Lust—like life—is like a box of chocolates.
Its early flame is ignited by beauty. Each cocoa-covered jewel seduces with the promise of luscious fillings. Every opening of the heart-shaped box is a leading caress, every truffle on the tongue a smoldering kiss. You cannot get enough.
Then, while picking an inconvenient peanut skin or raspberry seed from your teeth, ardor cools. When familiarity—or too much cherry cordial creme—finally breeds contempt, you begin to poke, literally, at the chocolates that once stirred such affection. When you inevitably unearth not a rich soul of cream and sugar but a whipped-shortening pastiche of sickly-sweet nut-flavored goo, the eyes wander. The forsaken chocolates go stale as you start to dream wantonly of Skittles. Or Craisins. Before you know it, you have passed the adulterous point of no return, whispering sweet nothings to a cheap pack of Ho-Hos.
But true love is like a cup of hot chocolate: a romance that never cools. It starts dangerously, burning the tongue and offering sweet reward to those who dare sip past the steam. Over time, its flavor opens up, coating the tongue with velvety cream, a frothy lather of marshmallow and a chalky bittersweet finish whose unashamed frankness only leaves you wanting more.
No matter the quality of the chocolate—be it Callebaut or Carnation—it warms the hands and heart on a cold day. Each sip recalls mittened memories of firesides, tailgates and long leafy paths trod with loved ones, be they romantic, platonic or parental.
So, this Valentine's Day, can the candies. Trade in the slutty pink cardboard box for a soothing cup of sustenance. If your palate and your heart cry out for chocolate, share your affections over a mug of cocoa. We have found a drink to suit your every intention, be it chaste or scandalous.
Just a Friend: Cocoa Tree ($3.29 for 8 oz.)
Germantown chocolatier Bethany Thouin blends her cocoa, sugar and spices with a serene dose of spirituality. Her book Chocolate Covered Friendship celebrates the women who have bolstered her at different times in her life as an entrepreneur and mother of five. The depth of her passion for her friends is rivaled by the depth of flavor in Cocoa Tree's hot chocolate. Thouin boils whole milk with cinnamon and vanilla and pours the steaming mixture over solid bittersweet chocolate. The result is a thick and comforting layering of earthy and sweet flavors, rich enough to reserve for a special occasion—like an afternoon spent lounging in the comfortable chairs of the Cocoa Tree, gossiping with friends about other people's steamy relationships.
It's Getting Hot in Here: DrinkHaus ($2.25 for 8 oz.)
The baristas at Kate Roos' yellow-and-white jewel box of a coffee shop get all steamed up—literally—when folks order the hot chocolate. The process requires them to steam the mixture of milk and Bellagio cocoa powder, and it tends to spray all over the place. The final product is scalding, light and airy, accented by a tiny layer of marshmallow froth which makes it fun to slurp because it tickles the upper lip. While the chocolate flavor is muted compared to more decadent concoctions made from solid chocolate bars, DrinkHaus' version is a sturdy everyday walking-around beverage, the mischievous kind of thing you drink when you know you really ought to be drinking green tea. It's the perfect accessory for warming your hands when you're playing hooky from work on a flirtatious wintry afternoon.
Heavy Petting: Crema ($3 for 8 oz.)
The Mayan hot chocolate at Rachel Lehman's Rutledge Hill café is like the bad boy your mother warned you about: It could ruin your reputation. Before you take a humid sip of the sultry blend of homemade chocolate sauce, half-and-half, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg, consider your surroundings. Who are you with? Who is watching? What will people say if they see you sipping Mayan hot chocolate with someone other than your spouse? ("What are they doing drinking Mayan together?" "Does her husband know?" "That whore.") On the other hand, the Mayan can come in handy if, for example, you're trying to make someone jealous. A well-timed public display of Mayan with, say, a good-looking co-worker could give people something to talk about. If that harmless gossip makes its way back home, it really could add some spice to your life. Enough, perhaps, for...
Full Frontal: ChaChah ($9 service for two)
The chocolate service for two at Arnold Myint's new Spanish-flavored tapas eatery on Belmont arrives on a pristine white platter with two cups and a teapot. But the pottery is the only thing that's pristine about this lascivious confection, which might as well come with a side of contraceptives. Myint threw out all the rules with ChaChah's Abueletta, a spin on the traditional drink named for Grandmother. Made from a whole chocolate bar melted into coconut milk and heavy cream, and flecked with cinnamon and other spices, ChaChah's Abueletta is too thick to be called a drink, too seductive to be denied. This grandma is a cougar. When poured over a homemade marshmallow, it melts the bruléed puff, which infuses the dark-brown soup with an airy swirl of sugary froth. The presentation comes with tiny demitasse spoons, but depriving your pursed lips the warm touch of silky thick chocolate on the cup's smooth white edge would be as frigid as kissing through Plexiglas. The Abueletta should be slurped. It should be savored. It leaves your hair tousled and your mouth hot and bruised. It's the chocolate equivalent of going all the way.