Feasts & Fancies: Chocolate Notes

One of my favourite haunts is Chocolate Notes.  

Norwich, where we live, could possibly be described as the city that always sleeps, in that – unless you resort to a chain (and I prefer independent cafés) – it’s near impossible to have breakfast before about 8 a.m. because everywhere is still closed, and quite a challenge to have afternoon tea after 4 p.m., because most places close around about then.  The beauty of Chocolate Notes is that you can enjoy a steaming bol of chocolate with a freshly baked, buttered baguette as early as 7 a.m., while being gently woken up by a cello suite by J. S. Bach, and pop in for a late night malted cocoa just before midnight, lulled by soft madrigals by Byrd or Gibbons, before a slow stroll home across a ghost town where you can hear your footsteps tip-tap on the flint cobblestones and meet only the odd prowling cat.  During the day, I often pop in for a “choc-express”: a large thimble-size shot of black, 100% raw cacao, knocked back while standing at the counter, the way Italians get their fix of coffee in bars in Rome.  It is also the only place in town where you can sit and read all the main international broadsheets. They even have the literary supplements.  Consequently, the café area is like a miniature version of London, where you can hear several languages being spoken at any one time. 

Chocolate Notes is a hot chocolate and classical CD shop in one.  The owner, Fiamma, a viol player, lived in about twenty different countries and on at least three continents before moving to Norwich.  “I fell in love with the dramatic, shapeshifting skies,” she says, brushing her mane of wavy, pre-Raphaelite red hair over one shoulder. “I like having 180º of sky when I step out of the house.” 

Whether you’re a fan of concertos, symphonies, opera, lieder or Early Music, Fiamma either stocks it or can order it for the following week.

As well as being one the very, very few shops in the UK where you can not only purchase real, physical CDs, but also listen to a couple of tracks on state-of-the-art heaphones before buying them, Chocolate Notes is probably the world’s only hot chocolate café – and what a café.  The board behind the bar lists about twenty different options, all made from 100% organic cacao beans.  White chocolate with ginger or nutmeg; thick dark chocolate with a soupçon of cayenne and a dollop of crème fraîche; dark, bitter chocolate with a twist of mint; rich, medium brown chocolate perfumed with orange peel;  the “choc-express” mentioned earlier: 100% raw cacao and water, served in small espresso cups.  These are just a few and let’s not forget the “Guest Hot Chocolate of the Month”, which has included “HazelChoc”, “Morello Cherry Velvet” and “Coconut Fancy”.  Of course, there also the liqueur versions.    Like Belgian beers, every hot chocolate comes in its own special signature mug, cup or glass.

Most drinks are unsugared, unsweetened.  “You’d never dream of serving pre-sweetened coffee,” Fiamma says, raising an eyebrow, “so why not equally leave people the freedom to add sweetness to their hot chocolate if they wish to – or let them have it black if they choose?” 

On this front, there is a wide range of options available: golden sugar, dark moscovado sugar, date syrup, honey and maple syrup.  

I am a chocolate lover who never used to order hot chocolate because I always found it too sweet, so for me Chocolate Notes is a dream come true*.  I often go there in the evening, after dinner, and sit at a corner table and write.  “Just pick a drink for me,” I tell Fiamma.  She’ll ask me what I’m writing, and usually bring me my favourite:

Hot Chocolate with Cardamom   

(this one is for my dear friends Lee and Jane, who love hot chocolate)

Your essentials for one mug of hot chocolate:

(all measurements are approximate, see https://scribedoll.com/2023/01/15/new-blog-feasts-fancies/)

❧ Either goat’s or full-fat milk 

❧ 1 heaped teaspoon of raw, preferably organic cacao

❧ 1 teaspoon of date syrup

❧ 3 or 4 cardamom pods

❧ a non-stick milk pan

❧ a non-scratch whisk

❧ a little patience

Crush the cardamom pods with a pestle in a mortar.  I tend to remove the shells before putting the seeds into the pan because I like chewing them, but if you’re planning on straining the drink before serving it, then you can throw everything into the pan, although I recommend crushing the cardamom first to release the fragrance.

Once the cardamom is in the pan, add the cacao and the date syrup.  Cover with milk and let it stand for five or ten minutes.  Give the ingredients time to get acquainted.

Put the pan on a medium-low heat and start stirring slowly with the whisk.  Don’t rush, let the milk warm in its own time, the cardamom release its flavour, the cacao blend in, the date syrup give the brownness a hint of red.  Heat it for about ten minutes, stirring slowly, rhythmically, respectfully.  Watch for the first bubble (don’t let the milk boil – it will impair the flavour) and remove from the hob.  Strain if you don’t want the cardamom in your cup.  

Serve this hot chocolate in the kind of mug or cup you want to curl your fingers around, your palms to hug.

* Err…. not yet.

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22 Responses to Feasts & Fancies: Chocolate Notes

  1. Lori says:

    Another evocative post, Katia!

  2. ailsawood says:

    Next time I’m in town… let’s go!

  3. Clifford Lee Johnson III says:

    This is the Lee mentioned. I canna wait to try this. Thank you, Katia!

  4. sammee44 says:

    You are so fortunate to have access to a fabulous cafe like Chocolate Notes. We don’t have anything like that in my hometown–at least, not yet. I love anything with dark chocolate and only recently discovered Vegan-friendly Camino Intensely Dark and Camino Simply Dark Hot Chocolate powders—-both allows me to use my own milk,
    sugars and flavorings. When I indulge in my cuppa, I’ll think of you, Katia 🙂

  5. Katia, Thanks for the recipe. I may have to try it out. I understand the non-sweet idea. I am not a coffee drinker, but to I do add a little bit of coffee to cut the sweetness of hot chocolate. It makes the hot chocolate less sweet, and a bit richer in taste. ~nan

    • Scribe Doll says:

      My grandmother once accidentally cut my hot chocolate with coffee and I liked the moka effect. But coffee makes me climb the walls for several hours.

      • Then definitely don’t try the coffee addition. Since I really don’t drink coffee, I can’t imagine the climbing the walls from the caffeine rush. Chocolate does not have caffeine in it; it has theobroma (theobromine) in it despite what many people say. While chemically similar to caffeine, it doesn’t generally cause the same “caffeine jitters.” ~nan

  6. William McKee says:

    Where is this wonderful place? Neither Apple Maps nor Google showed anything for “Chocolate Notes”.

    • Scribe Doll says:

      Have a look at the asterisk and related footnote.

      • William McKee says:

        Ah – took a while – but I got it in the end – bit too subtle for me initially! I thought there was a new incarnation of “Prelude Records” but alas No. I was hoping to meet my long time Greek friends there who live in Athens but live half the year in Norwich – where is the nearest place you recommend to this Utopia?

      • Scribe Doll says:

        Ah, how I miss Prelude Records! It was my refuge and respite place during a heavy working day. The owner was so helpful and the staff also lovely). They had a good selection of Early Music, right up my street. I still get a twinge whenever I walk past the restaurant now standing in its place. I’m afraid I don’t know anywhere in Norwich that is in any way similar to this dram place of mine. Café Club (St Andrew’s Hill) do 3 or 4 varieties of good hot chocolate – but sweetened. I love Sahara (St Benedict’s), for the atmosphere, but not tried their hot chocolate. Do share your tips, too.

      • William McKee says:

        Looks like I’m not the only one who missed the *!!!
        Thanks for the ideas.
        I’ll try St Benedict’s the next time I am up.

  7. Sue Cumisky says:

    Heaven on earth.

  8. Anna says:

    Dear Katia,
    My comment is not so much about hot chocolate as about coffee)) Your post reminded me of this coffee-drinking tradition in Italy. My daughter has lived in Italy (first in Turin, now in Milan) for 8 years. Oh, no, before that she lived in Venezia for 9 months in 2013 engaged in a special youth programme. So, while living in Russia she had never ever drunk coffee, fancy that! She was totally not into coffee. But once she moved to Italy she slowly and surely got used to it and now she cannot imagine her life without a small (small! – mind you) cup of coffee, more often than not unsugared. Whenever she sees me with a large cup of Americano – she gets startled, haha!!
    In the summer I visited them in Italy for the first time. One of the most memorable episodes of my one month stay there is getting up in the morning and going out to a nearby cafe for a coffee and a freshly-made croissant. Yummy!! So, thank you dear Katia for a very interesting post which did not only give me the pleasure of reading it, but also brought up some memories of the beautiful Italy and my unforgettable days with my daughter and her Italian family!)))

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