Mugs of powdered disappointment are still sadly prevalent, even in places you'd credit with knowing better, but thankfully aficionados will find no shortage of savvy cafés and specialists in Edinburgh where the art of heavenly hot chocolate is understood.
The Chocolate Tree in Bruntsfield takes hot chocolate very seriously indeed. It warrants its own menu, which more closely resembles a wine list, with its details of origin (namely Uganda, Tanzania, Venezuela and Madagascar) and gradients of cocoa content and descriptions of flavour and depth, peppered with words like organic, artisan and single origin. Choose from white, milk or varying grades of dark, and flavours such as chai, rose and vanilla, and orange winter spice.
At Coro in Canonmills the incredibly rich and beautifully presented drinking chocolate starts with a melted Belgian chocolate base, in either white, milk or dark varieties, to which frothy steamed milk and flavours including chilli, peanut butter, fresh mint, strawberries and hazelnuts, nougat and caramel or a shot of espresso are added. For the true addict, you can even order the unadulterated melted chocolate by the shot.
The Hotel Chocolat café on Frederick Street (and its outpost in John Lewis) serves up hot chocolate in flavours including hazelnut, chilli and the now ubiquitous but no less delicious salted caramel – plus a Christmas variety flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – all of which are distinctively less cloyingly sweet than the average. Also on offer are their cocoa shell infusions – made from crushed, roasted cocoa shells as an alternative to tea, plain or flavoured with peppermint or ginger.
For a twist on the traditional, head to Mary's Milk Bar on the Grassmarket for a hot chocolate ice cream float – a hulking dollop of what is unquestionable the city's best gelato, plopped into a giant mug of creamy, steaming chocolate. Thanks to the ever-changing array of fantastical ice cream varieties on offer (including Christmas specials white chocolate and pine needle, fig and hazelnut, mince pie, brandy chestnut choc chip, and mulled pear sorbet) and a choice of hot chocolates that includes dark chocolate and sea salt, orange and cinnamon, even frankincense and myrrh, flavour combinations are pretty much limitless.
At Contini they serve hot chocolate for the purist – there are no outlandish flavour combos to contend with, just the traditional accoutrements of marshmallows and whipped cream, or steamed milk on the side to dilute as (or rather, if) you wish, but what you're served is basically liquid (55 per cent cocoa) chocolate in a cup that might as well be a bowl.