It's cold. A hot drink is just the thing. But this time, instead of curling up in front of the VCR with a cup of Swiss Miss, a better way to warm up would be to grab a friend-or a newspaper-and linger over one of these local libations.
Mocha Latte with Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate
***image1***The mavens over at Chocolate Maven (821 W. San Mateo Road, 984-1980) take their chocolate seriously, no powders or syrups here. A mocha latte lovingly prepared by the Maven's Lucas has chocolate chips melted right into it. The complexly subtle Ghir-adelli semi-sweet chocolate converses surreptitiously with a well-concealed shot (or two, or three) of espresso; when blended seamlessly into a tall glass of frothy, warm whole milk with a sprinkle of cocoa powder, beware-the choco-caffeine combo are something of a flavor kamikaze, incognito.
The St. Francis Blend at Afternoon Tea
If you've ever felt the urge to put on some ***image2***white gloves, an expansive Queen Elizabeth II-type hat and gossip quietly with your lady friends on a Sunday afternoon, Afternoon Tea at the Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-5700) is the place to do it. A traditional English High Tea service-full with white china and a high backed chair-comes accompanied by a scrumptiously warm raisin scone with sweet cream and some strawberry jam, darlings. And the St. Francis blend, a slightly fruity mixture of Darjeeling and Chinese tea, goes brilliantly with a drop or two of milk, just like the Brits take it. Cheers!
A soupy, savory and strangely hearty concoction of pure cocoa nibs, red chile ***image3***and vanilla and agave nectar, this chocolate-y libation, with a spicy hot edge from the Longevity Café (112 W. San Francisco St., 986-0403), simultaneously clears your sinuses, cleanses your chi and gets you a little bit horny. According to the menu it's a ritual aphrodisiac of the ancient Maya, but surely the generous folks at Longevity have blended in a little somethin'-somethin' to assure that not only will you get lucky with your date, but you may just live long and prosper with her.
Red Rooibos Tea
The softly falling tea leaves in an ingenious ***image4***glass infuser are meditative, contemplative. When the infuser is removed, you're left with a steamingly clear and quiet cup of tea, that, perched on a tiny tatami-like coaster, is silence itself. But that silence incorporates a few subtle whispers: the Red Rooibos tea, a blend of red needle tea from South Africa and green Pai Mu Tan at the Teahouse (821 Canyon Road, 992-0972), is fragrant and ever just so slightly sweet.
Kariho Namahage Sake
If you really want to savor the sake experience-especially the refined, sophisticated and incredibly varied sake ***image5***experience-drinking it hot is a little boorish; in fact most premium sakes are taken at room temperature. According to Kasasoba (544-B Agua Fria, 984-1969) owner Christian Geideman, the first sakes that came into the US after World War II (and some current, unmentionable brands that come in boxes) were not as high quality as they are today, prompting sake ingenues to heat it up to cover the edge. But if you're looking to fire up your insides, there's still a world of exotic flavor to be found in a warm Kariho Namahage, which is earthy and sturdy enough to handle the heat.
The Rebel Yell
It's not a steaming cup o' joe; it's not a creamy, cozy hot chocolate, either. It's chilled in a tall martini glass and ***image6***served in Swig's (139 W. Palace Ave., 955-0505) impossibly cool bar while marine wildlife swim quietly by on the walls in bluish, softly glowing projections. But one sip of this elegant and not-too-sweet mixture of Cointreau, Vya sweet vermouth and Knob Creek bourbon rescues you from the chilly depths, wraps you up in a big fluffy towel and sets you down next to a roaring fire…with a black cherry on top.
Espresso at Café Paris
In Europe, ***image7***what we call "coffee"-drunk by the gallon out of paper cups-is sort of considered watered-down swill. If you want the real deal, and don't want the added insult of a lemon-peel in the saucer, talk to Paul Perrier, a true native of Monmarte, at the Café Paris (31 Burro Alley, 986-9162). He can serve you up a frothy, hot Italian espresso on a cool winter evening, with a couple sugar cubes on the side; maybe even a little kiss and a friendly "Bonsoir."