and delicious and the cardamom was a nice touch. Earnest, you outdid yourself again! You remain one of our favourite stops of the festival. Another great one—4.5 stars
#67 – BLACK PEUGEOT
“Smoked pine nuts dark hot chocolate with a dash of whisky and salted caramel. Paired with a vegan Hazelnut Agianduja Praline.”
The service here is fantastic and they really go out of their way to prepare your drinks with care, but I just was not a huge fan of the whisky in this hot cocoa. It had a bit of a strange aftertaste that didn’t go down smoothly. I really wanted to like this one more because I love this shop, but I can only give it 3 stars.
But, there are tons of amazing hot chocolates here and chocolate so it is a must visit cafe for any chocolate lover.
#110 – ARCADIA
“Rose, raspberry and white chocolate.
Paired with a blondie, guanabana, raspberry-rose mini.”
Last year Trafiq’s white hot chocolate got five stars from me but this year’s only got 3 stars. It was a bit too rosey and floral tasting and too sweet for my taste. But, the presentation is always lovely and their cakes are amazing.
#109 – ELYSIUM
“Expanse of saffron, honey and milk chocolate. Paired with an almond, saffron, honey and cardamom mini.”
This one was much nicer than the Arcadia and we gave it a 4 star rating. It was sweet and milky, but nothing too exciting about it. Again, the cake was delectable though. We love Trafiq in general and it’s also one of our go-to stops during the Hot Chocolate Festival and in general. Our only complaint is that it’s always packed and it’s hard to find a place to sit.
#83 – DAT COOKIE DOUGH!
“A white hot chocolate infused with chocolate chip cookie milk. Served with a side of white chocolate cookie dough fudge.”
The hard fudge side was tough to eat, and it was a little too sweet but it was still very nice. A lovely hot chocolate that gets a 4 star rating.
#82 – ARE YOU FOR CEREAL?
“A cinnamon-spiced, milk chocolate and caramel hot chocolate infused with cereal milk. Served with a side of home-made cinnamon toast crunch. “
A little too sweet but delicious and the cereal on the side was a fun and tasty touch! Another 4 star hot cocoa.
We’re very sad to hear that Musette Caffé is closing down!
“A chipotle-spiked, chocolate chai, frozen parfait with HOT chocolate. Served with a spiced shortbread.”
This one was tested out by Zeke and in his words, “it was pretty much impossible to consume.” Fun to look at but not much fun to actually drink/eat—2.5 stars.
We’re also sad to say goodbye to Chocolate Arts! Too many beloved places are closing in Vancouver these days. We wish this city wasn’t so darn expensive and are super happy to support all the little local cafes in town.
#07 – JAPANESE FIRST KISS
“Callebaut Belgian hot chocolate and yuzu (Japanese citrus). Served with a ‘Lucky Cat’ Mochi Bun.”
A cute idea, but nothing too extraordinary about this hot chocolate—3 stars. The lucky cat was adorable enough to get 3.5 stars.
#01 – THE BEE’S KNEES (Anniversary Classic)
“Lavender-infused hot chocolate. Served with a lavender and honey marshmallow cookie.”
I’ve never been a huge fan of 49th Parallel hot chocolates but Zeke loves them. One thing I do appreciate is that they’re never too sweet and though we weren’t blown away by the lavender hot chocolate, it was still a solid hot drink, coming in at 3 stars. The treat was tasty and gets 4 stars though—it was melt in your mouth good.
#02 – MALTED MILK CHOCOLATE
“Hot Chocolate made with caramelised and malted milk. Served with a butterscotch brownie sandwich.”
This one was about the same as the lavender choice, not anything very special but not a bad hot chocolate. The mini malted sandwich cookie was absolutely delicious. An overall 3 stars with another 4 star rating for the treat.
#72 – SUCRÉ SEL
“Hot dark chocolate topped with whipped cream, golden maldon salt and white chocolate crispy pearls. Served with a mini salted caramel ganache tart.”
A lovely presentation and the crispy white chocolate pearls were a great touch as well as the salty tang, but the hot chocolate itself was pretty generic, so we gave this cute little one 3 stars. The ganache tart was delicious.
#71 – COCOA GOÛTER (Anniversary Classic)
“Hot dark chocolate topped with a hazelnut and cocoa meringue rosette. Served with a petit pain brioche loaf and Nutella.”
The “petit pain” was absolutely adorable and we loved that it came with Nutella, but the hot chocolate was pretty bland and not quite hot enough, so it also just got 3 stars. This shop is really adorable, though and we’d love to come back for ice cream sometime.
#09 – THE SURREALIST
“A shot of white almond chocolate served in a cookie cup with a sable cookie spoon.”
This review comes from my sister, Holly and I have to share it in her words since it’s very amusing!
“I’ve never been as perplexed by a hot chocolate as I was with The Surrealist at Beaucoup Bakery and Cafe. In my naivete, I was expecting a normal-sized mug of hot chocolate with a cookie on the side. When my order arrived, I was so befuddled by the different components, that a staff member had to walk me through how to consume it. I poured my hot chocolate into the cup (which was made out of a cookie), then sprinkled the sliced almond on top. After taking a sip, I took a bite of the cup and hot chocolate started dripping out. I felt thoroughly bested by this drink and passed it to my husband so he could finish it. 2.5 stars.” ~Holly
#36 – BANANAS FOSTER
“A dark hot chocolate infused with fresh bananas and made with your choice of milk. (Vegan if made with house made almond milk or Oat-ly oat milk.)”
We were pretty disappointed with Cartems last year so we’re happy to report that they upped their game in 2020 and presented a fun little banana hot chocolate with a delicious snickerdoodle cookie. Definitely more interesting than many and very tasty—4 stars.