Want Your Coffee and Hot Cocoa, Too? This Italian Drink Combines Them

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

I suffer the occasional crisis triggered by an inability to make a decision...about hot drinks. This can happen anywhere, but ice-skating rinks and ski slopes are particularly likely scenes. It starts with my daily need for caffeine, specifically in the form of a steaming cup of black coffee. But as I approach the counter to order my joe, someone always walks by with a frothy cup of hot chocolate. I freeze with indecision.

Only the coffee will deliver the dose of caffeine I need, but that hot chocolate is singing a sweet, whipped-cream-topped siren song.

Turns out there's an easy solution: Take a cue from the Milanese, and put both into one mug. The drink is called barbajada, and it's as simple as it is brilliant.*

* Hat tip to commenter @SteUK for introducing me to it!

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There's not too much technique to discuss here—making it is something we all know how to do. Mix some cocoa powder with sugar, whisk it into hot milk, and add coffee. (Any strong coffee will do, whether that's a couple shots of espresso or a concentrated brew made with your preferred method.)

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It's worth noting that different types of cocoa powder will yield slightly different results in this recipe, with natural cocoa powder creating a more acidic, fruity flavor, while Dutch-processed cocoa will be earthier and nuttier. In this application, Dutch would be my recommendation, since the coffee generally brings its own acidity. Also, take note of the cocoa's fat content—supermarket brands like Hershey's are inexpensive because they're partially defatted, while powders like Valrhona or Cacao Barry Extra Brute have nearly twice the fat, helping to improve the mouthfeel in a light-bodied drink like this one.

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Once you've combined the ingredients, just whisk them all until the mixture is steaming and very frothy, then ladle into warmed mugs. A big dollop of whipped cream on top is practically de rigueur. Although, since this is from Italy, I'd be more correct to say that the whipped cream is d'obbligo. You know, obligatory, which is what combining hot chocolate and coffee is going to be from now on at my house.