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People hurrying through Philadelphia are bundling up a little more these days, scarves flying behind them, hands shoved into coat pockets. The air is brisk, but it crackles with the anticipation of the holiday season. As the streets get colder and the rush builds, it may be a good idea to duck into a place where you can slow down and warm up, if only for a little while. Step from Broad Street into the rotunda of the Ritz-Carlton any weekend this season and you’ll find a long table adorned with seasonal decorations and bowls filled with sweets. Behind the table waits a man with a twinkle in his eye, as if he knows something you don’t. And indeed, he does. He is Caesar Bradley, the Ritz’s own hot chocolate sommelier. The hot chocolate that is Bradley’s specialty puts powdered mixes and even some homemade recipes to shame. On any given Saturday from now until the end of February, and every Wednesday until Dec. 27, you can wander into the rotunda and taste a rich masterpiece of confectionary art, courtesy of the Hot Chocolate Sommelier. The day that I visited the Ritz with a friend, the sommelier and the hotel’s pastry chef, James Satterwhite, were serving up three different base flavors of hot chocolate and a variety of toppings. First, customers choose from milk, dark or white hot chocolate. Next, Bradley led us through the selection of toppings. The basics were accounted for in the form of the hotel’s homemade whipped cream, fresh marshmallows also made on the premises and chocolate or multi-colored jimmies. But that was just the beginning. The sommelier was also offering gourmet accoutrements that take the hot chocolate to the next level. A plate of fresh strawberries and raspberries could be served in the chocolate itself or on the side for dipping. Dried raspberries ground into a powder add a more intense fruit flavor to the rich chocolate. Shavings of specially selected hazelnut chocolate could also be sprinkled into the mix. If you need a bit more warmth, the sommelier can add a shot of the liqueur of your choice, from Bailey’s Irish Cream to cr�me de menthe. Specialty toppings will vary from week to week, so each visit will be unique. On this particular occasion, my companion and I chose milk chocolate as our base and added whipped cream, homemade marshmallows and hazelnut-chocolate shavings. A handful of raspberries on the side finished off the confection, which was delivered to our table piping hot beneath its foamy cap. From the first taste, we knew we had struck gold. We sipped and savored the creamy foam, the chocolate and finally the melted chocolate at the bottom of our colorful soup bowl-sized mug. Sharing one mug was a good idea; the chocolate is so rich that it could easily overwhelm if you drink too much, too fast. The next time you’re near the Ritz, take a break from the bustle of Broad Street and let the Hot Chocolate Sommelier treat you to the best thing in a cup. Or, better yet, make time to meet there with friends or family. This is one treat that could easily become a seasonal tradition for everyone to enjoy. The Ritz-Carlton’s Hot Chocolate Sommelier is on duty every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Feb. 28; and Wednesdays and Saturdays until Dec. 27. A cup of the sommelier’s chocolate costs $8; add a shot of liqueur for an additional $5.

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