Restaurants: The man behind the Twin Cities' tastiest hot chocolate gives a tutorial

RICK NELSON , [email protected] | Updated 8/17/2012

Andrew Kopplin knows a thing or two about hot chocolate. At his eponymous St. Paul coffee bar, the mornings are all about meticulously brewed espressos, lattes and macchiatos. But by about the time "General Hospital" signs off, Kopplin's Coffee customers' tastes turn to admirably full-bodied hot chocolates.

"In the afternoons, it's just about all we sell," Kopplin said.

The six hot chocolates on Kopplin's menu are easily replicated at home. Here's his quick course on the art and science of perfect hot chocolate.

The hot chocolate back story.

"I'd been reading a lot about mochas," said Kopplin. "They were originally made with darker chocolate. I like dark chocolate, and mocha is how I got into coffee, it's my gateway drug. As I got into finer coffees, I got away from mochas, and realized that the reason why is because most mochas are so sweet. I mean, Hershey's syrup is the norm. So I wanted to make a mocha that a coffee lover would love. And of course, once you do that, you really have a great hot chocolate, once you take out the espresso."

Buy the best.

Kopplin relies upon chocolate produced by Callebaut, Valrhona and Rogue Chocolatier. "Nothing at Kopplin's is cheap, but in the end, you get what you pay for," he said. "Callebaut is delicious, but Valrhona is amazing, and Rogue is out of this world," he said.

Break it up.

Kopplin pulses the chocolate in a food processor, "Until it's basically a powder," he said. "But small pieces, or chips, will work just fine. The reason we chop it small is because we have to make the drink in less than a minute."

The secret ingredient.

"The reason we add cocoa powder, and why we don't just chop up chocolate and put it in milk, is because cocoa powder helps the milk and the chocolate adhere to one another," he said. "Chocolate has a richer taste, with unique, deep tones and complex flavor profiles, but cocoa powder makes hot chocolate feel thick, it has the mouth feel."

Doing the math.

Kopplin's general rule is three parts chocolate to one part cocoa powder. "Except for Rogue, I use less," he said. "You don't want to cover up the nuance." But Kopplin also suggests taste-testing. "It's not like 4-to-1 will be horrible."

It's all in the milk.

Kopplin relies upon two small Wisconsin dairies, Castle Rock Organic Farms and Crystal Ball Farms. "Our basic thing is grass-fed, organic, nonhomogenized, delicious milk," he said.

Keep the milk whole.

"Instead of ordering a 16-ounce low-cal skim-and-Splenda version of hot chocolate that you're not really enjoying, get an 8-ounce made with great ingredients that's totally enjoyable," he said.

Not too hot.

"At home, I put the milk on the stove on medium-low heat," he said. "The lower, the better, and the slower you can heat it up, the better." The ideal temperature: 145 to 150 degrees, tops. "You never want to boil milk," he said.

The measure.

Minus an instant-read thermometer, there are several ways to monitor the milk's heat. "Don't wait for a bubble, because by then it's too late," he said. "Look for steam. You'll see steam at around 140 or 145 degrees."

Enlist the slow cooker.

"If I'm going to get really fancy at home, I'll make my hot chocolate in the Crock-Pot," he said. "It's perfect for hot chocolate, because it heats so slowly."

Topping it off.

"I think marshmallows and whipped cream are both fantastic on hot chocolate," he said. Kopplin uses cream from the same dairies where he purchases his milk, and he relies upon peppermint-flavored marshmallows from St. Peter, Minn.-based Laura's Candy.

Does the shape of the cup make a difference?

"Yes and no," he said. "Technically, does a mug versus a bowl make it taste any different? Not at all. But I fully believe that you taste with your mind. I say, pick your favorite cup and fill it up, because you're not only creating a drink, you're creating an experience."

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