It’s hard to pinpoint an exact memory of when my love affair with hot chocolate began. The first time I even realised that hot chocolate existed was when my brother boasted to me that he and my mother had indulged in a creamy hot chocolate for breakfast before a match in Old Trafford in 2000. For a five-year old who hadn’t even been abroad, this concept was too much for me to handle and something young, curious Claire would have to investigate further.
I do remember moments at aged five or six scuttling in to the kitchen behind my Dad between the end of Emmerdale and the start of Coronation Street and watching him spoon contents from the purple Cadbury’s tin into a mug for me. I’d be allowed to stir in the milk and he’d place it in to the microwave.
I’d do the very unsafe but child-like thing of pressing my head against the glass and watching the mug twist around inside the machine and work its magic.
“Leave it cool,” my dad would warn me as he placed the cup on the kitchen table.
Of course I never would and I’d often scald the tip of my tongue, but that would be a problem I could whinge to my Mam about later on. I’d take pleasure in swirling the brown and white mixture with a spoon and in watching chunks of chocolate travel to the top of the cup. I’d then settle down for the evening playing with my Barbies, as Ken and Deidre Barlow yelled at each other on the TV in the background. Bliss.
My affection for hot chocolate probably stems from the fact that I was never a fan of tea. Many people are surprised to hear this as my granny accent coupled with my farming background would usually spell out “TEA FANATIC” in bold, capital, neon-light, flashing letters.
It doesn’t matter how many spoons of sugar I add or churns of milk, tea does nothing for me. It’s like seeing Christmas decorations in October- no emotions.
Sighs from friends arriving home from work of: “Oh I can’t wait for tea” always amaze me and questions like : “But don’t you find it comforting?” are something I’ll never understand.
While there was a time I would never even slurp it and would look on in complete disgust when a gran-aunt in a dark house would push one in front of me on the checkered table cloth, these days I’ve become more polite and can drain a cup on request if I have to.
Nowadays everyone’s a coffee lover, and as a journalist you’re almost an outcast if you don’t resort to a piping cup of caffeine to deal with all the deadlines racing over your head. I tried some recently when the schedule was mounting but the headache that ensued just wasn’t worth the mediocre taste.
Hot chocolate goes hand-in-hand with some of my most beloved memories. Most weekends when I’m home I go to a café in a nearby town or village for a cup of the chocolate stuff with my mother and sister for a cosy catch up. While they sip tea, I always order the fluffiest and foamiest mug of hot chocolate on the menu.
Every Friday after school my friends and I had the tradition of marching down from the old convent gates to the nearby coffee shop. With a roasting hot chocolate in hand we’d natter about homework, nagging teachers and laugh at the lack of boys in our lives.
In college, I became overly acquainted with the ivory Starbucks cup which would always become splattered in a mixture of chocolate milk and lip gloss as soon as my mouth hit the lid. It was a great place to doss the day away with the college magazine and arts crew, while we contemplated what masters we would do, would we even do one, or should we just sell our souls to the business or IT world altogether?
Mini-life crises over and done with for now, I currently find myself living in Dublin and I’m yet to discover a hot chocolate in the capital that even mildly compares to the creamy, smooth cups that Cork has on offer on almost every street corner. In Dublin, while I’m often greeted with magnificent platters of hot chocolate-come-ice-cream-cone combinations, the taste of the presentation never lives up to the one that reaches the mouth.
Then there are the places that serve you up a boring Lidl blend with stale marshmallows and they still have the cheek to charge you close to the fiver mark. Or, in some cases, cafes provide you with tiny shot glasses of chocolate buttons, marshmallows and cream and expect you to mix in the blend yourself- sorry now but if I’d wanted to do that I’d have stayed at home.
In Cork, there’s a hot chocolate for whatever mood I’m in. If I’m feeling the need for an artsy mug of magical hot chocolate and want to sneak in an Instagram story, I’ll head to Alchemy on Barrack Street. Some days if I’m not about the marshmallow and cream life I venture to Cork Coffee Roasters on Frenchchurch Street. This rustic red cup of brilliance offers a tasty treat without all the trappings and somehow tastes just as good.
Doppio on College road speaks to my sweet-tooth heart like no other. In final year of college in UCC, as if heaven sent, it opened only five doors down from my freezing college house. Its heavenly mugs contained the perfect combination of sugar, chocolate and cream and offered refuge from the sub-zero living temperatures of a winter’s evening.
While hot chocolates have developed from the plain mugs of Cadbury mixes I was accustomed to in the early noughties, the New Zealand Rugby team’s KISS mantra (Keep It Simple Stupid) is what I advocate when it comes to enjoying a truly perfect cup of hot chocolate. Forget the tray with chocolate and strawberry sauce at the side or the stir-in chocolate spoons. Please hand me a cup of warm, sweet chocolate with a sprinkle of marshmallows and a hefty dash of cream and I’ll be more than content.