A beloved Lower Hutt hot chocolate challenge this year features an entirely sustainable creation, complete with an edible, compostable cup.
The Sweet As Hutt's Hot Chocolate Challenge returns today for its seventh year, featuring creations from 15 cafes in the Lower Hutt city centre.
Fellow Cafe owner Laurissa Russ has participated in every challenge since it began in 2015, but this year is entering a beverage that will delight chocolate-lovers and environmentalists alike.
The "Twiice as nice" is an oat milk hot chocolate topped with a dairy-free whip, marshmallow, oreo, biscoff crumb and drizzle - packaged in a plant-based edible cup.
"We have a lot of customers that want to use their own cups or containers and we definitely encourage that, so we don't like doing takeaway cups," she said.
"So this year I just thought we'll pick something where they can't have a takeaway cup."
The cup was made by a New Zealand company called Twiice, and Fellow Cafe in Lower Hutt was the first to use their plant-based version.
Described as tasting like a fortune cookie, the cup will also break down if customers choose not to eat it - and comes in completely compostable packaging.
Hutt City Council City centre lead Cyndi Christensen created the hot drink challenge in 2015 as a means of regenerating the CBD and encouraging people to get out of their homes in winter.
"I just started googling what you could do in winter in the city and came across a couple of hot chocolate festivals in Canada and I thought 'we can do that'."
"We found that there was a huge interest in hot chocolates and it seems like such an accessible product."
Over the past six years more than 65 different hot chocolates had been created by around 34 cafes in Lower Hutt, drawing visitors to the region and creating its own cult following.
"People just can't wait for it, I've seen posts on our Facebook page about people taking days off work for it so they can try hot chocolates," she said.
"It's not uncommon for groups of people to come in two days early and want hot chocolates."
"That's a side of it I didn't anticipate, how much of a social activity it would become. Instead of people coming in and ordering a takeaway they come and sit and with that it activates the space and activates the street, and cafes can then have the opportunity to sell more to them."
A "Russian Fudge Fix", "Candied Unicorn" and a "Macadamia treasure chest" were among the 15 hot chocolates on offer this year, with Christensen particularly excited for the Whoopie Pie Gingerbread creation from Buzz cafe.
The challenge runs from July 8–25, and Christensen suggests customers pace themselves and avoid trying to sample all hot chocolates in one day.
Customers could then vote for their favourite hot chocolates through the challenge's new paperless system - one point for a "yeah, nah", two for "sweet", and "sweet as" for three points.
Alex Garcia is the manager of family-owned Espresso on High, which will be entering the challenge for the first time after opening its doors in February this year.
They had created a hot chocolate called Coco Luxe, inspired by the Filipino coconut macaroon.
Rich and indulgent, the hot chocolate was paired with coconut whipped cream and macaroons, and Garcia suggested it also be enjoyed with a shot of coffee.
Although the Sweet As challenge has inspired some "out there" recipes, Garcia said they had wanted to create something simple for their first entry.
"Coconut's a really popular flavour in the Philippines that we love, and there are a lot of sweets that go with it too," she said.
"And the coconut macaroon was the inspiration for the hot chocolate. The drink itself is not necessarily traditional but that's how you would enjoy the macaroons, with a cup of coffee."
Made on coconut milk, the hot chocolate was also dairy-free, with Garcia saying they had aimed to make it as inclusive as possible.
"We were still working on how we could make the macaroons vegan as well, and potentially gluten free but it's always hard to find substitutes for family recipes."
The Sweet As Hutt's Hot Chocolate Challenge runs from July 8-25.