- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Though sampling hot chocolate is hardly a hardship post, with repeated tastings the stuff can be a bit cloying. Thankfully, Nathan La Porte, a hot chocolate-loving high school sophomore student and his friends, developed a rating system for coffee bars and other likely locations around town. Criteria for analysis include chocolate taste, sweetness, aroma, appearance and the "sludge factor," an inevitable consequence of powdered origins.
The candidates included hot chocolate from Starbucks, XandO, Au Bon Pain, Firehook Bakery, Reeves' and Olsson's.
The all around favorite: The hot chocolate from Olsson's cafe at their Lansburgh location, 418 7th St. NW (202/638-7610). Made from Ghirardelli syrup, the "almost too chocolatey" cup was also one of the least expensive: $1.50 for a single shot.
The runners up:
Starbucks: Made from their own syrup, Starbucks hot chocolate, $2.20 for the smallest size, was somewhat disappointing but still made the runner-up category. With an aftertaste "like cardboard" and milk that was not freshly steamed, the best the tasters could acknowledge was that the presentation was in keeping with the "typical Starbucks look."
XandO: This light colored confection lacks the "typical hot chocolate aroma" and possesses a "palpable" degree of sediment in the bottom of the cup. Still, tasters liked the fruity, blended flavor of the syrup, which they found "somehow familiar." The secret: X and O uses Hershey's syrup. $2.35 for the smallest size.
Even chocolate snobs confess to occasional atavistic hankerings for the powdered stuff. The same group also tested what's available in local supermarkets.
The clear supermarket winner: Swiss Miss with Mini Marshmallows. Not even Carnation's Rich Chocolate flavor could hold a candle to this childhood favorite.
The clear loser: Safeway Select European Style Dark Chocolate. "There's not much taste here" and "Maybe if you mixed it with something?" were the most often heard comments.
But the best hot chocolate of all, says Ari La Porte, is the kind her dad makes.
"Sometimes he makes it on the stove with Hershey's cocoa, and sometimes he makes it on the stove with Hershey's syrup," says Ari, Nathan's 13-year-old sister. "But either way, when he makes it, it tastes the best."
Lisa Rauschart



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