Italian hot chocolate: Why you NEED to try cioccolata calda
The Christmas season in Italy is absolutely gorgeous. In the northern cities, you have a similar atmosphere to Germany and Austria, with Christmas markets and traditional foods. Naples is well known for its presepe napoletano (nativity scenes), while Rome is decked out in lights with mercatini scattered all over the city. It’s worlds away from the crowded mess of July and August and a great time to visit. Italian cioccolata calda is the cherry on top of this perfect season in Rome.
Many people don’t even know this hidden treasure is the one thing they NEED to try while traveling to Italy, but Italian hot chocolate will change everything you’ve ever thought about this dessert. In my experience, American hot chocolate is made with lots of milk, powdered cocoa and plenty of sugar. The result is a delicious concoction, but very different from the liquid chocolateness that characterizes its Italian counterpart. I was shocked by how rich and dark this drink was when I first tried it. It’s not something that can be guzzled down in a minute, but must be savored slowly, with plenty of cookie-dipping in the meantime.
Cioccolata calda is made with the same ingredients as the American hot chocolate, with different proportions. There is less milk and sugar added, more chocolate or cocao. The result is similar in taste and consistency to a melted 80% dark chocolate bar.
The best part is that hot chocolate is widely available wherever you want it, at almost every bar in Rome. I recommend scouting out a glamorous (read: fancy-looking with lots of gold decor) pasticceria, picking out your side-bits (arguably the most important part) and sitting outside under some heaters to people watch on a busy afternoon. My favorites counterpoints to the star of the show include classic Italian iced cookies, creampuffs, or slices of homemade cake.
If you really want to experience Italian cioccolato caldo in its purest essence, you can go to cioccolaterias, where you can choose from different grades of chocolate and degrees of cocoa content. The darkest of them are reserved for only the most dedicated of dark chocolate consumers.
This weekend I found a great option in Pasticceria Antonini (near Piazza Mazzini), which fully encompasses everything that a high end Roman coffee bar should be. Lots of fantastic dessert options, aperitivo hour, and a sinful cup of hot chocolate to boot.
For a list of other tasty cafe options, you can check this list out.