As a cold snap descends on the city, what could be more fun than following a trail of hot chocolate? The fourth annual Hot Chocolate Festival is on until Valentine’s Day. Twenty different cafes and chocolatiers are taking part, most offering more than one hot chocolate option. We’re not talking a slightly-more-than-usual amount of whipped cream here either, but truly wild combinations. Parmesan? Beet? Cedar? Tumeric? If you’re wondering what to do in Vancouver to help you keep warm, this is a great answer.
Most of the hot chocolates are also served with a little something on the side – liege waffles being a popular choice, marshmallow, or a special caramel.
What to do in Vancouver to Warm Up
There are walking routes planned out between cafe locations for several neighrbouhoods, including Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Downtown, Olympic Village & Fairview, Gastown & Chinatown, and North Vancouver. You would get the best coverage in the downtown area and Kitsilano for sheer number of locations, though the Kitsilano route would be best attempted with the help of public transit, as Burrard to Alma is a bit of a hike.
A worthwhile hike, however, as Cocoa Nymph is out at the far end of Kits. Their Phaun’s Fancy, a combination of 64% dark chocolate, parmesan and fresh nutmeg, is something to experience. The super savoury hit of parmesan meshes with the dark chocolate to leave you with more of an impression of sweetness than a real sugar hit. It is umami central, and incredibly moreish. The shop itself is full of wonderful chocolate, and they make all their chocolate on site. An incredible salt caramel appeared at my table as a ‘taster’, as well as a plate overflowing with vegan fudge by the till. It’s a small place, you’d want to try and visit during off hours, getting a large stroller in might be a challenge.
Swing by Mount Pleasant
Over in Mount Pleasant, you may be forgiven for not ever knowing Chocolaterie de Nouvelle France was there. Tucked around the corner from Coco & Olive on East 21st, this tiny chocolate shop has taken turned the whole ‘hot’ chocolate idea on its head. Their festival offering is one of three chocolate glace, an iced drinking chocolate, flavoured with coconut, rose, or cardamom. Served in a gorgeous glass milk bottle with a red striped straw, clanking with cute round ice cubes, it’s accompanied by a liege waffle and either chocolate hazelnut or fleur de sel caramel spread. We tried the coconut flavour, which tasted more like a sweet coconut water than any kind of extract, and therefore much nicer. The waffle was on the stodgy side, a side effect of having been made earlier in the day and then reheated. The fleur de sel caramel was heavenly, we finished the small container with our fingers.
Everywhere we visited had at least one table of eager Hot Chocolate Festival trail-followers with their maps and cameras. It’s a fun way to explore a corner of a new neighbourhood, or reward a bracing walk in the cold. It’s worth noting that most of these hot chocolate options are quite large, so plan on sharing with small people. Everywhere we visited there were also plainer and smaller options for kids. The chocolatiers are smaller and less likely to have change tables in the washrooms or high chairs, so keep that in mind if you add the festival to your list of what to do in Vancouver.
For walking maps and details of all the participating cafes, bakeries, and chocolatiers, visit the Hot Chocolate Festival website.
Erin McGann is the former Managing Editor for Vancouver Mom and Toronto Mom Now. She drinks just a bit too much coffee, is a bit obsessed about sourcing local food, plays the cello moderately well, spends too much time on Twitter, keeps honeybees on a rooftop, and has a thing for single-malt whisky. Erin is working on a novel set in turn-of-the-century Vancouver, which her husband, son and dog have to hear about all the time, and also blogs at Erin at Large.