I spent a few days in Paris in October, visiting with my friend Donna (I’m so lucky to have a good friend with a spare bed). The snap of autumn was in the air, and my thoughts turned to hot chocolate.
Several years ago some friends and I discovered a thick hot chocolate in Paris at a little café called Nectarine in the Place des Vosges. The chocolate was so sludge-like you were tempted to eat it with a spoon. Nectarine quickly became a place of pilgrimage for me, but alas, it has now disappeared. (Anybody know if it’s re-opened anywhere?)
Ever since, I’ve been on a search to replace that perfect cup. I still haven’t found Nectarine-esque perfection, but Donna and I raced around Paris drinking chocolat chaud on my last trip. The French have been drinking this decadence in a cup since 1615, when Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, and she brought the recipe with her. The luscious potion is generally made not with cocoa powder, as we do in America, but with actual melted chocolate.
So, purely in the interest of research, here’s my report:
Angelina’s Chocolat Africain is no doubt the most famous cup of hot chocolate in Paris. It’s a thick dark chocolate, often described as drinking a chocolate bar. Whipped cream is served on the side, as is a pitcher of cold water, and you might need both to cut the intensity of the chocolate.
The decor is over-the-top rococo, with lots of gold gilt to remind you of more lavish days. (If you’re from New York City, it might remind you of the long-gone Rumplemeyers; the original Angelina was a Rumplemeyer.)
Angelina’s is so popular that you usually have to wait in line for a table. Several years ago it was bought by a company that owns a number of Paris restaurants and saloons; so far they haven’t tinkered with the very successful formula here, but I wonder…
Open daily from 9am – 7pm.
226, rue de Rivoli in the 1st arrondisement, Metro: Tuileries.
Queen Ann, despite its regal name, couldn’t be more different from Angelina. It’s a small tearoom on an unprepossessing street right behind the Pompidou Centre. The outside looks utilitarian, but inside it’s warm and welcoming. The tables are covered in orange and red plaid tablecloths, and the metal garden chairs sport green cushions. Paintings — mostly faces and nudes — adorn the beamed walls in brilliant tones of cerise, chartreuse and cobalt.
Their chocolat a l’Ancienne, less expensive than Angelina’s at €5.50, is served in a big white cup and saucer. The chocolate is so thick it coats the side of the cup. Queen Ann, like most tea rooms, also serves lunch. It’s a perfect place to relax after an hour or two at the Pompidou Centre.
Open Tuesday – Saturday, noon – 7pm. Open Sunday noon – 4pm, but the Sunday brunch is so popular you probably can’t get in just for a cup of chocolate.
5, rue Simon le Franc, 4th arrondisement, Metro Rambuteau
Comme a la Maison
Relatively new on the hot chocolate scene, Comme a la Maison is quickly establishing itself as a favorite of people who live in Paris. You have to be looking for it; the tiny café is tucked into the Cour Verte, a courtyard in Village Saint-Paul. Clustered outside are pink garden chairs and tables under an awning. Inside there are only about 10 seats, but owner Cathy Abt told us she’s planning to add heaters and an enclosure so people can enjoy the garden seating in the winter.
The hot chocolate is served on a tray in a pitcher, with a packet of sugar (not needed) and a small packaged cookie, for just €4.50. The chocolate is a light brown color, but full of dark chocolate taste, very rich. Cathy also serves up tartes, quiches, salads and other pastries.
Open Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 6pm.
9, rue Saint-Paul, 4th arrondisement, Metro St. Paul
You definitely don’t come to this Left Bank café for the ambiance. It’s a scruffy hole-in-the-wall kind of place, on a scruffy bit of street. Prices are low, and students from the nearby medical school crowd in for lunch. The tables are shoved closely together; tabletops are made of plastic imitation-wood. Still, connoisseurs flock here for the hot chocolate and other sweets.
You’re given a choice of a large or small serving of the chocolat Viennoise. Trust me, a small cup is plenty. Although the chocolate here is typically served with whipped cream, I ordered the cream “a coté,” on the side, so I could compare it with other hot chocolates I’d been tasting. Served in a small white cup, the chocolate is dark in the cup and even darker in the mouth. It’s served unsweetened; I added a packet of sugar to make it just about perfect.
And then if you swirl in the rich whipped cream…well, let’s just say you forget the tacky ambiance and lose yourself in chocolate flavor. They charge only €2.80 for a small cup of chocolate, and another €1.60 to add whipped cream. Donna liked this one the best of all.
Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm
8, rue de l’École de Médicine, 6th arrondisement, Metro Odéon
Perhaps the most sophisticated in appearance of the chocolate shops I visited this fall, the tea room sits above the shop of master chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin. The walls are paneled in wood so dark it’s almost black, contrasting with the white slipcovered chairs. Lunch is served until 2:30pm, and it’s quite reasonable for quiches, omelets and salads in this high-priced neighborhood.
The chocolate arrives in a white cup, light brown in color, with white and brown sugar cubes on the side. A cup is €6.60, or €7.00 with whipped cream. I didn’t find the sugar necessary; the chocolate tasted dark, but slightly grainy, and it was less thick than many of the others I’d tried. I’m not a food critic, but I think I’d stick to lunch here, then go downstairs and buy chocolates to take home.
Open Monday – Saturday, noon – 7pm
231, rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondisement, Metro Tuileries
La Charlotte de l’Ile
No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get to every hot chocolate place recommended to me. So I haven’t actually been here, but friends have told me they love it.
Situated on the east end of the Ile Saint-Louis, this café is rumored to have decadently rich hot chocolate. At least from the outside, it also looks like a charming place to while away a restful half-hour.
Open Thursday – Sunday, 2pm – 8pm
24, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, 4th arrondisement, Metro Pont-Marie
And my favorite? I’m not done yet. I’ll be in Paris for Christmas, so there’s lots more hot chocolate in my future.
(Adapted from a newsletter about Paris that I write for Welcome2France.com.)