There is this little chocolate shop called Araya which we pass by often, that is right next to the gorgeous Art Deco River Oaks Cinema. When the cinema opened in November 1939 it showed a film called Bachelor Mother starring David Niven and Ginger Rogers. Tonight it is showing a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show…how times have changed.
But we weren’t here for a movie, we were here for Araya. Araya is a tiny little family owned and run chocolate shop. For how tiny it looks, one is surprised to find Araya chocolates sold in all sorts of shops around the city. All their chocolates are handmade from scratch nearby in Katy using chocolate from fair trade Venezuelan El Rey couverture chocolate. Not only are the owners themselves from Venezuela but Araya is the name of a Venezuelan town that straddles the lush rainforest where many of South America’s finest cocoa beans are grown.
What is fantastic about Araya is that not only do their products taste amazing and combine dark, bitter chocolates with a whole range of interesting flavours (36 in all, click here to drool at the pictures), or the fact that they don’t use any sugar to sweeten their chocolate (just honey), but that they play with colours and graphic designs when creating their chocolates.
When a chocolate shop has chairs and tables inside and/or outside, as Araya did, to me this is usually a sign that they make a hot chocolate. Although they don’t advertise that they make a hot chocolate, theirs is the best kept secret in Houston.. Turns out that Araya makes one of my favourite hot chocolates. It is absolutely beautiful, made to order with melted dark chocolate. It is rich and creamy, but somehow still light and has this wonderful bitter spiciness to it.
If that wasn’t enough to make you an Araya addict, to accompany your hot chocolate we were presented with a small silver platter with a small jar of mini marshmellows and a few glass shakers with cinnamon, nutmeg, and chipotle chili. These added sprinkles take the hot chocolate to a whole different level. Every sip becomes a different mini journey, and all this for just $3.50!
Now there is one caveat to this review. It really depends who makes the hot chocolate. The best hot chocolates are made by the friendly young woman with the long brown hair who is often there on the weekend. It is a lot of little things that makes the difference. The way she makes them they are richer, more chocolatey, and above all, hotter temperature wise. She melts the chocolate more thoroughly and just takes her time and makes it with care – you can taste the difference.
Araya has plans to soon sell their hot chocolate so that you can make it at home, but I say why make it at home when you can have it there, surrounded by all of their beautiful and colourful chocolates. The staff are fantastic too and always make us feel like this is our new home. The only thing I think they could do to make this even better would be to offer one of their freshly made marshmellows which they sell in the store with the hot chocolates. Then I’d just have to move in.
Verdict: As you can guess, I’m a big fan of Araya. If you are in Houston and you appreciate a good hot chocolate, this is where you should be. Araya Chocolate, 2013 W Gray St. Houston, Texas, USA.