Ode to chocolat chaud

Ode to chocolat chaud

I may have given the impression in Monday’s post on French café culture shock that I’m a coffee aficionado. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t like coffee. Never have. Never will. (I did develop a serious latte habit in Singapore, but according to Chef Boyardee, that doesn’t count. He refers to lattes as “coffee milkshakes.” Snob!)

What I do like — what I adore, in fact — is hot chocolate. And I’m not talking about the watery, lumpy, Nestlé Quik stuff of my childhood.

When I first moved to Bordeaux, friends took me to Café Dijeaux, a cozy little café just outside rue Sainte-Catherine. It was a chilly day, so I ordered a pot de chocolat chaud to warm myself up. I had no idea my life was about to change.

Bordeaux, France

La Porte Dijeaux, Bordeaux. The Café Dijeaux is at right.

What was placed before me several minutes later can only be described as liquid Paradise. Made from melted Valrhona chocolate blended with cream and served in a pretty white jug, it was so thick and velvety that it was routinely served with a glass of water on the side (for those wussy neophytes who couldn’t handle the in-your-face intensity of the real chocolate deal.)

I wish I could convey to you just how freakin’ awesome this drink was. It was sweet, but the high cacao content in the chocolate meant it wasn’t cloying. Its richness made it a perfect beverage for a French café: you couldn’t possibly toss it back in a single gulp; it was made to be savoured, enjoyed, lingered over.

Just writing about it is kicking my salivary glands into overdrive.

I became a chocolat chaud addict with my very first taste, and Café Dijeaux became my crack house. I quickly developed a ritual: I would pour the creamy goodness into the cup — slowly, so I could inhale its heady bouquet — and scoop up with my finger any precious drops that had escaped from the rim of the pitcher. I allowed myself a moment to admire the tableau before me (the contrast between the pure whiteness of the cup and the deep mahogany of the confection it held was particularly fetching) before raising the cup to my lips for that first blissful sip.

Perfection never comes cheap, of course. I can’t remember exactly, but each fix cost me something like 7€. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but that sweet chocolaty nectar.

My last chocolat chaud in France

Teary-eyed with my dear friend Josephine on our last visit to Le Régent.

When Café Dijeaux closed for renovations, I migrated (in a panic) across Place Gambetta to Le Régent. While not technically a café, it soon became my home away from home. The chocolat chaud wasn’t quite as glorious as that of Dijeaux, but it wasn’t as expensive, either. (It came close on both counts.)

During the winter months, I could sit at a window table for hours, laboriously reading a French newspaper and checking out the action on the street. Once the weather turned warmer, though, my friend Josephine and I made a point of sitting on the terrace under the red canopy and indulging in some superb people-watching. Our favourite waiter, Hugo, knew our orders by heart, let us practice our French on him, and always slipped an extra canelé — Bordeaux’s speciality pastry — onto our saucers.

Café Dijeaux took my tastebuds to a new level of ecstasy. But Le Régent introduced me to the delights of that quintessential French tradition: la pause. Here, I learned to slow down, to appreciate the moment with all my senses, and to lose myself in the company of friends. The exquisite hot chocolate, I’ve come to realize, was actually just a bonus.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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7 Responses to Ode to chocolat chaud

  1. I can’t imagine anything better than European hot chocolate, but drinking it in France with a friend tops it!

  2. lexy3587 says:

    I really want hot chocolate now… so very badly! and i’m regretting not ordering hot chocolate when i was in france!

    • Maria says:

      I haven’t had hot chocolate since I left France. I keep looking for a place that makes it with real chocolate, but no luck yet.

  3. Sine says:

    You are making me drool like a Pavlov dog! But what I liked best about your post was the conclusion – the importance of slowing down and savoring life. I think that is one of the greatest gifts of expat life, depending of course on where you go. I’ve moved on from desperately sighing “welcome to Africa” when things weren’t happening here at the clip I expected, to already dreading the day I have to depart because I’ll miss the slowness of life here.

    • Maria says:

      The slower pace was something I wasn’t really expecting in France. At times it drove us crazy, but we learned to appreciate the benefits. I never did warm up to the “ghost town on Sunday” aspect of French life, though!

  4. This, I love. I’m not a coffee drinker at all. I get palpitations everytime I drink an entire cup. My coffee is milk and sugar with coffee. Chocolate hmmm… ask me to have some anytime.

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