COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
I miss my grandmother’s hot chocolate which I cannot easily find the likes in these days. It was so full of aroma and flavor. She had it during her afternoon snacks to go with a cake she baked or any native delicacy she just whipped at the kitchen.
Lola Benita won’t drink another’s brew so she had to make her own tablea. We grew some native cacao and coffee trees in our yard for home use. And Lola decides when to harvest the fruits, how long to dry the cacao and coffee beans in the sun, and the intensity of heat in roasting the beans to make a perfect brew for her taste.
The small kids were not allowed to drink coffee but we got to taste real chocolate – her homemade hot chocolate. And unlike coffee or tea that can be served by the porcelain pot, hot chocolate must be poured directly on your cup straight from the batirol – that vase-like cooking pot – and still with the air bubbles. So a cup is really made especially for you. Lola’s hot chocolate had the consistency of a melted ice cream, thick but not heavy. Her thoroughly processed tablea really made for a delicious blend.
Lola made hot chocolate by the cup or at most two cups. Once the right proportion of tablea, water, and sugar is prepared inside the batirol the mixture is then brought to the fire. When it brings to a boil, the batirol is taken away from the heat and the chocolate whisked with a wooden beater. Then back again to the fire, let it boil, then out to be whisked again. It usually took three times to beat the chocolate mixture before finally pouring it to the cup.
Now without Lola Benita and the batirol, I just try to make my own hot chocolate in a saucepan and beat it with a wire whisk. A poor brew, especially now that good tablea is hard to come by. Those found in the market are not well-roasted; some are underdone while others are overcooked or sometimes a mixture of both and, at times adulterated.
But then there’s CafeUrbana – where you can sip the finest hot chocolate in town.
One late afternoon I was taking a walk when it rained. That was when I decided to take some shelter at CafeUrbana, this newly opened café-resto here in Tacloban offering some delightful French treats. Days earlier, the café-resto manager invited me to taste their hot chocolate, Chocolat Chaud. It’s a special blend that has been handed down from one generation to another, indeed a drink with a tradition. Further, she said that I should also try their roasted eggplant panini.
So that rainy Saturday afternoon seemed right for a hot chocolate. Then and there, I stepped into this warm and cozy place for a hot treat. And fortunately enough, the owners were around to keep me a little company.
The first thing I noticed upon entering CafeUrbana was the soft blend of its interior – an Asian African mix with a modern touch. The tables and chairs are fashioned with slats of wood and metal and retained their original hues. A mahogany trunk in its natural form serves as a post at the bar. And the bar itself is paneled with tikog dyed in deep browns and moldings varnished with wood stain – very beautiful combination for surface finishing.
African inspired wood craft hang on the concrete walls done in warm colors. Two large frames of wood in particular hang facing each other like guards, the one carved out like a maze. Beautiful and haunting works of art; and either you’re reminded of a historical museum or a family gallery with a collection of cultural artifacts.
But now for my hot chocolate. Chocolat Chaud came in a big cup steaming hot with marshmallow floating and already starting to melt. A melting marshmallow blends well with thick chocolate in your mouth so you sip it at that moment. It’s a sophisticated continental taste. Just the right mix for me especially for one who doesn’t always take in to cream or milk with hot drinks; be it coffee, tea, or chocolate. Marasa. It is medium in body so it doesn’t satiate you immediately that you can enjoy another cup.
Then, the roasted eggplant panini; well a panini is simply a hot sandwich. Yes, a hot sandwich and this one are made of whole wheat bread stuffed with roasted eggplant and cream cheese and then grilled. You slice it with your knife bite size and pick it with your fork, or for a truer feel, pick a slice with your fingers before bringing it to your mouth. A slice or two of the panini is a good alternate to every sip of the hot chocolate; just a perfect combination for a snack or a light meal if you will.
So now even with my Lola Benita gone with her delicious concoction of homemade hot chocolate, I can have Chocolat Chaud at CafeUrbana plus the added treat of a Roasted Eggplant Panini with Cream Cheese. Try it!