Creme de la cocoa

Don Quixote had honor. Jason had the Golden Fleece. We have the perfect cup of hot chocolate.

Sure, finding the Marquette area's best hot chocolate isn't on par with finding, say, the Holy Grail. But as the holidays retreat into last year's calendar and Spring Break remains weeks away, students can turn to a hot cup of cocoa as an antidote to gray skies and biting winds. And finding such a beverage, to us, is surely a noble quest…

1. Bella Caffe 189 N. Milwaukee St.

12 oz. $2.10, 16 oz. $2.40, 20 oz. $2.70

Bella prides itself on being upscale. It makes its hot chocolate with Omanhene cocoa powder and milk and serves it in a mug rather than a to-go cup — a classier touch. The hot chocolate itself had the most cocoa flavor and had a savory aftertaste, thanks probably to its lack of syrup. This drink will leave you feeling comforted not from the warm temperature, but from the taste.

Best if: You're in the Third Ward and looking for a rich flavor that sticks with you.

2. Cedarburg Coffee Roastery 400 N. Water St. (inside Milwaukee Public Market)

12 oz. $1.75, 16 oz. $2.00, 20 oz. $2.50

This cup was good from start to finish. Made with a combination of Hershey's syrup and chocolate milk, the taste was strong and even throughout. It was light and frothy but still full-bodied and chocolate-flavored. One caveat: The staff had to ask three times if they should put whipped cream on it; hot chocolate ain't rocket science.

Best if: You like a lighter, foamier version of this classic drink.

3. Alterra on the Lake 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.

8 oz. $1.45, 12 oz. $1.70, 16 oz. $2.20, 20 oz. $2.70

Served very hot, this cup of "old-fashioned hot chocolate" had a rich, even taste. Like Bella's hot chocolate, it was made with Omanhene cocoa and chocolate syrup. The result is thoroughly traditional — subtle chocolate flavor and a pleasant bitterness.

Best if: You're a traditionalist who likes hot chocolate hot and flavorful.

4. Brew Bayou AMU, Cudahy, Straz and on the Bridge

12 oz. $1.60, 16 oz. $1.85, 20 oz. $2.20

Dorothy got it right: Sometimes, there's no place like home. This hot chocolate was served piping hot and blended evenly. It was made with syrup but lacked the overly sweet qualities of other made-from-syrup drinks. An added bonus: It came with a lot of whipped cream.

Best if: You're late for class (or even if you're not) and want a hot drink to get you fired up.

5. Mocha 124 W. Wisconsin Ave.

12 oz. $1.85, 20 oz. $2.85

Whatever this was, it was good — but it wasn't hot chocolate. Made from chocolate milk, vanilla flavoring and flaked chocolate, it had an interesting vanilla-almond flavor and a smooth texture. The only chocolate flavor came in the aftertaste. Mocha had the right idea but the wrong result.

Best if: You're looking for something exotic and nontraditional.

6. Starbucks 1610 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Tall $2.35, Grande $2.60, Venti $2.80

This hot chocolate, made with Hershey's syrup and vanilla flavor, had a sweet flavor and curiously chalky aftertaste. Starbucks' hot chocolate was thinner than most and therefore none too warm. This hot chocolate seemed good while being drunk but didn't exactly fill any voids.

Good for: A less intense hot chocolate experience.

7. Steamer's 626 N. Water St.

12 oz. $1.50, 16 oz. $1.75

Sometimes, simple is best. Steamer's makes its hot chocolate from steamed milk and Hershey's syrup, and the results are quite satisfactory. It was a little too cold to qualify as a comforting winter drink, but it was the most chocolatey. Toward the end of the cup, the flavor became too thick and sweet.

Best if: You need a strong chocolate flavor… stat!

8. Beans and Barley 1901 E. North Ave.

Small $1.75, Large $2.25

The warmth of this "Mexican hot chocolate" comes more from its blend of spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg, than from its temperature. The melted-Red Hots flavor overwhelms the chocolate, which is only discernible underneath the other flavors in the aftertaste. The already powerful spice blend packed an even more potent punch towards the bottom of the cup.

Best if: You like your hot chocolate to take you for a walk on the wild side.

9. Nectar Café 708 N. Milwaukee St.

One size $2.20

This thick, almost milkshake-like drink was served lukewarm and unevenly mixed. The first few pleasant sips soon gave way to a syrupy concoction not immediately recognizable as hot chocolate.

Best if: You're desperate. Really desperate.

10. Stone Creek Coffee 215 E. Wisconsin Ave.

12 oz. $1.85 16 oz. $2.15 20 oz. $2.45

None of the elements worked together in this drink — the "hot" was overemphasized and the "chocolate" underemphasized. Stone Creek proudly states its hot chocolate is made from Ghirardelli chocolate and steamed milk on its price board, but the result is nothing to be proud of. It was grainy and watery and had a strange, slightly sour taste, perhaps because of the milk. Frankly, it was nothing to recommend.

Best if: You need to feel that your homemade hot chocolate is superior to store-bought.