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Drinking chocolate, hot chocolate, and hot cocoa often get used interchangeably, but they aren't technically the same. Drinking chocolate (also called "sipping chocolate") refers to chocolate that has been slowly melted and then mixed with milk, cream, or water. In less technical terms, though, it's that decadent warm beverage you thinking of sipping by the fire during the winter.
Drinking chocolates run the gamut from sweet to gently bitter and from a rich dense texture to a light, barely-there mouthfeel. What anyone likes in terms of a drinking chocolate is highly subjective and intensely personal. There are, however, a number of ways to put any drinking chocolate to a critical test. The flavor profile, the source of the cocoa beans, the method of processing, and more all play a part in choosing the one for you. We’ve put together this collection of drinking chocolates with an eye toward covering a lot of bases and a lot of different ideas of what a drinking chocolate can be.
Here, the best drinking chocolates.
Best Overall: Valrhona Dark Hot Chocolate Mix
Made from a blend of cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips, this blend is as close to perfection as it gets. Valrhona is well known among professional chocolatiers and pastry chefs as a company that can be counted on to consistently deliver, and this mix brings that assurance to the home kitchen. The flavor profile is medium sweet, and the chocolate content is 31 percent.
To prepare, you simply heat your preferred milk on the stove and stir together until warmed and ready to sip.
Best Variety Collection: Williams Sonoma Fall Hot Chocolate Stacker
The inspiration for Williams Sonoma's special blend comes from the café Angelina in Paris, which is known for its famous hot chocolate. This set has three different flavors: Classic, Pumpkin Spice, and Salted Caramel—perfect for all your fall gatherings. Made from specialty chocolate from Guittard, the flavor profile of each blend is rich and sweet. To prepare, you stir the chocolates into warm milk (and maybe top with marshmallows) and enjoy!
Best for Entertaining: Popbar Hot Chocolate Sticks
This collection offers three different flavors in one package: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. The idea is that each person “makes their own hot chocolate” with their own hot chocolate stick by adding it to a mug of hot milk and stirring until it melts. It’s a lot of fun, no matter how old you are. The flavor profile is sweet, and the texture is medium. The packaging also makes this a great gift idea.
It’s fun to experiment with different flavors to personalize your drinking chocolate and truly make it your own! It’s also very easy. Take a look in your cupboards to see what you might already have that could add that extra touch that takes it above and beyond. Pure or artificial extracts (vanilla, almond, coconut, strawberry), liqueurs (amaretto, kahlua, luxardo maraschino), or spices (cinnamon, cayenne, five-spice powder) are all good options. Keep an open mind and consider what flavors you think you’ll enjoy. Then, add sparingly as you taste until it’s just right.
Best Individual Packets: Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
The world-renowned San Francisco-based chocolate factory Ghiradelli’s “double chocolate” products are deservedly well-regarded, and these individual packets are practical as well as delicious. They're easy to store in a cupboard for when the urge strikes or take on a camping trip. The flavor profile is not overly sweet and the texture is fairly light. As a bonus, theyr'e easy on the budget, too.
Best Pods: Maud's Loco Hot Cocoa
Though it’s difficult to find a perfect drinking chocolate in a K-Cup, Keurig machines are definitely a part of our lives. Maud’s is more authentically called a “hot cocoa” rather than a drinking chocolate, since the Keurig process can’t manage to whisk in actual chocolate bits to the cup, but it still offers a good chocolate flavor with medium sweetness and light texture. If you're looking for convenience, this is a good option.
Best Artisan: Potomac Duarte Dominican Republic Single-Origin Drinking Chocolate
This award-winning artisan bean-to-bar craft drinking chocolate is rich and delicate with a slightly bracing mouthfeel. Made from single-origin beans from the Duarte region of the Dominican Republic and crafted in a small shop in Virginia, this process- and flavor-driven product made with two single ingredients—chocolate and sugar—is an eye-opening delight.
When you purchase a drinking chocolate there are usually directions on how to prepare it, but one thing is important for all drinking chocolates: They must be well-blended so that chocolate doesn’t sit on the bottom of the cup or clump up throughout the drink. If your usual methods aren’t working, you might want to try whisking the drink, making sure to get the bottom edges of the mug, cup, or pot. These Norpro Mini Whisks (view at Amazon) can help, or if you like a frothy drink, try the Norpro Cordless Mini Mixer (view at Amazon).
Best Not-Too-Sweet: Franzese Hot Chocolate Mix
Quite rich but not overly sweet, Franzese is a well-balanced specialty drinking chocolate that replicates a true European cup of hot chocolate. The company says it uses only non-GMO ingredients and the focus on carefully sourced ingredients is apparent in the flavor and texture, which lands somewhere between most U.S. and French drinking chocolates.
You aren't limited with Franzese, either. In addition to making the traditional hot beverage, you can add this mix to your coffee or use it as a baking cocoa.
The Valrhona Dark Hot Chocolate Mix (view at Amazon) is a drinking chocolate that will appeal to a wide range of tastes and should be considered a gourmet product. The Potomac Duarte Drinking Chocolate (view at Amazon) is definitely a must-try for true chocolate lovers or anyone on the path to becoming a chocolate connoisseur.
What to Look for in a Drinking Chocolate
Drinking chocolates vary a lot in terms of sweetness. Many things affect the sweetness levels: the type and quality of cocoa beans used in the process, the methods of manufacturing, and the amount of sugar or other sweeteners added. Always check the label to determine what ingredients are used.
Texture or Mouthfeel
Drinking chocolates have different textures, or “mouthfeels," when prepared for drinking, from fairly light to very dense. What you personally like can only be discovered by tasting a variety of different types.
Artisan or Not
Chocolate is a complex food that can be approached as an art form by those who love it, and though there are many excellent products at all price points in the marketplace, the quality can be of a very high level when artisan-made. This will also affect the price.
There are drinking chocolates to fit any budget. It’s a good idea to check how many cups the package will make and divide that into the price of the product to determine how much each cup will cost and if it suits your budget.
What is drinking chocolate?
In the overall general use of the term, drinking chocolate is any chocolate-flavored drink, hot or cold. To be a little more specific, some people only refer to hot chocolate drinks as “drinking chocolate" and distinguish them from hot cocoa. All chocolate products are subject to FDA regulationsin terms of labeling, however.
There are many chocolate drinks available in the marketplace, all with varying amounts of cocoa powder, and they're often made richer by the inclusion of bits of chocolate into the basic cocoa powder blend. The flavor profile, as well as the texture, can vary greatly based on what ingredients are used in the mix.
Is there caffeine in drinking chocolate?
There is caffeine in chocolate, so yes, there is caffeine in drinking chocolate—but less than in most coffee or teas.
Is drinking chocolate the same as cocoa powder?
No, drinking chocolate and cocoa powder are not the same, though the terms are often used interchangeably when it comes to the term “hot chocolate." Cocoa powder is an ingredient in drinking chocolate, but most “drinking chocolates” include other ingredients to make the drink richer and more flavorful.
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Karen Resta is a writer specializing in food culture and history, cooking, pastries, and restaurants. A former pastry chef, she has traveled to Budapest, Kyiv, and Paris during their Fashion Weeks as a photographer and writer, always finding the best authentic pastries along the way. She keeps up to date in the chocolate world with a network of friends who are chocolatiers and pastry chefs, as well as keeping in touch with people who make chocolate all around the world.