“Oh my god,” Bart Simpson says after tasting the hot chocolate Ned Flanders makes for him in The Simpsons Movie. If you don’t remember, Bart runs away from home and after he says that “cocoa is for wusses,” Flanders puts the cocoa on the windowsill, sprays whipped cream on it, puts a cookie on it, then grates a little cocoa, more whipped cream, places a marshmallow on top, then chars a bit of it with a culinary butane torch. Bart grabs it, tries it, and is ready to move in with the Flanders family.
Watching that scene in the middle of a Tahoe winter when it’s snowing outside will undoubtedly make you want a hot chocolate. And thus, the search for the best cocoa in the basin began as the temperatures started to drastically drop.
Based on reviews and local recommendations, here are some noteworthy hot chocolates that go beyond and are an ideal for a warm-up after a day in the snow.
Cuppa Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe
“We do have the best hot chocolate in Tahoe, and I’ll tell you why,” Cuppa Tahoe Owner Sandra Santané says, as we’re surrounded by games, gifts, work rooms, and a whole lot of books. Santané opened this bookstore, café, and coworking space in May of 2020 as a safe place to provide human connection and be as social as you want to be. While mostly known to provide caffeinated drinks, its cocoa is significant in that it is made with real, true chocolate, and Santané won’t settle for anything less.
“The first time I came to the United States, I tried Hershey’s and didn’t think it was chocolate,” she
smiled. “I’m from Holland, and there’s a European standard for what something can be considered chocolate that America doesn’t have.”
European chocolate is considered creamier because it must have a minimum of 14% dry milk solids and 3.5% milk fat which makes it a bit richer. The EU Chocolate Directive passed in June of 2020 also says that vegetable fats used cannot exceed more than 5% of the product. Cuppa Tahoe uses the dairy-free version of Valrhona cocoa for its drinks. Valrhona is a Certified B Corp 100-year-old French chocolatier internationally known for its pure, intense candy. That combined with oat, almond, soy, coconut milk, or dairy makes it a rich, creamy, and cozy beverage suitable for vegans, too.
And the melted chocolate chips on the bottom was a nice touch. https://cuppatahoe.com/
Tahoe House, Tahoe City
Tahoe House opened in 1977 as a dinner only restaurant, but has since become known for its pastries, sweets and of course, its hot chocolate. Owner Caroline Vogt says that they often get asked why their hot chocolate is so creamy and said truthfully, it’s all in the mix. Its cocoa powder that gets run through the machine along with water has hints of dairy powder in it, and that mixed with someone’s milk of choice makes it a little silkier. If someone is lactose intolerant, then they can make a different dairy-free chocolate syrup-based version of this as well. Topped with housemade whipped cream, it’s the perfect thing to enjoy next to the fireplace after skiing at Homewood or sledding at Granlibakken. Be sure to get a signature Swiss Kiss cookie treat to go along with it and browse the wide array of locally made sauces, breads, pastries, dinner entrees, and nonperishable items that make great holiday gifts. www.tahoe-house.com
Coffeebar, Olympic Valley
Known for its unique and delectable espresso drinks which are made with single-origin coffee beans and have fun names such as “Cabin in the Woods” and “Saturday Morning Cartoons” it’s easy to believe that Coffeebar is going to take pride in its hot chocolate as well. You can always tell when the hot chocolate is going to be good when the barista’s face lights up when you ask them how they make it.
At the Truckee, Reno, and Village at Palisades Tahoe locations, Coffeebar’s cocoa consists of Reno-made Dorinda’s chocolate syrup, some vanilla, milk of your choice (dairy or almond milk is best), and a cocoa sugar sprinkled on top. The version with almond milk is nice, not too sweet and has a hint of sophistication. I downed the 8-ounce cup in five minutes without realizing I drank it so fast. It’s a nice bar to go to after shredding the slopes at Palisades, and if you happen to crave a cocoa outside of ski season then its flagship store in Truckee is open year-round and is just minutes away. www.coffeebar.com
Diamond Peak Ski Resort, Incline Village
Trekaroo named Diamond Peak Ski Resort as having some of the best hot chocolate in the Tahoe Basin for kids, but this is likely because it’s one of the best places to ski for kids. While its cocoa machine in the base lodge is most accessible for little ones, it’s really the adult version at its mid-mountain Snowflake Lodge that is worth making the trek to (via skis or a snowboard).
Snowflake Lodge has an unparalleled view of Big Blue that’s best enjoyed with a hot Snowflake Snuggler in your hand. The Snuggler is a concoction made of vanilla vodka, Rumple Minz, Bailey’s, and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. It tastes like a liquid version of peppermint bark with a kick and will give you that warm and fuzzy feeling while skiing down the hill on your afternoon groomers. www.diamondpeak.com
Edgewood Tahoe, Stateline
Speaking of adult hot chocolate, Edgewood Tahoe’s Brooks’ Bar & Deck is an upscale gastropub right on the shores of Lake Tahoe that serves some mean beverages. Along with a wide range of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts, Brooks’ Bar has an array of beer, wine, mocktails, and specialty drinks.
Its “Powderhound”- a concoction of Alpen Sierra coffee, Godiva chocolate, and Rumple Minze with Fernet Branca whipped cream and candy cane crumble on top, is rich, sweet, and buzzworthy. Or you can try “The Brown Bear” Old Fashioned if you’re more into bourbon … it’s made with Woodford Reserve, chocolate bitters, and cocoa honey. https://edgewoodtahoe.com/menu/brooks-bar-and-deck/
Where there’s an abundance of snow, stores, cold temps, and culture, you are bound to find an array of coffee shops. For instance, Northstar California’s Cabana Bar is right on the edge of its ice skating rink next to the fire pits in the Village, where adults can enjoy a “Dirty Snowman” made of Irish cream, hot cocoa, Absolut Vanilla, and hazelnut liquor. In Carnelian Bay, Waterman’s Landing makes a hot chocolate consisting of its own mixture (of straight cacao powder granulated with organic sugar) combined with your choice of milk to be enjoyed a stone’s throw away from the water.
In South Lake Tahoe, you can get a hot chocolate from Revive Coffee and Wine and sip on it in the back garden area, out front by the stage (Revive is now part of Lakeview Social) or take it down to El Dorado Beach. I think it’s the environment surrounding the hot chocolate that makes it more recommendable.