It’s November, time to unpack your winter clothing, that adorable Bark n Purr sweater you bought for Fido, and all manner of fleecy blanketry, and cross your fingers for some cold weather. When the cool breezes finally come, it’s important to note that keeping warm in winter goes beyond wearing parkas and Texas Longhorns footie pajamas and curling up by the fire. You’ve got to keep your tummy toasty, too.
In November through February, it’s hot drinks or bust here in Austin — ain’t nobody got time for any of that iced mocha nonsense. There’s plenty of hot coffee and apple cider to be had throughout town, of course, but there’s really nothing like draining a mug o’ rich hot cocoa, is there? Trust us — if you want the good stuff, these five local cafes serve the absolute best hot chocolate in Austin:
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If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, Halcyon is the place to go. Seriously, this coffeehouse-bar-lounge’s name actually means “peaceful” and “carefree.” Located on 4th and Lavaca, Halcyon is best known for its make-your-own s’mores (yes, they’ll actually bring a mini fire pit to your table so that you can roast your marshmallows to perfection), its espresso cocktails, and its unofficial motto:
“Caffeine. Nicotine. Alcohol. All your legal vices under one roof. Welcome!”
They should also be known for their gourmet hot chocolate. Officially, the standard menu flavors are Mexican, French, White Peppermint, Peanut Butter, and Bittersweet Caramel, but hearkening back to Halcyon’s motto, there’s a spiked “Adult Version” available for everything. You can add Godiva Dark Chocolate, Tia Maria, Peppermint Schnapps, Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut, and Godiva Caramel to any flavor — and that, friends, is how many an Austinite finds joy on cold and dreary winter days.
Once upon a time, a beloved 24-hour coffee shop called Mojo’s shut its doors for good, leaving late-night studying UT Austin students without some of the basic necessities for collegiate success: caffeine, free wifi, comfy chairs. All was lost — but not for long. A few years later, four of the former brainiacs behind Mojo’s opened yet another 24/7 coffeehouse.
Meet Epoch, the cafe where there’s never anyplace to sit, but where the espresso always runs straight and true. (Actually, the company opened a second location dubbed “Circa 13” on West Anderson Lane, so the part about overcrowding is only true for the North Loop venue.) Epoch’s hot chocolate is blissful, too. Pure cream and cinnamon bliss that will have you mm mm mmm-ing all the way home.
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters
Unless you’re a Scrooge, you’ve probably been to Mozart’s during the holidays. Every December through January, Mozart’s evolves into a festive wonderland and runs a fifteen-minute synchronized lights show every hour. The company is best known for their fire roasted coffee and live music, but word about their yummy hot chocolate has been getting out.
Besides regular cocoa, which is made with 100% whole milk and Monin or Stirling dark chocolate sauce, and weekly specialty flavors, Mozart’s flavor menu reads a little something like this: Pumpkin Spice, Hazelnut (inspired by Nutella), Peppermint, Pecan Pie White Chocolate, Mexican Chocolate, and After Dinner Mint. Mozart’s also offers a multitude of add-in items, including marshmallows, peppermint candy, and big dollops of whipped cream.
Jack Ranstrom, Mozart’s general manager, told Austin.com that the cafe’s infamous Christmas light shows are even more enjoyable with a hot cup of liquid bliss in hand. “Christmas lights and hot chocolate are a perfect combination,” he told Austin.com. “Our hot cocoa service really has become a standard part of the overall experience for the light show crowd.” After one sip, you’ll know why!
Summer Moon Coffee
Summer Moon Coffee’s original location might be small, but don’t underestimate the power of its hot cocoa. The regular dutch flavor is creamy and sweet, with a wonderful hazlenut vibe that basically tastes just like Christmas. If you’re planning on bribing Santa this year with milk and cookies, don’t. Buy him hot chocolate from Summer Moon and he’ll scratch your name off the “Naughty” list in a flash!
Even more impressive than their cocoa are the company’s methods. They roast their own coffee beans (which are 90% fair trade) in a 19th century brick hearth built by the owners in 2002. “It takes three people to custom hand-roast our coffee everyday,” reads the biographical section of Summer Moon’s website. “If you ask why we invested everything we have in 19th century technology, you haven’t tasted our coffee. With two generations at the helm, this is a true labor of love. This is coffee unplugged.”
Indeed, as goes the company’s motto: “The only thing greener is envy.”
The Holy Cacao
The Holy Cacao isn’t technically a cafe. No, it’s really more of a mobile oasis, a boon to carnivores and herbivores alike. Located in the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery on S. 1st St., Holy Cacao is a nationally-recognized food trailer on a mission to serve us Austinites the best sweets imaginable. You have probably tried one of their mouthwatering cake balls, and you probably shed a tear or two in the moving deliciousness of it all, but you will literally weep with joy when you try their Dutch hot chocolate. This little trailer’s thick cocoa packs quite a punch and comes in a handful of different flavors: regular dark, peppermint, caramel, vanilla, and spicy cinnamon/cayenne. But the best news is that vegans can join in the sob fest too with the trailer’s non-dairy cocoa!
“In a world of health conscious do-gooders who can make you feel like it’s a sin to indulge in junk food, we believe it’s your divine right to enjoy the things that are down right bad for you,” said co-owners Joe, Matthew, and JohnPaul Doherty on the company site. “That’s what we call Divinely Delicious.”
What’s the bottom line? Holy Cacao may not have as many flavors as Mozart’s, and it may not offer add-ins of the alcohol variety like Halcyon, but with one taste of their impossibly dark and rich cocoa, you’ll get over it. Far over it.
Featured photo: A cup of Mozart’s hot chocolate in front of the company’s Christmas lights display. Rebecca L. Bennett