Rains have marked the first few days of the new year, cooling off an otherwise balmy holiday season. With a marked tropical depression uncharacteristically so early in and off-season, and with northern Mindanao still reeling from the devastation of the last typhoon, 2012 does not bode well.
But Filipinos are intimate with floods and typhoons, and treat rains as blessings. And so the weather disturbance that threatened to develop into a tropical storm actually meant the new year is off to an auspicious start.
The constant battering of nature, though, can be wearying, and worrying. More so with the fact that it doesn't just happen in the Philipphines. And the latest pronouncement from PAGASA is that the first half of the year is going to be really wet this side of the Pacific due to La Nina.
Because we are just humans and most often at the mercy of nature, what can we do but accept and be prepared? And take comfort in the fact that we are alive, in good health, with a roof over our heads, and we have our families with us. And eating good, if not well.
In times like these, and especially in tune with the season, I comfort myself with a cup of hot tsokolate, a traditional hot drink made from pure ground cacao beans. It is what I grew up drinking, because my family made the round chocolate tablets for the hot thick beverage, both for our own consumption and to fill orders of other families.
I wasn't allowed coffee as a child, and the prohibition was so effective that I carried it on into my adulthood. So a hot cup of milk chocolate is what I would nurse when meeting friends. And invariably when eating out, I would order hot chocolate if it is on the menu. This from the time I arrived in the metropolis for my college studies up to now, oftentimes sharing a large cup with my kids.
To start the year in a festive way (as if I haven't had enough of the festivities and the eating), let me share with all of you my favorite cups of hot chocolate. May they comfort you as well, and bring you warmth wherever you go. And because chocolate is good for the heart, may they soothe your hearts literally and figuratively.
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- Home-Made Tsokolate - a very obvious top-most choice. I always make hot chocolate drinks at home, of course. My family has stopped making tsokolate tablea, but I soon realized as I traveled the country that it abounds in the provinces. So I scour provincial markets and bring home tablea in all shapes and sizes and in varying degrees of strength and quality.
I am also grateful for my constant supply of home-made tsokolate rolls from my aunt-in-law in Mangaldan (photo above), made from home-grown cacao beans, which my youngest frequently begs to be made into champorado for breakfast, eating it all day. She glugs the hot chocolate drink, too, all day.
Making hot chocolate to drink at home has all the advantages - the strength of the chocolate can be calibrated to one's preference, extra cups can be had at no extra cost over the course of many hours, and no one would mind if you want to lounge around cradling your cup in your pajamas.
My preferred chocolate mix is 2/3 cup water for every tablea/ball, substituting the last cup with milk, and measuring out one tablea for each person, although I usually add several tableas (with the corresponding water) over the number of people in our household as I normally drink two cups, and the kids like to have "chocolate milk" in between meals.
Gritty, with a strongly dominant chocolate flavor, just a hint of cream from the milk, the copper-bronze hue of the liquid glistening with cacao oil, and with an unmistakeable fruity tang, tsokolate is my ultimate comforting drink.
Needless to say, tsokolate from cacao tablea is the standard against which I measure any and all chocolate drinks. I am very harsh about weak chocolate drinks - steamed milk mixed with processed chocolate powder, which probably contain so many synthetic ingredients and had undergone so many processes that its taste is so far removed from its origins. So the following collection from commercial sources are not your ordinary chocolate drinks - they all have powerful chocolate flavors, and most are not silky smooth.
- Pure & Best Low Fat Chocolate Milk - I have been patronizing Hacienda Macalauan products for more than two years now, although they had only become commercially available last year. I’m lucky that I work in a building near the corporate offices of the company, and my colleagues and I used to just call in an order for their vanilla and chocolate milk in 2-liter jugs, then picked them up on delivery days Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I was also a fan of the variously flavored natural yogurts, sour cream and the excellent mozzarella, the likes of which I’ve never bought anywhere else. On occasion I’ve also ordered a bottle or two of half and half and the superlative liquid cocoa, the latter like a liquid Royce dark chocolate bar that makes chocolate pastries shine, and also made for a dreamily silky chocolate drink mixed with a little vanilla milk.
Now most large supermarkets carry Hacienda milk in chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and mango (like liquid ice cream!) flavors, plus full-cream, low-fat and half and half, in 1-liter and 200 mL cartons, as well as the yogurts. Individual cartons are also stocked by 7-11. The chocolate milk is sold at a little premium over the other milk flavors, and it is the one likely to be still in mint condition when I get home and on for the next few days.
Yes, Hacienda Macalauan milk, unlike commercially processed ones, spoil easily. When I used to buy at the corporate offices, I would bring a cooler and the staff would fill it up with ice cubes to keep the jugs cold all the way home. Now I bring an insulated bag and frozen cooling gel packs, because, as it says in the cartons, the milk has to be kept at temperature below 4 degrees C.
So if anyone out there buys and has an intervening time of more than 30 minutes from the grocery going back to your house, I suggest you do the same. And get the milk from the chiller last, just before paying at the cashier. Also always check the expiry date, and get the carton with ED the farthest. The milk is most probably already spoiled four-five days before the ED.
The vanilla milk, which everybody in my family loves, spoils the fastest, and I don’t know why but lately all vanilla milk I’ve bought were already sour and curdled even though I pack them in ice.
All this trouble for a carton of milk, you say? Yes, and all the expense, too, from the spoiled milk, and because they sell higher by about 25-30% than the UHT processed ones. It’s because they’re that good. Cold or hot, the chocolate milk is thick and velvety, and flavorsome. As the other milk flavors. The goodness comes from being preservative-free and totally organic.
The cows from which the milk come from aren’t given hormones and antibiotics, and pasture on pesticide-free grass at the foot of Mt. Makiling. All these are more than enough reasons for the trouble, even for just a cup of chocolate milk.
Pure & Best Milk
by Hacienda Macalauan
Available in most supermarkets in and around Metro Manila
- Dark, Bittersweet Chocolate at Cafe by the Ruins - Whenever I am in Baguio I'm always itching to go eat at Cafe by the Ruins. If possible I'd like to have all my breakfasts there. The native tsokolate, which is called Dark, Bittersweet Chocolate on the menu, is attuned to the soul-soothing tranquility of the ambience, and instantly warms against the cold of the highlands.
Dark, deep, macho. Poured with carabao's milk, sweetened with muscovado and spiced with cinnamon, this cup of chocolate pairs perfectly with the cafe's rolls and breads. Drinking it is always a becalming way of starting my Baguio holiday.
- Native Tsokolate at Abuelita's - this cup is creamy owing to the evaporated milk added in and scalded while the chocolate is still foaming off over fire. The chocolate is mildly potent in strength and smooth. The owner says the tablea is homemade, and can be bought at the premises for brewing at home. It is perfect with Vigan longganiza (also available at Abuelita's cooked and uncooked, and better than the ones being sold at the public market).
I've read somewhere that a small square of chocolate can remove garlic breath. In Vigan, eating Vigan longganiza for breakfast is a must, but if you don't want to be smelling like a sack of garlic while you tour the museums, imbibing a cup of Abuelita's tsokolate afterward is all it takes.
Calle Mabini corner Calle Reyes
Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
I don't care much for the French rolls - perhaps it is the weather, but I've had better croissants even from supermarkets in Paris and at the airport in Rome. But I invariably find myself at the cafe for the tsokolate.
1 Juno Street corner Makati Avenue
Tel. No. (632) 2181662, 7980740
Ayala Triangle Gardens
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My Other Favorite Hot Drink
My Favorite Starbucks
Cafe by the Ruins
Royce Nama Chocolate