Cup of Comfort

To Hot Chocolate

by Sara Brown

To Hot Chocolate

Alexandra Bowman

I can still remember the whistling of the little electric water heater at the cabin on Loon Lake, getting out the mismatched mugs and the powdered packets of hot chocolate mix. After a day of summer childhood bliss—swimming, sand villages, popsicles—cocoa was one final treat, something to be sipped after we got out of the shower and put on our pajamas, curled up with a book or playing a board game.

We didn’t care if it was watery, too hot or too cold, if we ran out of the good marshmallows. Hot chocolate at the end of the day was a tradition that carried us into our 20s, maybe because it was tasty, but maybe, too, because of the ritual: plugging in the old, silver heater, getting out the packets, carrying the mug to the porch while heat lightning flashed in the distant mountains of eastern Washington.

It’s hard not to love hot chocolate, really. It is sweet, creamy, and comforting, and warms you up after sledding or after the sun has gone down on a summer’s day. But more than that, every sip of hot chocolate I taste now unlocks memories, reminding me of all of the cups of cocoa that have come before. It brings me back to summers in the old cabin on the lake, or sledding in Wisconsin, and even to winter in Paris, where I spent a semester in college.

I arrived in Paris in January, when the city was beautiful and cold and gray. In the first few weeks one of my new friends took a group of us to Angelina on Rue Rivoli, an elegant dining room on the right bank of Paris. The thing to get, she said, was the chocolat chaud.

That cocoa was in a different universe than any other I’d had before: dark and thick, smooth and not too sweet, served in a small cup with a big cloud of whipped cream in its own dish on the side. It felt adult and sophisticated but also familiar. I took all my visitors to Angelina for chocolat chaud, excited to share the revelation of French cocoa, and I ordered chocolat chaud in little brasseries all over Paris into the spring.

Back at my small, all-girls dorm, the cooks put out a snack for us every afternoon: a basket of madeleines or shortbread biscuits and tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and I developed a technique for making a creamy daily mug of hot chocolate: whisking the powder with a splash of milk, heating it, slowly adding more milk and stirring until the powder was finely mixed. I sipped my new hot chocolate at the old wooden tables overlooking Rue Gay Lussac while I conjugated verbs or tried out French conservation with my dorm mates. The ritual became so much a part of my time in Paris that I took one of the yellow packets home, not to use but to keep as a reminder of my life in France.

One late summer night this year, fall chill in the air, I pulled out a fancy tin of sipping chocolate I’d been given as a gift and mixed it up with my old Parisian technique. The sound of the spoon clinking the mug, the sweet chocolatey steam, was a portal to the past. I sipped and remembered.