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I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth of the mug in my hands. I’m walking the streets of downtown

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth of the mug in my hands. I’m walking the streets of downtown

Hot Cocoa Harbor

I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth of the mug in my hands. I’m walking the streets of downtown Elizabeth City, bundled up in a hat, gloves, scarf, and boots. A brisk wind whips off the Pasquotank River a few blocks away and gains strength as it blows between the historic brick buildings on either side of me. My cheeks are numb. My eyes begin to water. But, oh, how good that first sip will taste. How sweet. How warm.

Elizabeth City is hosting its second annual Hot Cocoa Crawl this winter. Restaurants, cafés, shops, and inns have all come up with a variety of cocoa creations for the occasion. Some will serve classic hot chocolate. Others will mix in flavored syrups and sprinkles of candy. A handful will add splashes of liquor. All of the drinks on the menu will be made with care and consideration — so unlike the hot chocolate of my youth.

• • •

As a kid, making hot chocolate was always a hurried affair. I would scurry inside the house after a long day at school, my arms making a swish, swish, swish sound as they rubbed against the puffy polyester of my down jacket. I’d rip open a box of Swiss Miss, grab a packet of instant cocoa mix, and give it a shake to push the powder to the bottom. A fruitless gesture. When I opened the packet, brown powder still got everywhere, much to my mother’s chagrin. After dumping the cocoa and freeze-dried marshmallows into a mug of steaming water, I’d give it a stir. Powdery clumps of cocoa invariably rose to the surface, so I would stir it a few more times. Still clumpy? Eh, good enough.

The first sip almost always burned the roof of my mouth. The second was cooler and slightly bitter. But it was perfect. Well, actually, it was watered down — with bits of undissolved Swiss Miss crunching between my teeth as I sipped — but the moment that I had created was perfect.

Enjoy hot cocoa on the boardwalk. photograph by Baxter Miller

As I walk to the first stop on the Cocoa Crawl, I smile thinking of the younger me, completely content to drink hot chocolate made with tap water. Because even then, I knew that drinking hot chocolate was about making a memory. A time to pause and appreciate the stillness. To enjoy the middle of winter, when holiday decorations have been packed away, tree limbs are bare, and life seems to have slowed down. To sip and savor something that’s simple to make — whether you’re using water or milk. To sit suspended in that time before the grass turns green again and the world buzzes back to life. I think that’s why, as a child, I breezed through the process of making hot cocoa so quickly. I wanted to live in that moment.

Stepping inside Muddy Waters Coffeehouse on West Main Street, the scent of coffee and baked goods hits me. Ah, yes, finally … warmth. I’d better get started. I’ve got a full day of hot chocolate tasting ahead of me, which means that I’ll have plenty of time to ponder how much better cocoa is when it’s made with care.

At Muddy Waters Coffeehouse you can relax with your Liquid Brownie hot chocolate at a table next to a mural painted by local artist Holly Cole Luke. photograph by Baxter Miller

Liquid Brownie Hot Chocolate
Muddy Waters Coffeehouse

For this Cocoa Crawl creation, Muddy Waters Coffeehouse owners John and Audra Marx thought it fitting to pay tribute to the shop’s Liquid Brownie latte, one of the oldest — 20 years! — and most popular beverages on the menu. The hot chocolate version eighty-sixes the espresso but still incorporates hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate syrups, as well as whipped cream. Curl up on one of the coffeehouse’s couches or armchairs and take your time drinking this creamy cup: It’s served in a mug so large that it’s essentially a bowl with a handle.

100 West Main Street
(252) 338-2739

The Dirty Snowman
The Mills Downtown Bistro

Talk about a tall glass of chocolate. The Dirty Snowman is made with chocolate shavings that have been melted in steamed milk, mixed with full-fat vanilla ice cream, Baileys Original Irish Cream, and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur poured into an Irish coffee mug, and crowned with whipped cream and more chocolate shavings. Despite sounding incredibly rich, a sip of this drink won’t leave you feeling bloated. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and it strikes just the right balance of milk and chocolate.

200 North Poindexter Street
(252) 621-1471

Hot chocolate from The SweetEasy pairs well with the bakery’s pistachio, birthday cake, and lavender macarons. photograph by Baxter Miller

Pleasing Peppermint
The SweetEasy

This French café-themed bakery is keeping its hot chocolate offerings sweet and simple for the Cocoa Crawl, with peppermint hot chocolate that can be topped with whipped cream and marshmallows. Part of owner Casey Heard’s philosophy is to offer a wide range of drinks and other goodies, including cannoli and macarons.

112 North Poindexter Street
(252) 698-0109

For a more potent brew, try Ghost Harbor’s House of the Maker stout. photograph by Baxter Miller

House of the Maker Stout
Ghost Harbor Brewing Company

This mocha vanilla latte stout looks striking: dark as night in a chilled Belgian beer glass. Bring it close, and the robust scent of coffee emanates from its caramel-colored foam. The drink’s base is a traditional American stout, made with roasted malt and hops. The smooth, sweet flavor twist comes from the addition of vanilla, cocoa nibs, and cold-brew coffee made by Muddy Waters Coffeehouse.

602 East Colonial Avenue
(252) 599-1030

Almost everything at Paradiso Roma Ristorante is made from scratch — even the cocoa bombs that burst with flavor in the Sleigh No More. Try it with a shot of bourbon. photograph by Baxter Miller

Sleigh No More
Paradiso Roma Ristorante

Cozy up with a mug of hot cocoa and a view of the Pasquotank River at this waterside Italian restaurant. For the Sleigh No More, warm heavy cream is poured over a palm-size white or dark hot cocoa bomb (a tempered chocolate ball filled with cocoa mix and marshmallows). The cream melts the bomb’s hard outer shell, sending the mix and ’mallows inside swirling to the surface. And for the finishing touch? A splash of bourbon gives this toasty drink some added oomph.

35 Camden Causeway
(252) 333-1575

Red Wine Hot Chocolate
2 Souls Wine Bar

Wine and chocolate make for a classic pairing, but at 2 Souls Wine Bar, a third component is necessary to whip up this hot and chocolaty red wine beverage. The Mr. Coffee-brand Cocomotion that sits prominently on the counter is what co-owner Mel Martine uses to gently mix and heat a blend of chocolate milk and red wine. (Don’t worry: It tastes better than it sounds.) Martine borrowed her kids’ cocoa-making machine to devise a drink that tastes like a warm cherry cordial. Making beverages with booze isn’t exactly in the Cocomotion’s job description, though, so Martine is careful not to overwork the mixer.

512 East Main Street
(252) 679-7223

Elizabeth City’s Hot Cocoa Crawl takes place through January 15.

Get your chocolate fix


Big Boss Burritos

Enjoy a traditionally made Mexican hot chocolate infused with cinnamon and served with a churro.

110 North Poindexter Street
(252) 202-7155

Coastal Purl

Knit or crochet a mug sweater with one of this yarn shop’s “Mug Hug” kits.

106A Capital Trace
(252) 548-4801

Copper Canyon Soap Company

Fill up a mug of hot chocolate and shop for cocoa-inspired bath bombs, lip balm, soaps, and candles.

507 East Main Street

Cypress Creek Grill

Try the house-made hot cocoa that’s served with a gingerbread man.

113 South Water Street
(252) 334-9915

Elizabeth City Pizza Co.

For dessert, try the cocoa bomb: vanilla and chocolate gelatos in a chocolate shell.

507 East Main Street
(252) 787-4992

Montero’s Restaurant, Bar, and Catering

Order a hot cocoa with candy toppings of your choice — Snickers, Hershey’s, Reese’s, Twix, and more.

414 McArthur Drive
(252) 331-1067

The Culpepper Inn

Guests can indulge in a hot cocoa-themed breakfast and enter to win cocoa mix giveaways.

609 West Main Street
(252) 335-9235

The Market on Water Street

Make a one-of-a-kind hot cocoa with toppings from the cocoa bar.

102 North Water Street
(252) 562-6282

To see a full list of Hot Cocoa Crawl participants, go to hotcocoacapital.com.

This story was published on Dec 28, 2022

Chloe Klingstedt

Chloe Klingstedt is an assistant editor at Our State magazine, a Texan by birth, and a North Carolinian at heart.