A Toast to Fall


Inspiration Lab member Laurel Senick is an award-winning filmmaker, novelist, and the host of an ocean-themed podcast called Post Session Podcast. She has written for The Inspiration Lab’s blog on different topics, including finding your tribe virtually, her love of podcasting, and writing the first draft of your book. Below, Laurel takes on something far more yummy: where to find the best hot chocolate and apple cider locally this fall!


This fall, The Inspiration Lab tasked me with an interesting assignment. I was to comb through our lovely town of Wilmington to discover the best hot chocolate and the best hot apple cider. With considerable enthusiasm I tasted… and tasted... as many hot chocolates and hot apple ciders as one woman possibly could in the time allowed.


So first, let’s begin with the hot chocolate. What can I say? I love chocolate. I imagined this would be the easiest one to decide the “best” of. But during my tastings, I had one offering that amounted to an instant-powder concoction I could’ve had at home and elsewhere I had a beautiful hot chocolate with special marshmallows but it wasn’t even hot. And at another place, the beverage tasted more like a hot caramel shake. Ick!


Finally, when I told a friend I was desperate, she recommended a restaurant she assured me had great hot chocolates. But alas, at the counter I was told they wouldn’t be making them until November 1. What? I mean, sure it doesn’t get cold in Wilmington until November — maybe December — but still, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t have to be cold outside to enjoy a delicious hot chocolate.


When it dawned on me that if I kept drinking so many of these confections, I wouldn’t fit into my favorite fall jeans, I started making calls. Coffee shops, restaurants, and bakeries were my go-to as I continued my quest for the perfect hot chocolate. Finally, a helpful barista answered my prayers and convinced me that their hot chocolate was not only unique but delicious. With only a day left until my deadline, I met my husband for lunch and afterward we headed to Grinders Caffè for their hot chocolate. We planned to split it; you already know why — non-stretchy jeans.


At first sip, we were both wowed! The drink is called the Mexican Cocoa, and hitting my taste buds were flavors of chocolate, hazelnut, and cinnamon. There were also hints of almond and vanilla. It had whipped cream but didn’t even need it. They make a Mexican Mocha, too, if you need that extra jolt of espresso, which I plan to try next time. So for all you lovely ladies in the mood, whether it’s sticky hot out or freezing cold, if you’re hankering for a hot chocolate, I’m happy to recommend Grinders Caffè for a taste sensation that will tantalize your taste buds.


But as delicious as that hot chocolate was and despite the long journey to find it, the hot apple cider I found absolutely blew my pants off — the non-stretchy kind. I confess: The first apple cider I tried from a corporate staple nearly put me in a diabetic coma. It was that sickly sweet. It almost put me off the whole assignment altogether, until one day, at one of my favorite coffee shops, I looked over to see a woman sipping from a coupe champagne glass. I asked what she was having and to my delight it was a hot apple cider. Glory be! Something in a glass that pretty must taste good! But I was too jacked up on cappuccinos that day to appreciate it, so I would have to come back another time.


That Saturday, armed with my laptop and time to write, I drove to Casa Blanca. If you’ve never been there, it’s a beautiful Spanish-style building, with architectural accents including arched doorways and white stucco. And the inside feels like a spa — more archways, neutrals, and brown leather, along with some greenery. I’m not sure, but my writing may actually be better there. Okay, enough about the scenery. Let’s get down to brass tacks. What about the drink?!


I ordered the seasonally offered hot apple cider, sat down, got out my laptop, and heard the whir of frothing milk. Interesting, I thought, and then before I could imagine further, it appeared. A beautiful glass topped with frothed milk alighted upon my table as flecks of cinnamon tickled my nose. I thanked the barista and stared at this magnificent drink. A sight to behold, I was nearly giddy. I lifted the delicate glass to my lips and sipped, leading to a creamy, dreamy explosion of fall in my mouth. The warm apple cider lingered... not too sweet, just right. The barista informed me they use almond milk, apple cider, and house-made maple sugar with a little sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

I certainly would have never gone looking for a hot apple cider had I not been tasked to. But I can tell you with all the earnestness of a convert, you have to try Casablanca’s hot apple cider this year before it’s gone.


I hope you enjoy your warm, cozy drinks this fall, and if you visit one of these places, please tell ‘em Laurel and The Inspiration Lab sent you.

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