Thomas J. Story
BERKELEY You'd expect Scharffen Berger's own cafe to produce a superior hot chocolate, and you'd be right. You have two options here: a forthright cocoa and a richer, chocolate shaving–topped version. Either goes extremely well with the desserts. $2.50–$3. 914 Heinz Ave.; 510/843-6000.
PALO ALTO Latin America comes to downtown Palo Alto. Choose between a fine "Abuela" (grandmother's) hot chocolate and a spice-laden Mayan blend. (Both varieties are offered cold too and can be mixed into various coffee drinks.) $2.75–$3.50. 538 Ramona St.; 650/322-6872.
SAN FRANCISCO Intense, bittersweet, here is grown-up hot chocolate, ideal for sipping while you ponder the start or finish of an affair. It's served in a hefty, handleless latte bowl. Citizen Cake also offers a more insouciant cocoa. $3.25–$5; closed Mon. 399 Grove St.; 415/861-2228.
Town Hall. The menu proclaims the hot chocolate to be the best in San Francisco. We can't disagree but will note that the thick, incredibly rich brew (served with a side of whipped cream and a biscotto) is really more of a dessert — or maybe an entire meal. $7. 342 Howard St.; 415/908-3900.
SANTA CRUZ There's a bevy of choices here, from Sofia (dark Italian cocoa) to Frida (cinnamon-tinged Mexican cocoa) and more. It's next to Bookshop Santa Cruz, so you can buy a paperback to accompany your sipping. $3–$4. 1522 Pacific Ave.; 831/427-9900. —PETER FISH