Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Best Hot Chocolate in the Bay

Bittersweet, The Chocolate Café
Two Locations: San Francisco - 2123 Fillmore Street
Oakland - 5427 College Avenue

What more can be said? If you prefer your steaming cup of cocoa more chocolate bar than chocolate syrup, the Bittersweet café will be a relief, if not a revelation. The menu offers a choice of five decadent hot chocolates, each meticulously researched for the better part of a year by the café’s founders (self-proclaimed chocoholics). As a staff member explained the mélange of milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, non-dairy chocolate, and cocoa percentages, the science of it all made my head swim. Luckily, you don’t have to know the theory to taste it.

Just try The Spicy: with a blend of four chocolates plus cayenne and white pepper, it’s not for the faint of heart. Its delicate heat seems to come from all sides at once. If spicy isn’t your thing, the Mocha is the café’s signature chocolate latte, a combination of chocolate, espresso, and milk. The always friendly staff melt what look like pieces of chocolate bars, add espresso, then pour the almost bubbling concoction into the mug, where cool milk is added to achieve the perfect temperature, sometimes with a bit of “latte art” on top.

Besides the hot stuff, Bittersweet offers pastries, cakes, and seasonal gelees, all made in-house. But I’d put my money on anything chocolate. The croissants aren’t so flaky and have a pitiful amount of chocolate inside. The gelees are light and not overly sweet, suggesting the perfect piece of fruit, but why eat fruit when the chocolate cinnamon cake or ganache is a perfect accompaniment to your chocolate overdose? Further, a dazzling selection of hand-picked chocolate bars from all over the world lines the walls. To bring such delicacies to the Bay Area was what originally prompted the creation of the café.

Along with the warm cocoa and staff, the café’s décor is a blend of antique wood and pastels. Though the line can sometimes be daunting, it’s only because each cup is made to order. With an upstairs for extra seating, it’s a shame the café does not offer a wireless connection. On second thought, that might be a good thing: with internet access and hot chocolate this good, I’d have no reason to leave.


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