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What Makes a Good Hot Chocolate Good?

It's finally starting to get properly cold where we are, and folks are talking about hot chocolate, or, as it was referred to when I was a kid, cocoa. (Hot chocolate was the "fancy" name.) Yes, I know, there's a difference. Please speak of either. What are your essentials and what is a fuhgetaboutit factor?

For me, the most important thing is that it can't taste watery, thus the mixes are pretty much out. I'm not emotionally involved with marshmallows, but have a relatively who won't touch it without them, but they must be minimarshmallows.

The first time I went to Paris, I went to Angelina to try their legendary HC, and was quite disappointed. Far thicker than I'd anticipated, but that was no problem. However it was...good grief...scorched!

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  1. using real chocolate and not just powder!

    1. Must use whole milk, and if you can add a little cream.
      Of course, you must start with a good bar of chocolate.

      1. Right there with you on the "not watery." My local Dunkin Donuts was making one that was INSANELY good. But...they "fixed" the machine, and it's now too watery (sadly).

        1. I agree - it can't be watery (or made with water). I like it nice and creamy and prefer it served not *too* hot. Other than that, I'm not too particular. Love it with whipped cream!

          1. Both chocolate and milk upset my stomach so if I want to drink hot chocolate I try to avoid the thick/rich/creamy. So I use skim milk, Penzeys cocoa powder, sugar, with a splash of vanilla and a dash of cinnamon. Actually the Penzeys hot chocolate mix is pretty good.

            1. ......a dash of peppermint schnapps :)

              3 Replies
                  1. re: hetook

                    When u add coffee 2 the schnapps and Hot C., think it makes a 'Slippery Raindeer'. There could also be Tia Maria too.

              1. Dutch process and natural cocoa in a 50/50 blend, moderately sweetened (preferably with demerara sugar), and some cream stirred in at the end of cooking. That makes the perfect hot chocolate for me.
                Oh...and a small dash of cayenne pepper.
                Seriously...you have to try that last one..it rocks!

                1. I like hot cocoa. It needn't be a bar of chocolate. As I must use Lactaid, I like the one with calcium added. It's richer than plain milk. Marshmallows are fun, but what I really like in a steaming hot cup of cocoa is a big spoonful of vanilla ice cream. Or frozen Cool Whip. I love the contrast of hot and cold in the first few slurps before it melts. And yes, friends, you read that right..Cool Whip. We all have our faults.

                  1. I'm with previous posters on using real chocolate, not powder. I most often use Dove Dark ('cause it's widely available and inexpensive) with 2% milk and the results are good. When I want great I'll use premium dark chocolate and whole milk, maybe a little cream too, and about twelve drops per cup of organic almond extract or hazelnut extract ( or a splash of Amaretto or Frangelico).

                    But if you must use powder, for heaven's sake make it with milk and not water!

                    1. Based on milk, not too watery and not too sweet.

                      Which basically rules out all mixes.

                      I usually use cocoa powder (not hot chocolate mix), 2% or whole milk, and a bit of sugar. Blend the sugar and the powder with a bit of milk to get rid of lumps, then add the hot milk. To that can be added a bit of cinnamon, or vanilla, or rum.

                      1. High fat cocoa powder from Penzeys, mixed into a creamy paste with heavy cream, sweetened to taste, a pinch of salt and some hot chili powder optional. Slowly whisk in hot whole milk.

                        1. Adding some salt a a bit of vanilla makes a big difference. Start of with dark chocolate and whole milk for the luxury. I cook mine for a while, makes the flavor seem more concentrated, and I like to drink it very hot. I usually start off with Penzey's dutch processed high fat powder as I usually have some in the house as powder is called for in so many recipes.

                          Maybe a good chocolate bar is even better.....?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Steve

                            Interesting about cooking it for a while. I'm thinking that some of the milk sugar (lactose) caramelizes. It certainly seems to when I nuke 1% milk for the morning lattes

                            1. re: lemons

                              I love a hot chocolate that is NOT sweet; maybe a little bit of sugar to smooth out the flavor, but very little; this makes a very adult hot chocolate - even without boozey addition's, tho those can be nice on occasion...
                              I agree with posters above who use high-fat cocoa powder, pinch of salt (essential!), little bit of raw sugar (the caramely taste is much more interesting than white sugar), mix with a little water to make a paste.
                              Then add milk and 1/2 & 1/2/cream to make a rather rich, not-too-sweet drink.
                              Heat on low heat for at least 10 minutes, and whisk to get a bit of natural froth on top. Serve a deu in front of a roaring fire. Ahh, wintertime:)

                          2. Gourmet non-waxy chocolate.

                            Real cream and whole milk.

                            Real vanila.

                            Shredded mint leaves simmered and strained out.

                            1. For me, along with not watery and made with real milk, not-too-sweet is key. For instant gratification, I like Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa (also sold as Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix), which is made from cocoa, sugar, and chocolate, mixed with hot milk. It makes a nicely bittersweet hot chocolate that's good even with low fat milk.

                              I also love hot chocolate spiked with Kahlua, amaretto, or Grand Marnier.

                                1. I can talk mixes. Penzey's mix is very good. I make Mr. Sueatmo's cocoa with Penzey's Hot chocolate Mix and skim milk because skim is what he drinks. I've made it from scratch as well. Using Hershey's cocoa and the recipe on the tin makes a fine cup of cocoa. We've moved to the mixes because that's what Mr. Sueatmo likes. He'd buy Swiss MIss for himself if allowed. The ingredients in the Penzey's mix are: "Sugar, Natural Cocoa, Ceylon Cinnamon, Real Vanilla Beans." Compare those with grocery store mixes. I agree that if you used whole milk, the cup of cocoa would be better.

                                  I don't drink this myself. After I make his cocoa, I make myself a cup of green tea.

                                  1. ........a freezing night, snow falling, blustery air creeping around the corner, candle lit lodge, beautiful man by my side and 'it' in a very large cup

                                    1. Starbucks used to make a drink during the fall/winter season called Chantico. It was to hot chocolate what espresso is to coffee. After some experimenting, I came up with something similar; thick and strong, and if you don't like it so intense, you can cut it down with hot milk (also feel free to adjust the sugar if you prefer semi-sweet).
                                      The chili powder is necessary if you drink this drink while watching "Chocolat".

                                      Hot Chocolate "Espresso"

                                      1/3 heaping cup Penzey's High Fat Dutch Process Cocoa
                                      1/3 heaping cup sugar
                                      1/3 c hot water
                                      2 dashes salt
                                      3/4 c half and half
                                      1/4 c 2% milk
                                      large pinch chili powder, pref. chipotle or ancho (opt)

                                      Whisk the cocoa, sugar, hot water, and salt in a medium saucepan until smooth. Place over medium-med/low heat and heat, stirring often, until just beginning to bubble. Stir in half and half and stir until heated through.
                                      MICROWAVE: Whisk cocoa, sugar, hot water and salt in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Zap for 20 seconds, then stir, making sure you get all the stuff in the bottom. Repeat twice.( If mixture starts to bubble up, remove immediately and stir). Mix in dairy and chili powder, then zap for 1 minute or until hot. Serve in espresso cups.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Michelly

                                        I remember that! It was sooo good! Very thick. I'm going to try this during Georgia's next cold snap!! Thanks!

                                        1. re: Michelly

                                          I remember Chantico. It was really fantastic. I asked at my local Starbucks why they'd discontinued it and was told that customers thought the price and the calorie count were too high. Don't know if that's true, but I'll pay a lot for good hot chocolate, and I don't expect it to be diet food or drink it daily.

                                          1. re: Isolda

                                            I remember the "drinking chocolate" at Starbucks - probably more years ago than your Chantico. It was a tiny paper cup of thick, yummy, almost pure chocolate beverage. Sadly discontinued.

                                          2. re: Michelly

                                            I miss Chantico. It was the best hot chocolate ever created. They called it drinking chocolate. SO good. I think about it alot and wish they still had it. I'll have to try your version.

                                          3. I realize this is probably kinda "lowbrow", but I'm trying to figure out the best way to recreate the kind of hot chocolate that comes out of those dispenser machines (like 7-Eleven) at home. Nothing I have tried has worked!!! Can't find the right mix, can't make them nice and frothy on top like those, etc. Any ideas?

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: jbsiegel

                                              I haven't tried hot chocolate at 7-Eleven, but try pouring it back and forth between two mugs to get a bit of froth. Works for Indian-style tea.

                                              1. re: jbsiegel

                                                I think if you use some condensed milk and some cocoa powder you might come close.

                                                1. re: jbsiegel

                                                  I wonder if it's partially hydrogenated palm oil. Perhaps mix with cocoa with Coffee Mate or some other non-dairy coffee whitener?

                                                  1. re: ukers

                                                    When I was a kid my mother made up a batch of homemade hot cocoa mix (think Swiss Miss) and the recipe contained a healthy (pun intended) dose of CoffeeMate. It was supposed to be mixed with hot water (it also had a lot of powdered milk) but I always preferred it mixed with hot milk.

                                                2. Chocolate. Nothing dutch-processed, no powders (I don't care how much fat is in Penzeys, there isn't enough), no bad chocolate. Touch of salt (as all baked goods with chocolate should have), based on milk or homemade hazelnut milk. Whipped cream, or a touch of caramel is Ok too.

                                                  1. I'm a big hot chocolate connoisseur and I've also worked in high-end caf├ęs.

                                                    What I think are essential:
                                                    -chocolate syrup (which can be made with good-quality chocolate powder mixed with hot water to create a thick, creamy consistency)
                                                    -any kind of milk, though I find anything with 3.25% milk fat and above too thick
                                                    -a proper espresso machine with a milk steamer sprout--yes, expensive, but it makes a difference
                                                    -real whipped cream and grated chocolate (optional)

                                                    You mix a bit of the syrup and hot milk in a cup first, then you steam milk to a hot (but not scorching) temperature in a separate canister with the milk steamer, which makes any milk of your choosing thick and hot. Then you put the hot milk in to mix with the milk-and-chocolate mix, and stir well. I also like to top with real, freshly made whipped cream and/or grated chocolate bits.

                                                    14 Replies
                                                    1. re: looosia

                                                      Sounds like Starbucks' hot chocolate...

                                                      Which, in my opinion, produces decidedly "meh" hot chocolate.

                                                      1. re: mateo21

                                                        Nope, never worked at Starbucks. But I love hot chocolate, even the machine kind (cheapo ones from the skating rink!), but for the non-machine kind I love it when it's made this way.

                                                        1. re: looosia

                                                          I love cheapo hot c.! I'd give anything to return to my inner-city ski hill from th 1970's or a cup of my mother's warm Nestle's Quik and milk...God Rest.

                                                          1. re: hetook

                                                            Me too - all over the cheapo hot chocolate - as long as it's not watery. I've discovered that the "wateriness" is dependent on the cleanliness of the innards of the machine to a large part...

                                                      2. re: looosia

                                                        It should be emphasized that Hershey's Syrup is NOTNOTNOT acceptable for consumption under ANY circumstances! There isn't even any chocolate in it!

                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                          While Hershey's does not make the best chocolate and their chocolate syrup may not be the best it does have it's place. (While I preferred Nestle's Quik, Hershey's is ok for a kid to occasionally squirt into a glass of milk). To say that is does not contain chocolate is not true. While it's first ingredient is corn syrup, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup does contain cocoa which is the basis of all chocolate.

                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                            Well.. technically cocoa isn't chocolate either, it's cocoa... or rather, cocoa solids or cocoa mass. It's about 1/2 way there :D I still don't think you can make a really good hot chocolate with cocoa though. Sorry. I don't care how wonderful a "chocolate" syrup you make, it's lacking one VERY important ingredient in really good hot chocolate -- cocoa butter.

                                                            1. re: mateo21

                                                              Yeah, that wasn't my point. My point was that the essence of chocolate, cocoa, is in Hershey's Syrup. I'm no hot chocolate aficionado as you can tell from my previous post about using M&Ms. My attitude is make what you like and don't trash on others' likes. (Regarding hot chocolate that is. I still have a negative opinion on boiling ribs).

                                                              1. re: John E.

                                                                All I meant was there is a legal definition of chocolate, and it must contain cocoa butter (solids, mass) to be called chocolate. Some cheap chocolate brands like Hershey's have even begun substituting emulsifiers for part of the cocoa butter in their chocolate candy bars in order to increase profits.

                                                                Since this is a thread on hot chocolate rather than hot cocoa, I thought it should be mentioned that there is no chocolate, legally, in Hershey's syrup - or in many of the other suggestions in this thread.

                                                                I do like both hot chocolate and cocoa. They can both be delicious; however, I do like a more intense chocolate-y flavor than some of the lower quality products can deliver.

                                                                I don't normally get all distressed about which is which between cocoa and hto chocolate; I just thought it should be mentioned here.

                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                  It would have helped had you made your point with information in your original post on the subject.

                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                      Sandy... as a clarification cocoa butter is legally the only fat that can be in chocolate (at least the cocoa percentage) -- there is no substituting emulsifiers for fat. Most chocolate brands have emulsifiers in them (turn over a Valrhona chocolate bar, you'll see lecithin), even the high-end ones.

                                                                      1. re: mateo21

                                                                        PGPR is an emulsifier which enables cheapos like Hershey's to reduce the amount off cocoa butter in their "chocolate". See the following link:


                                                          2. re: sandylc

                                                            Funny you should say this. I attempted to make hot chocolate a few nights ago using the syrup. It was horrible.......I dumped it.

                                                        2. Ordered hot chocolate at my local bagel bakery and received a cup of heated chocolate milk from a gallon container. Not for foodies, but rather amusing nevertheless.

                                                          1. I find goat milk makes the most fantastic hot chocolate!

                                                            1. When I make hot chocolate at home..I always use milk and good quality chocolate. Depending on my mood..a splash of Bailey's Irish Cream..or a dash of cinnamon.

                                                              1. A few years ago I started making hot chocolate with M&Ms. It's the easiest way to make hot chocolate and the results are fantastic. I just heat some milk in the microwave, put 1/4 cup of plain M&Ms per cup of milk into the blender, add the milk and whiz away. We had some leftover miniature plain Hershey's chocolate bars so I used them in this manner and while the results were also good, it was not as good as that made with M&Ms.

                                                                10 Replies
                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                  This has got tobe the craziest hot c. recipe I've ever heard....is this on the level? :)

                                                                  1. re: hetook

                                                                    I would not have called it crazy, but it is the easiest short of using Hershey's syrup, Nesquik, or Swiss Miss. Try it, I think it might be a bit too rich, but then again we don't have it everyday.

                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                      yeah, i was meaning more crazy-different.i wasn't sure.

                                                                      1. re: hetook

                                                                        Isn't it a tad crunchy? (I mean from the candy coating, not from using the peanut M&Ms).

                                                                        1. re: Michelly

                                                                          I think the candy coating dissolves in the hot milk in the blender. I think I'll try hot chocolate with Reese's Peanut Butter cups next.

                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                            ...or maybe a Butterfinger,neat!

                                                                  2. re: John E.

                                                                    I recently made some hot chocolate with Cadbury's dark, and it was way too sweet for me.

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      The M&Ms hot chocolate is much less sweet than is eating a handful of plain M&Ms plain.

                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                        The crucial aspect is the ratio of cocoa vs. sugar. If the M & Ms are your cocoa source, then you can't have less sugar than what are in the M&Ms.

                                                                        The problem with the Cadbury dark was that, even though it was a dark chocolate, it still had too much sugar. I am guessing that 'shelf candy' will always be too sweet for my taste in hot chocolate, but I can always use my daughter as a guinea pig.

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          Actually, I would say it's the ratio of sugar to the rest of the ingredients including the milk. I'm not referring to the sweetness of the M&Ms but the sweetness of the hot chocolate once made. As I said, it is quite rich but it's not like coffee where someone is going to drink it everyday. (At least not by me).

                                                                  3. Whole milk heated slowly with really good dark chocolate whisked in. You can add vanilla extract or scrape the seeds from from a whole bean. Add a dash of cream when you serve.

                                                                    I don't like adding cayenne, creates a different animal. Strange things are ending up in chocolate these days. Bacon? Come on.

                                                                    There is a bakery in NYC that serves hot chocolate that is super thick. Boy is it good but if you foolishly consider have two you will end up in the ER with A-fib.

                                                                    1. Good quality chocolate chips melted with a little half and half or heavy cream (rather like making a ganache). Then mix with your milk. It tastes more like the hot chocolate in Spain. Divine!!

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: katcancook

                                                                        I'll try your way. Which brand of chocolate chips is considered good quality, and should it be milk or semi sweet chocolate?

                                                                      2. have you ever had Aroma espresso bar's HC? although Its wonderful! and so rich.

                                                                        1. Lots of fat (homo milk, whipped cream, and/or real chocolate not cocoa powder). Everything else will taste watery.

                                                                          1. i get my local homemade ice cream place to combine steamed milk with hot fudge.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                                it is! very rich and not too sweet.

                                                                            1. Guittard Cocoa Powder
                                                                              half n half
                                                                              freshly grated cinnamon
                                                                              pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
                                                                              dash of cayenne pepper
                                                                              large dash of salt

                                                                              No Vanilla - sorry but it doesn't taste the same with vanilla.

                                                                              1. I dump a bunch of milk and a chunk of Nestle's Abueleta or a similar product which I can't remember the name right now into my Mr. Coffee Cocomotion machine. Pretty amazing.

                                                                                1. Lake Champlain Chocolate makes a delicious Old World Drinking Chocolate. Basically, this is a hideously expensive can of delicious semisweet chocolate curls, 7 tablespoons of which are dissolved in 6 ounces of hot milk. (Yes, you read that correctly.) They say this serves two, but this is a total lie. It serves one, especially when made with cream and consumed with a lactaid pill or two. Bonus points if you top yours with whipped cream.

                                                                                  My son likes a drop of mint extract in his, but mint and chocolate don't go together, in my opinion.

                                                                                  1. Since I am diabetic and need to eat low carb I make mine with about 1/3C heavy cream, 1 heaping spoon of cocoa, 2 scoops of stevia powder (pure stuff not a mix) and boiling water to fill the cup. Mix cream, cocoa and stevia until blended then add boiling water.

                                                                                    If I can find good solid chocolate I will use that instead of the cocoa powder.

                                                                                    It is by far the best hot chocolate I have ever had and that's saying a lot since I was a fiend for it all my life.

                                                                                    And are we the only people who eat toast with our hot chocolate? All my life I have eaten it with toast and dipped the toast in the hot chocolate... Except for my family i don't know of anyone else that does this.

                                                                                    1. When I was growing up we had cocoa, made from cocoa powder, sugar, and water stirred into a paste, then heated with milk. Less often we had richer hot chocolate, made with bitter chocolate, which was less sweet and definitely had more chocolate flavor. The "old -style" hot chocolate served in the tea room of the Georges V in Paris was close to what I remember. The Rivoire in Florence also makes excellent hot chocolate, as does Marie Belle on Broome St in NYC. Once you've had hot chocolate you will probably start to call cocoa "cocoa". There's a huge difference. Hot chocolate is not just a fancy name for cocoa, although nowadays few people seem to know the difference.

                                                                                      1. I tend to use Swiss Miss because it's easy, fast, and I really like it. But I use half & half, or evaportated milk instead of water. Squirt a little whipped cream on top......delicious!

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Nayners

                                                                                          Too sweet. Get some cocoa powder and add it to the Swiss Miss. Takes close to zero effort and the difference is dramatic.

                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                            Thanks for the tip! Last year I attempted to make hot cocoa from scratch........I ended up with a big mess. I ended up dumping the whole pot down the drain. The cocoa powder didn't quite dissolve, it kind of floated on top of the milk. After reading this thread, I see some cocoa powder is better than others.

                                                                                        2. This is an asessment of cocoa powders from CI, which I know not all Chowhounds are down with, but I thought it was an interesting assesment of Dutch vs. non cocoa powders, that lots of us either use as base for hot cocoa, or as part of the plan...


                                                                                          Very interesting discussion of how cocao powder really works in drinks and baked goods, and why the winner tasted good:


                                                                                          The magazine/website doesn't get everyting right, but these head-to-head testings are worth the price of admission in my world as a cook and chef.

                                                                                          Hope it helps with the yummy cocoa!

                                                                                          1. I have some cocoa which is amazingly dark and delicious, for those who like hot cocoa (rather than hot chocolate). It is Cacao Barry Extra Brute by Callebaut. It is so good!

                                                                                            1. Droste cocoa powder two -3 heaping tablespoons + a half circle of Michoacan or = Mexican chocolate
                                                                                              in whole milk.