HoCho Fest 2016: 13, 14, 15, 16

Each year, the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival brings together cafes, confectionaries, and restaurants to create specialty hot chocolate beverages to fundraise for a great cause. This year, proceeds of the festival will be going towards supporting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Job Training Program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters. Each year, I join this win-win-win situation by dropping in to every possible location, tasting delicious drinks and snacks, reviewing my stops, and supporting this superb cause.

This post features: Terra Breads, Koko Monk, East Van Roasters, and Thierry.

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HoCho 13: Honey Buns, Terra Breads (4th Ave)


SPICY.


This almond-milk breakfast cocoa (not really, but I had it at breakfast time, so… It is now!) from Terra Breads is blended with chilli honey, and the kick in the back of my mouth was immediately noticeable! Not one to usually enjoy something with a spice to it, I was surprised to drink it comfortably – the honey definitely helped, along with the whipped cream on top. Dark chocolate made this cocoa feel more appropriate for breakfast, especially with the lighter almond milk flavour. A small cinnamon sugar brioche came alongside the drink and helped calm my spice-sensitive tastebuds with its delicious sweetness – fresh like a miniature morning cinnamon bun!


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HoCho 14: Wild Saje, Koko Monk

Tuesday evening found me at Koko Monk, ordering their weekly festival flavour that is characterized by middle eastern flavours. All of the flavour in Koko Monk confections, baked goods, and drinks come directly from the ingredients used, which do not include any artificial flavours.
This drink was made with almond milk and I felt excited about the “salted rose caramel” that was listed as a component of it. When the drink was handed over, the caramel was oozing over the edge of the glass and one lick told me it was a most splendid flavour. However, the most distinct flavour in this cocoa was the Turkish coffee, and discovering that this was a large component of the drink at 7:00pm was somewhat of a concern, since Turkish coffee is intense! 

For me, this drink didn’t quite hit the mark, but that is likely in large part due to my general avoidance of coffee! I’ve always been impressed by the flavours at Koko Monk, and I look forward to trying one of the next weeks’ flavours. However, this dark and coffee-filled drink wasn’t the right match for me. The hazelnut macaron on the side, though? That was a piece of edible artistry. All of the goodies on the side of their festival flavours I have tried have been delicious, and you can select any macaron you desire for this year’s festival treat.



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HoCho 15: The Buzzzzz, East Van Roasters

With a freer afternoon on hand, I was able to use a weekday to head out to one of my traditionally favourite stops for the festival – East Van Roasters! Not only have they always impressed with taste, but they are working towards a good cause and are receiving a percentage of the proceeds for this year’s festival.

On the recommendation of the woman taking my order, I took my Buzzzzz cocoa with soy milk. This drink was described as containing Hives For Humanity honey and bee pollen (!), and that sweetness was evident, but not overstated when I began to sip away at the deliciously foamy, chocolaty beverage. I loooved this flavour! It had an interesting texture, that may be due in part to either the soy milk or the pollen or both… Whatever it was, it was good.

It was thick in mouthfeel and not too sweet taste-wise, and came with a honey financier (which, apparently, is a French cake that resembles a sponge cake and is usually made with almond flour or ground almonds). The financier tasted so so good – I thought it was banana bread at first, but it was spongier than that, and certainly not large enough to satisfy my desire for it after I had one bite.

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HoCho 16: Milk & Coffee, Thierry

Finally, on Friday evening, I made my way with CC, MS, and PS to Thierry! We caught them on the last day of their first secret festival flavour, Milk & Coffee. Those words pretty much capture the drink in its entirety…

As someone who avoids dairy drinks, this was not a super enjoyable drink for me! I like the concept of the espresso whipped cream, but combining that with a dairy chocolate base was too much. Unfortunately, this speciality chocolate drink did not live up to the standard of taste I had anticipated for a milk chocolate cocoa from a speciality chocolate location. The taste was described by my comrades as “slightly watered-down liquid butter”, which isn’t the most appealing of tastes as you may imagine.

The dark chocolate mousse on the side was delicious, as well as the crispy sugar cookie that accompanied it; however, I left feeling a little let down after previously positive festival experiences. It would be nice to return and try one of the next secret flavours.

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Until next time…


HoCho Fest 2016: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Each year, the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival brings together cafes, confectionaries, and restaurants to create specialty hot chocolate beverages to fundraise for a great cause. This year, proceeds of the festival will be going towards supporting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Job Training Program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters. Each year, I join this win-win-win situation by dropping in to every possible location, tasting delicious drinks and snacks, reviewing my stops, and supporting this superb cause.

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HoCho 6: Mumbai Meets Paris, Thomas Haas
On Thursday morning, PSYC 325 reading in hand, I made my way to an annual all-star for the festival: Thomas Haas.
Thomas Haas has always been an all-star in my books (and in those of the patient individuals waiting in lines that stretch out the door each year) because of their customer service, atmosphere, and of course… The flavours.
This year, after conferring with the staff for a few minutes, I decided upon a soy milk “Mumbai Meets Paris” – soy, because we thought that absorbing the chai spices would be better than letting them roam free in an almond-milk drink (as almond milk tends to let wild flavours do).
My first sip was immediately reminiscent of those chocolate oranges (Terry’s?) that you smash on the table to split into little chocolaty orange slices around Christmas time. As a fan of both chocolate, orange, and their combined flavour, I was a fan of this drink right away.
It had a full flavour without come across as too heavy or super rich. Sometimes when my mouth is full of flavour, it is because sugar is taking over – not with this drink, which kept its sugar at a perfect level so that the darker chocolate was not bitter, but also making a morning cocoa run less unreasonable.
The accompanying praline had a distinctive flavour that I had trouble placing at first… My notes have an exclamation point where I realized that it tasted like crunchy Nutella, which was obviously a positive attribute of the treat.
Highly recommended, especially for the little Grand Marnier chantilly (which, I learned, is fancy whipped cream) finish.
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HoCho 7: Give Yourself to the Dark Side, Gem Chocolates
Ah, Gem Chocolates.
Each year, I make multiple stops here, because the store’s head honcho changes the flavour up four times over the course of the festival and always has exquisite treats – both in design and taste – to accompany the drinks. We also argue about my preference for dairy-free drinks each time, but I appreciate the concern for my flavour experience.
Unfortunately, on this particular festival day, the tail-end of my sickness was causing all taste experiences to go haywire or downhill. I could not stomach much food throughout the day, and I was only able to complete parts of my festival goodies. My comrades spoke highly of their whipped-cream-topped dairy and lactose-free hot chocolates, while I worked away at mine ever-so-slowly. Definitely enjoyable, but not to the degree I will be able to enjoy the next flavours (you must expect great things from the confections that this man is able to produce!).
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HoCho 8: After 9, Bella Gelatería
Heading downtown to sample Bella Gelatería’s annual flavours is a treat I have enjoyed each time. Last year, I was somewhat frustrated by the pre-mixed dairy drinks, as I was unable to sample the magical creations in the way they were meant to be experienced. This year, they created an exclusively almond-milk drink made with peppermint, which I tried!
In all honesty, this particular drink and treat combination was a bit underwhelming, as I know that this location is able to create magical drinks and foods. It was a lovely dark hot chocolate with peppermint tones throughout, but it was not spectacular! The other flavours (7 more in total, between two locations) look extremely unique and crafty, and I might have to try a bit of a dairy one to see just how creative they have managed to get this year.
Overall, enjoyable, but not as special as those other flavours look to be.
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HoChos 9, 10: It’s A Clusterfluff and The Voices in My Head Tell Me It Ain’t No B.S., Mink Chocolates

Mink Chocolates was not on my list last year, but I felt drawn to the strange names and delicious-looking descriptions of this year’s treats.
I was soon informed of just what a “sparkle stick” was that accompanied the Clusterfluff creation – it was literally a sparkling stick! It made sense with the drink due to the torched marshmallow floating inside it. That beverage was deliciously sweet (made with almond milk) and made of the same chocolate as that of Bel Cafe’s 801 drink. The marshmallow added some unique sweetness, though.
On the other hand, the B.S. drink reminded me of Soirette’s yam? Sweet potato? drink done last year, but with a new kind of squash! Certain vegetables in chocolate drinks make sense, my friends – this was one of them. It added an earthy sweetness to the dark chocolate and almond milk that couldn’t be expected, but was pleasantly surprising. I would definitely recommend trying it (and if you like smoked oysters, than all the better?).

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HoChos: 11, 12: Peach Perfect and Sourpuss, Soirette Macarons & Tea

Finally, we reach Sunday. We ventured out to Soirette to sample both of their hot chocolate offerings for the festival. Extremely different flavours based on fruits, but both amazing. I walked away with a new-found appreciation for this location after some sub-par customer service experiences in the past (thanks to those that worked today and made us feel like friends!).

The Peach Perfect was white chocolate with peachy tones and lavendar on top – it was very sweet, but was super delicious and the soy milk worked well with it, really making it a full-mouth experience. Its accompanying peach macaron was so great I can barely put words to it! It did not have a creamy type of filling, but rather seemed like a peach jelly, and tasted fresher than you might expect in a macaron.
The Sourpuss, on the other hand, was mostly a standard hot chocolate on the inside, until the topping – a sour berry and dark chocolate mixture – sank through the foam and mixed its way into the drink. This was a much darker drink but was a nice complement to its sweeter sibling. The coconut truffle was chocolaty on the inside and had a great crunch before hitting the soft flavour within.
One of my favourite stops, so far!
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Until next time…

HoCho Fest 2016: 2, 3, 4, 5

Each year, the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival brings together cafes, confectionaries, and restaurants to create specialty hot chocolate beverages to fundraise for a great cause. This year, proceeds of the festival will be going towards supporting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Job Training Program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters. Each year, I join this win-win-win situation by dropping in to every possible location, tasting delicious drinks and snacks, reviewing my stops, and supporting this superb cause.

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HoCho 2: The Bananarama, The Last Crumb Bakery & Cafe


On this rainy Sunday, I grabbed an amiga and headed east to sample a drink from a location that I have enjoyed visiting each year of the festival, The Last Crumb.
This year’s flavours include The Bananarama: a banana cream pie turned hot cocoa, and His Lordship’s HC: a London Fog that went rogue. I sampled the former with GD sampling the latter.
Immediately, I was met with surprise. When my order was called out, I walked up to the counter expecting to see a plated cookie next to the drink; however, the cookie had been designed to sit on the edge of the mug! I thought this was clever, and it seems to match the quirky atmosphere of the shop itself and the care shown by staff and chefs who create great pastries displayed in-store.
I ate my cookie – a “flaky daisy” – by dipping it in the hot chocolate, and was pleased to find that the flaky pastry was fresh, chewy, and light. A layer of chocolate on top did not hurt, especially as it melted with each dip in the warm, chocolaty pool of my drink.
At first, the flavours were not very bold in the drink – I could detect the banana and chocolate, but my first sips were mostly foam and did not carry the taste as effectively as the less frothy almond milk beneath. Upon reaching that layer, the fuller banana cream pie taste came through and was delicious. It should be noted that I opted out of the whipped cream, which would likely have finished off the theme of this particular drink very effectively.

It would be great to return at some point to sample an almond-milk or soy Lordship’s HC, as Earl Grey is one of my favourite teas and chocolate is one of my favourite things, period.

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HoCho 3: Ambrosio Affogato, Earnest Ice Cream


Following my visit to Last Crumb, I went to see CC and mentioned my just-prior festival stop. Hearing of the nearby locations, CC and company decided that another stop was in order – we soon found ourselves at Earnest Ice Cream on Quebec St.

I had not previously been to this infamous Vancouver ice cream shop, but was looking forward to trying this ice cream with “molten drinking chocolate” poured over top of it. I requested a vegan cookies n’ cream to replace the Tahitian vanilla ice cream, and waited for my order in the busy little store.

Unfortunately, my order came with the only other vegan ice cream option – dark chocolate peppermint. While this would ordinarily be delicious, I’m sure, my first taste of the treat was so intensely dark chocolate that I found it a bit overwhelming. The molten chocolate had a bit of a spicy kick to it that could be balanced with cool ice cream; my comrades said that prior to the ice cream melting, the combination was delicious. However, the amount of molten chocolate proved to be a bit much, as it consumed the ice cream and became too rich for our liking.

Accompanying the ice cream was a miniature salted chocolate rye cookie, and I feel confident that if you like chocolate and/or cookies, you would enjoy this! It was so delectably chewy and moist that I could spend all day experiencing the consumption of that cookie (they have regular-size cookies in the store!).

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HoCho 4: 801, Bel Café

I arrived at Bel Café expecting a different cocoa experience, but discovered that I would be sampling the flavour originally intended for the second half of the festival: 801. While I cannot inform you of the reasoning behind this numerical name, I can say with confidence that ordering it leads to good things.
This drink is made with Valhrona Caramelia chocolate – a light chocolate with salted butter caramel, which obviously means it was amazing.

As is my usual, I ordered an almond milk option, and think that this may have served me well in lightening the drink up in terms of sweetness and richness. Even with the almond milk, which sometimes causes flavours to blend somewhat less effectively, the drink was incredibly smooth in texture and flavour. It had two toasted pecan marshmallows floating inside it, which I tried a bite of and left behind (because vegetarian diets don’t technically include marshmallows); the marshmallows were fun to chew on with the pecan bits inside. 
The banana bread triangle left me content, as it was very moist and its size seemed appropriate for a snack with the cocoa. I am sure that a hungry festival-goer would be left wanting even more of this made-in-house treat.

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HoCho 5: Saturday Nut Fever, 49th Parallel and Lucky’s Doughnuts

Today’s stop was made in haste as the store was closing within 9 minutes of my arrival!

I should point out that by the time I reached 49th Parallel and Lucky’s Doughnuts, a head cold for the ages had fully set in and was almost assuredly affecting my sense of taste.

After brief contemplation, I ordered the Saturday Nut Fever option: a hot chocolate with hazelnut flavour and latte art promised in the description. I was not to be disappointed by the lovely fern-like design made of almond milk and chocolate in my mug.

 For me personally, this hot chocolate would take a bit of getting used to, as the sweetness I had anticipated finding in a chocolate-hazelnut combination was not present. The nutty flavours were evident, but did not tickle my fancy as I had thought it would (perhaps because I had expected a Nutella-like experience). It would be worth trying again, though, when I am in good health.

Alongside the beverage came hazelnut amaretti and hazelnut truffle, both of which were amazing. The amaretti (this is a new word for me) was a great texture experience and had a pleasant sweetness to it, making it all the better. The truffle was unexpectedly squishy, and should be eaten with a utensil (or your hands if you like finger-licking goodness), but was certainly delicious.

I will likely not be able to get to a location tomorrow, but look forward to catching up with you all when I hit up my next spot.

Until then…

HoCho Fest 2016: 1 + Welcome!

My friends, it is the time of year I wait for months on end, the time when my budget is devoted almost wholly to one single cause, a time of tickled taste buds for four glorious weeks. It is time for the 6th annual…

HOT CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL

Each year, the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival brings together cafes, confectionaries, and restaurants to create specialty hot chocolate beverages to fundraise for a great cause. This year, proceeds of the festival will be going towards supporting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Job Training Program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters. Each year, I join this win-win-win situation by dropping in to every possible location, tasting delicious drinks and snacks, reviewing my stops, and supporting this superb cause. 
Let’s begin.
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HoCho 1: The Southern Hemisphere, Temper Chocolate & Pastry

After reviewing all of the available options for the day, we made our way out to the faraway Vancouver north beyond Stanley Park to take advantage of our unconstrained time. It was a straight shot, and soon we arrived at a location I had not heard of until looking over this year’s participants: Temper Chocolate & Pastry.

It’s a cozy little place, tucked between many other stores on the street. Even at the earlier hour in the day, customers were trickling in regularly to try out small cakes, biscotti, cookies, and a multitude of drinks and confections.

After some consideration, we decided to give The Southern Hemisphere a shot. A darker chocolate infused with Tonka bean – a flavour with which I was unfamiliar and had to learn more about! It was served with a small, legitimate wooden stick, and had a floating chocolate sphere containing a vanilla bean marshmallow.

I ordered it with almond milk and began my annual journey. It was a most delicious first step into my month of chocolatey goodness. The dark chocolate flavour, usually fairly distinctive (especially with almond milk), was sweetened by the Tonka bean – a member of the same family as peas that can be used as an alternative to vanilla. 
The almond milk made the weight of the drink lighter in the mouth and allowed the chocolate and Tonka bean flavours to be showcased a bit more than I think it would have with a heavier milk (soy or otherwise). I think both experiences would be great, but I am pleased with mine in the end.

Our chocolate sphere, containing the accompanying marshmallow, was slowly melting; however, not with the haste that we would have liked. Thusly, we took our rugged stir stick and helped it along.

With the addition of the melting marshmallow (eaten by my omnivorous festival guest), the drink took on additional sweetness and became more truly vanilla-flavoured in its profile. The process of reaching the marshmallow itself caused small chocolate tidal waves and caused a thick chocolate surprise at the bottom of the drink that gave the entire experience a rich and worthy completion.

Beyond the quaint aesthetics and delicious food (our fresh and gooey chocolate chip cookie was made with Valhrona chocolate chips – this chocolate seems to be a festival favourite this year), the service was friendly and casual and I felt more at home in this new neighbourhood than I may have otherwise. It will be worth going back to explore in greater depth! There are also many more goodies to be sampled at this particular neighbourhood stop.

I’ll be back periodically with updates on each experience – if you want to join in on the fun, please get in touch so that we can review even more beverages than one person can reasonably do alone.

Until next time…


Being Cognizant: New Year’s Resolutions

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

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It’s that time of year when small talk turns to the question, “So, did you come up with any new year resolutions?”

I like this time of year, because people often take some time think about themselves in a positive way, or at least with a growth mindset:

“I am going to start exercising regularly!” 
“I am going to have a green smoothie every day!” 
“I am going to stay on top of my readings this semester!”

(That last one was a joke, of course.)

While I do love goal-setting – a post on that is upcoming – I am not personally a fan of New Year’s Resolutions due to the way that they are typically approached by the goal setter.

“Why, Katie, would you not support one’s desire to make positive changes?” asked Seriously Irrelevant Holiday Cat.

Well, the thing is, I think that setting a goal with such a specific start date and not creating measurable steps to achieve it can be a dangerous activity, at least by way of achieving your goal and feeling confident in yourself.
New Year’s resolutions often involve making a significant change right away at the beginning of the year, on the first day, and making that your new standard to meet (e.g., no more candy, or 30 minutes on the treadmill three times per week). This, in my eyes, is a recipe for disaster, for a number of reasons.
The dawn of the new year: What are your goals?
Firstly, you are not easing into your goal.
You may be introducing a change in your life without gradually doing so, and this can make it difficult to stick to in the long-run (or even the short-run). If you choose to go with a 30-minute treadmill jog for the new year, you might find that it is incredibly difficult to accomplish this even once if you are not regularly doing something in this realm already. It can be disheartening to feel that your goal is not accomplishable because you were unable to achieve it right away. Creating a plan that involves building up to your goal over time using baby steps is a more sure-fire way to eventually attain a specific goal with a measurable outcome.

Secondly, you have decided to start achieving this goal regularly on a particular date.
It’s great to set a deadline for yourself to begin working on a goal, but if your goal is lofty or something you are not accustomed to, you might find that once your deadline has passed… the motivation to pursue the resolution has also passed. Setting a deadline to begin working towards a goal is a better idea, rather than setting a deadline to begin achieving this goal on the regular. Reframing your thinking to, “Over the course of this year, I hope to work towards X,” is more powerful than, “Tomorrow I am going to begin regularly achieving X.”

Thirdly, your goal may be based on a perceived defect in yourself.
I am particularly wary of any resolutions that involve appearance, such as losing X number of pounds, getting a six-pack of abs, or attaining a size 0 in clothing (for women’s clothing, because apparently women should aspire to be nothing). These goals will lead to a sense of failure or incompetence if you are unable to achieve them and are based on physical attributes that may be outside of your control, which is a sign that you should not set the goals with this sort of language (or perhaps avoid setting these goals at all). If your appearance is going to be a part of your resolution at all, the goal itself should be within your control (such as healthy eating and exercise), whereas a change in appearance may be a by-product of that goal (such as increased muscle tone or loss of unhealthy fat). Further, any goals that are attempts to improve yourself for others? Make sure that you setting goals for yourself and that you are intrinsically motivated* to achieve them in the long-term.

If you are making New Year’s Resolutions this year, consider these three common barriers to achieving goals that you set for yourself and take the time to make a plan of attack for eventually succeeding in making the changes that you want to see in your world.


*Intrinsic motivation: Motivation that comes from within oneself, that originates from the individual, rather than coming from an external source (which would be extrinsic motivation).