Forget the packet of Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa you had as a kid. Hot chocolate -- while being one of the most universally loved drinks in the winter -- has grown up.
Part of it stems from chefs using the highest-quality chocolates and creams, and in some cases, making the chocolate themselves.
Comfort comes in many forms, but this time of year, few drinks soothe and simultaneously warm you up like a proper hot chocolate. At Xoco in River North, the chocolate is made on-site each day. Cacao beans are roasted. Then, they're pulverized, and finally, crushed in a melanger, which churns them into chocolate. After they're roasted, they are transformed into blocks and can be used a number of ways.
"When you dilute that mixture of cocoa beans and sugar and a little cinnamon, we throw in for added flavor, and you just dilute it in water, it is so incredibly delicious and full of flavor," said Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Xoco.
Alternately, they'll add a little bit of fresh masa, or ground corn, which thickens the drink into a champurrado.
Almond milk is another alternative. Bayless says the Aztecs had a different approach to chocolate, which informs yet another of his creations.
"They thought of it more in the coffee realm, and they added savory things to it; so, they'd add a little bit of chile, sometimes some herbs to it. So, what we do here is kind of a hybrid, and we offer what is called the "Aztec Chocolate." It's got some sugar and some chile, kind of together, to create kind of a unique experience," Bayless said.
In Bucktown, the aptly-named Hot Chocolate sells a variety of mixes. So, you can whip up your own at home, but owner Mindy Segal says her chocolate combinations scream for heavy cream and milk.
"There's some French, there's some Venezuelan, there's some single origin. They're all different -- Belgian -- I take the best of the best and combine them together," said Segal.
Take the "Black and Tan," for example. A bottom layer of hot fudge is covered by her medium hot chocolate that is steamed-to-order. A fluffy, homemade marshmallow caps it off. Let it sit for a minute before stirring up the bottom to incorporate the fudge. Another favorite is the "Affogato." Traditionally, it's espresso over ice cream, but Segal goes one step farther.
"I make a coffee-cocoa nib ice cream, and then we pour, again, a proportion of two of our hot chocolates over it, and it's rich and it's yummy and it's hot and cold at the same time. So, that's a nice combination," Segal said.
Segal carries about a half-dozen different flavored hot chocolate mixes at the restaurant. All you need to do is add warm, heavy cream or milk, and you've got a hot chocolate for grown-ups.
449 North Clark St.
1747 North Damen Ave.