The road to hell is actually a river of hot chocolate

A decadent end to a dry, dry month

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      You remember that kid who drowned in Willy Wonka’s chocolate river? Picture that, but it’s me, and there’s a big ol’ smile on my face as I sink into the chocolate’s warm embrace. 

      I was never much of a hot chocolate drinker. My pick for warm beverages are usually reserved for a well sugared coffee on the occasional sleepy afternoon, and even then it was more for the caffeine kick than the taste of hot bean broth. But this January? It changed things. It changed me. …In ways I’m still not sure are necessarily for better or worse or both. 

      I, like so many others when the calendar flips to a new year, started January off with some aspirational goals. The biggest? Make it through the entire month of January without a drop of alcohol. AKA Dry January. AKA the first time I’d have gone so long without a drink since 10th grade, probably. 

      Sure, a recommitment to vegetarianism and trying to ‘maybe work out more’ were also in the cards, but abstaining from booze was definitely the biggie. It helped that I’d be going into it with my equally-as-in-love-with-libations partner, and it definitely helped that we both have something of an overly-competitive streak, which meant that a craving for a cocktail would result in endless ridicule and the handing over of eternal bragging rights. 

      The first few weeks went by easily enough. We still had a hankering for beer and wine and the occasional bottle of bubbly, but we got by on the non-alcoholic versions of the aforementioned inebriants. And what a selection there was! Most grocery stores have non-alcoholic beer by the box and at least a few dealcoholized wines to choose from, the local liquor store has its own non-alc section, and there are even some booze-free versions of the harder stuff in case you’re craving the burning sensation only a heavy-on-the-G kind of G&T can provide. I was doing pretty well, if I do say so myself. 

      Enter the Hot Chocolate Festival.

      Now, spoiler alert, the hot chocolate festival didn’t make me give up on sobriety. (That particular lapse in willpower actually came after the partner and I decided on some mutually-assured-and-agreed-upon destruction at the four-week mark on January 28. It’s not our fault that February started on a Wednesday, okay?) 

      For those who have been living in lactose-free seclusion for the past 13 years, the Greater Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival is a now-13-year-old institution around the city, in which cafés, pastry shops, bakeries, chocolatiers, ice cream shops, and god only knows where else come up with extremely extravagant (and incredibly Instagrammable) takes on the comforting drink during the cold, cold days of January 14 to February 14. We’re talking 145 flavours from 66 shops across 95 locations, spanning from Whistler to White Rock. You’d have to average about 5 different hot chocolates a day over the course of the festival to try all the flavours on offer. It would also cost you roughly $1,500. At least. 

      Granted, you’re probably not going to have two or three or six hot chocolates during a wild night out—unless you actually are trying to hit all of the flavours, that is, in which case Godspeed you, bittersweet emperor—but damn do those dairy-soaked dollars ever rack up. Especially when you’re constantly in need of a:

      • Reason to go out for a fun drink with a friend
      • Warm cuppa something to take the edge off the biting cold of a Vancouver winter (we hear you laughing, rest of Canada, but it’s a wet cold, alright) 
      • Casual date idea that doesn’t include ordering a full blown meal 
      • Excuse to get yourself, you know, a cute lil’ treat or somethin

      Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had an absolutely gorgeous time skipping through the city and enjoying some of the most scrumptious pairings of hot chocco + treat that I’ve ever had. There’s one with a cotton candy cloud. Another has red velvet whipped cream. Forget the Instagrammability—these things are just downright delicious. But the cocoa leaves left at the bottom of my mug spelled out a troubling truth I was terrified to face. 

      Cut to me floating around in Wonka’s River. That’s the thing about poor Augustus Gloop; the kid straight up drowned. Or at least it’s heavily implied he did; we didn’t really see him at all after the whole glass pipe debacle. There was definitely an on-the-nose Oompa Loompa song about gluttony mixed in there, too, because what was Willy Wonka about really if not a warning of the deadly sins? 

      Which all made me realize that my craving for decadent drinks, my love of overpriced beveraginos, and my inability to factor my health into any equation regarding what goes down the gullet isn’t, actually, mutually exclusive to alcohol. 

      As easy as it would be to blame the booze for my dwindling savings account or my declining health, the belief that a month off drinking will be the magical cure for all that ails me is, clearly, a much more naively optimist (or is it optimistically naive?) expectation than the true reality of the situation; that maintaining health and happiness is an ongoing, multitudinous pursuit, and one that can’t be “fixed” simply by giving up a particular vice for a month. 

      It was all honestly quite the sobering realization—and one I wasn’t expecting to come to as the result of an adorable hot chocolate festival being held in my city, but here we are. 

      One last word of advice: If you’re going to replace one drinking habit with another, maybe consider water. Or home-brewed kombucha. Or soylent, even. Because finding yourself aboard that Hot Chocolate Fest train is a dangerous(ly delicious) ride, indeed.