French cuisine is regarded by many as the crème de la crème of food. Freshly baked baguettes, delectable cheeses and superlative wine make eating a pleasure, a core principal of food here in contrast with less romantic values of speed and convenience which are often integral in English cafés.
There are environmental factors at play here: the wine region of Bordeaux has flourished because of the ideal weather conditions (heads up – 2014 has apparently been a great year for Right Bank Bordeaux vintages), but there is one question that I really would like to find a satisfying answer to. Why is the French chocolat chaud so amazing?
First, let’s discuss the English equivalent. You find them in the Costas and Starbucks with exciting add-ons like blackberry coulis to turn it into a Black Forest wonder; the caramel hot chocolate at Starbucks seemed the obvious choice during my early adolescence. Only, each time I took a sip, the image of a decadent, warming hot chocolate drained away. In its place was a sickly sweet and wholly unpleasant drink. The adjective ‘chocolatey’ never came to mind. Instead, chemical sweetness masked a burnt-tasting bitterness that deterred me from repeating those three mistakes (my youthful optimism that persuaded me they’d make it better the next time eventually disappeared). What really, really got my goat was the belief that seems to exist within these chains is that hot drinks should actually be served lukewarm. When lip meets tepid drink the stomach churning, red-hot frustration and desire to hurl the pathetic thing across the room is almost overwhelming.
So, I resigned myself to the fact that adding boiling hot water to a sachet of Cadbury’s instant hot chocolate. And then I came to France and remembered why I had had such high standards. The few times I had been to France I had drunk this ambrosial concoction and then sat, toes toasty, heart glowing and probably a lopsided smile on my face. Retuning to France for the year has altered me in some ways: I am now a bread snob, and a chocolat chaud addict. I have them everywhere. On the morning before I flew to Australia I had three hot chocolates from the machine at the hotel I was staying at. They were ALL phenomenal. Hot chocolates here are frothy, intensely rich and so chocolatey I’m not left wondering angrily why I need to go and eat a bar of Cadbury’s afterwards!! They are what they say on the tin! I’ve tried to look up the reasons behind this, but it is the same waffle they put on the websites of coffee brands: using ‘real’ chocolate, making them extra creamy. These words have been debased by the lies of chains. There are also very few café chains in Bordeaux. So, sitting in a café that has globes strung up over the entrance and two guitarists singing next to you while you sip on nectar is an experience that is not really possible in England. Neither is looking out of a window onto an old square in an orange room with a chandelier of coloured beads and bright paintings while the aroma of rich chocolate dizzies you.
The well-known delicacies of France are wine, cheese and patisseries, all of which I’m going to miss enormously. But I am most nervous about the withdrawal symptoms I’m going to endure when I no longer have my chocolat chaud fix.