–Charles M. Schulz
My mother was a chocoholic and I happily indulge, the joy of the moment outweighing the guilt of a few extra pounds. But I had no idea when I arrived in Paris over 3 weeks ago that chocolate –in fact, the finest chocolate in the world, has its commercial roots here in this deliciously aromatic city.
The first chocolate beans arrived here from Spain in 1643 in a jeweled case and were presented as an engagement gift from Princess Maria Theresa to her betrothed, Louis XIV. Maria Theresa was 14 when she was sent to Paris to marry the King & crazy about chocolate. MT may not have been the hottest royal babe, but the French credit her with turning the Court and the upper classes on to eating — and eventually drinking chocolate as a warm beverage.
Paris offers hot chocolate on every menu. From 3€ to 12€, you can sample the watery to the sublime of this additive delicacy — and Parisians are crazy about the brew. My American pal, Puppy à Paris has been searching for THE best hot chocolate since moving here from the countryside over a year ago. So when a colleague in New York who heard I was in Paris, emailed, asking if I would pick him up a packet of “THE best Hot Chocolate in Paris from Angelina’s on the Rue Rivoli,” I immediately forwarded his email on to Puppy exclaiming, “Mystery solved!”
We made a date on another very cold day to see if, indeed, THE best has been on the Rue Rivoli all this time.
I happened to have walked 6.4 kilometers that morning to lunch with a friend on the Champs Elysée . . . and walked another kilometer in the late afternoon before I stopped, exhausted, in the lobby of the Meurice Hotel, one door short, I later learned, of Angelinas. The Hotel Meurice might have been Nazi Headquarters during the Occupation, but 60 years later it was warm, it was classy and they serve hot chocolate. I plopped down to wait there for Puppy. He arrived an hour later, questioned my location but preferring to save face more than he wanted to move me, he ordered each of us a hot chocolate.
We settled back in our comfy seats to enjoy the first few sips . . .
“Well?” I asked him . . . “On a scale of 1-10?”
Dark, rich and obviously made with milk/not water, he gave it a mere “6.” The bill was more impressive = 1 cup for 12€ ($15!!).
We passed by Angelina’s on our way to the Métro an hour later and checked out the price for their cup of “chocolat chaud” in the window menu . . . a bargain at 6.60€ ($8). I should have gotten off my fat ass.
Known as “The Sun King,” Louis XIV was a popular guy with the ladies. He was one of France’s greatest monarchs, reigning for over 74 years [1643 to 1715] and is said to have sired over 300 children (busy guy!) including 4 or 5 with his wife. “4 or 5″ because there is some doubt about the paternity of the 5th . . .
But now I was intrigued. Janet gave me the heads up on the Paris Walks “Tour of Chocolate.” So on yet another cold morning I layered up, donned unfashionable exercise sneakers and headed to the Louvre-Rivoli Métro stop for a 2-hour rendezvous with my favorite food group, connecting the dots between French history and my sweet tooth.
I listened intently as our guide walked us from chocolatière Michel Cluizel’s to Jean-Paul Hevin’s with 2 others in between, learning about beans, spices and the combinations that make “la difference” in the flavors … I focused on texture and aroma as I tasted hand made chocolates at each of the four stops. Janet and I shared pieces of “Pain Ancient” (traditional bread) to “cleanse our palate” between samples and I asked about hot chocolate, taking notes . . .
While Louis was out having his fun, Maria Teresa was consuming a lot of chocolate — and having her own adventures. Whether it was the alleged erotic qualities of the chocolate or simply the power of being Queen, she enjoyed a few good romps in the gardens at Versailles, eventually falling in love with one particular fellow of African decent. When her 5th child (female) was born, she had very dark skin. MT’s enemies at Court were outraged . . . .but her friends at Court blamed it on the cocoa.
I greeted Bond, James, when he arrived at the airport with a croissant plus 2 pieces of what I’ve decided is the best dark chocolate in Paris. After a few giggles reacquainting ourselves chez moi, we headed out in to the street –he ordered his first Croque Monsieur (French style toasted ham and cheese sandwich) in a local bistro while we discussed my research project. Invigorated, he enthusiastically agreed to accompany me on my quest.
We headed back to Jean-Paul Hévin on the Rue Saint Honoré, the last stop on the tour and the first choice of my guide. In their contemporary cafe on the second floor, we poured a cup of chocolat chaud from a small pitcher … Hot, rich and a touch bitter (6.50€), we rated it a “7.”
The following day, we sampled Angelina‘s … “Marie Antoinette” in atmosphere, it’s a tea room with Poussin inspired murals of french landscapes interspersed between gilded mirrors. Served at perfect drinking temperature and accompanied by a small ramekin peaked with whipped cream which when added, cut some of the sweetness but added even more thickness to the consistency, it is rich, thick and PERFECT in every way. A bargain at 6.60€.
Chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac flourished in the French courts. Art and literature used erotic imagery inspired by chocolate….the Marquis de Sade disguised poisons with it, Casanova mixed chocolate with champagne to seduce, Madame de Pompadour was advised to use it with liquor to stimulate desire and Madame du Barry, a known nympho, encouraged her lovers to drink chocolate in order to keep up with her . . .
Sometimes fame is earned and that’s clearly the case at Angelina: hands down, THE best hot chocolate EVER. But having activated my sweet tooth it was impassible to stop. We sampled another cup of cacao in the 6th floor Brasserie in the department store PRINTEMPS under an 18th century stained glass dome, another at the famed Café Flore on the Boulevard Saint Germain and at my favorite wifi brasserie, Le Buci in the 6th District. That, along with some lovely moments of private pleasure, have been a regular part of our daily diet since Bond, James, arrived in Paris . . . so I’m not sure if Madame de Pompadour or Madame du Barry were wisely advised but we’ve been happy campers despite the weather.
NOTE TO SELF: Get back on the treadmill!