It’s a sepia-tinged memory: The holidays. A nip in the air. A piping cup of hot cocoa. It’s prime time to indulge again. But the toasty interpretations of the classic drink now on Twin Cities cafe menus resemble the cups from your memories only through the nostalgia you’ll feel while drinking them.

“We grew up on those little bags of cocoa,” says John Kraus, owner and chef of Rose Street Patisserie. “But let’s face it, it was mostly filler. Cornstarch. Thickening. Now in cafes … it’s the chocolate that’s being highlighted, and we’re taking it to a whole new level.”

Using beans from around the world and new flavor combinations, local baristas are presenting sophisticated takes on the smooth sipper and stretching our understanding of what hot chocolate can be — sweet, bitter, fruity, even floral. “An apple in Wisconsin tastes different than an apple in Minnesota,” Kraus says. “And chocolate is that way too — it changes so much based on where it came from.”

The result is an elevated drink. Rose Street serves a sipping chocolate “like liquid ganache, in an espresso cup,” Kraus says — and chocolate-infused teas, among other chocolate drinks. Versions at other cafes incorporate spices or herbs, or simply lean on the rich, complex elements of the beans themselves.

“Now I think people are seeing how special chocolate is as a raw ingredient,” Kraus says. “The opportunities are endless.”

3 Sweet sippers

Viennese Chocolate: Rose Street Patisserie’s St. Paul location,
A changing cast of ingredients — buckwheat and orange blossom honey, Earl Grey tea — is whipped into chocolate. “It is so smooth and aerated, it’s like you’re drinking silk,” says owner John Kraus.

Noisette: Salty Tart,
Housemade hazelnut and fudge syrups, steamed milk and orange bitters are incorporated into espresso for a mosaic of intensely warming flavors.

Hot chocolate: Botany Coffee,
Sometimes simple is satisfying. This rendition uses rich, fruity Californian chocolate and a bit of vanilla to make a syrup, and blends it with steamed milk to order.