As the temperatures continue to drop, there's no question that one of the best ways to warm up on a bone-chilling afternoon is with a cup of hot chocolate. But Keith Buchanan, the British-born operator of Westport's Teahouse & Coffeepot, is concerned that too many Americans are too accustomed to the processed cocoa-and-sugar beverage made from a mix and stirred with hot water.
His lips actually curl when he says the words "Swiss Miss."
Buchanan first tasted European-style hot chocolate -- made with shaved dark chocolate, milk, cream and sugar -- in Amsterdam in the 1990s. Now he wants everyone to know what the real thing is all about. If things aren't too busy behind the counter in Buchanan's tiny coffeehouse, he'll whip up a demitasse of the very, very rich concoction.
"I'm working on a way for my staff to make it if I'm not here," says Buchanan. "It's a very labor-intensive beverage."
In the meantime, Buchanan is planning to teach the uninitiated cocoa drinkers about the art of drinking chocolate in a Communiversity class, "Real Drinking Chocolate." The first session will be held on Wednesday, February 2, at the Teahouse & Coffeepot location at 4309 Jefferson. The other classes are scheduled for March 26 and May 28.
Buchanan is limiting each class to 10 students. "We'll be making and tasting four different kinds of chocolate beverages," he says. "A spicy Mexican-style chocolate, a mild white-chocolate drink, American-style drinking chocolate and a European-style blend."
The difference between the American beverage and the European? The American drink is made with much more milk -- as much as 75 percent -- and less chocolate; the European drink is made with less milk, much more chocolate and cream. The latter is like drinking melted chocolate bars.
The secret, Buchanan says, is the quality of chocolate. (He prefers expensive 100-percent chocolate bars, which he shaves with a sharp knife, and semisweet chocolate chips.) The darker, the better.
"Milk chocolate? Oh, God, no," he says. "That would be far too sweet to drink."
Another benefit of dark chocolate is that it's essentially dairy-free. Buchanan created a vegan version of his hot chocolate using soy milk instead of whole milk and coconut milk instead of cream. During his classes, Buchanan will also teach his students how to make a creme de chocolate, which he calls "a cross between a mousse and a pudding," using the basic hot-chocolate formula.
The classes are priced at $15 each; for more information, call Communiversity at 816-235-1407.