One Sunday morning, I’m at McCafé. I want to order the Cocoa Steamer because I haven’t had it in a while, but I can’t find it on the menu. There’s a somewhat ominously named “Premium Hot Chocolate” listed on the menu board but I’m thinking that can’t be it. There doesn’t seem to be an alternative however, so I order one.
The hot chocolate that arrives is a sickly taupe in color, a peculiar grey-brown. Where’s the crown of steamed milk? The fancifully fashioned “M” stenciled in cocoa powder? I can feel my brow creasing, a dull thudding in my temple keeping pace with the quickening beat of my heart. Somewhere, dread descends.
Gingerly, I take a sip. Instead of the headiness of dark chocolate overtaken by the sear of sweet, this is insipid liquid with just a hint of cocoa powder. To add salt to the injury – literally – there’s even a somewhat salty finish to the drink. There’s nothing “premium” about this hot chocolate at all: it’s the hot chocolate that’s served at McDonald’s, the very same one I grew up having with my Sausage & Egg McMuffin! So dumbstruck am I that I forget to take a photo of said drink.
Unwilling to believe the injustice that’s befallen my beloved Cocoa Steamer, I make haste to another McCafé. The signboard still says “Premium Hot Chocolate”, but it’s only now that I see that it costs P78, less than my Cocoa Steamer that was slightly under P100. At this store, thankfully, the barista seems to be more “with it.” My beverage is served in good time and the presence of a frothy cap – sprinkled with cocoa powder, fancy that! – is promising. Never mind the absence of the stenciled “M,” I just want to be assured that my Cocoa Steamer still lives.
My heart soars…
but with one sip,
comes crashing down. This is regular McDonald’s Hot Chocolate dressed up for the ball. What’s that they say? Beauty is only skin-deep but ugly (flavor) goes to the bone. I scoff at this drink’s “premium” label and shudder at the thought of what “standard” might be. I stare at the offensive drink with a festering blend of pity and disgust. My Bin, ever the marketing mind, gently mentions shifting company priorities, segmenting markets … He’s probably right but the information flies over my head. I want to weep at the indignity my Cocoa Steamer has been put through.
In Hong Kong, I’m a martyr back for more punishment. The hot chocolate here is even more of an affront. The barista doesn’t even deign to properly dissolve the cocoa powder (it used to be chocolate sauce)! in the steamed milk. Clumps of it cling to the sides of the cup, dregs of disappointment is what they are. It’s as atrocious as the hot chocolate I have at the McCafé back in Manila; I can’t scrub the flavor fast enough from my mind.
I’m learning to accept that my Cocoa Steamer is no more. I wish it were a Halloween trick because this is certainly no treat. Why make such a big deal about hot chocolate, and one from a fast food chain, at that? Well, I’d introduced many people to this favored drink of mine, had many a meaningful conversation over cups of it. It’s a beverage steeped in sentiment. In the end however, the Cocoa Steamer, to me, was all about the taste, the process of drinking it and the pleasure that it brought. I will also miss its utter richness, so rich that it left chocolate ring marks inside the cup. I still love McCafé and will continue to enjoy their coffee beverages but never that poser parading as a hot chocolate.
One day I will taste another beverage that will remind me of my Cocoa Steamer. I look forward to those hot chocolates in my future but today, I remember the drink that is now a part of my past stored – as English historian,Thomas Fuller, says “… in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart.”