How To Make Hot Chocolate

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Hot chocolate is a luxury of cold weather — a warm, velvety-smooth mixture of rich cream and dark chocolate that does double duty as a drink and dessert. Unlike its sweeter cousin, hot cocoa, hot chocolate is thick, with a balance of sweetness and bitterness that only dark chocolate can give. This homemade treat only requires a few ingredients and a few minutes on the stovetop to warm up a cold evening.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

What’s the Difference Between Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate?

Hot cocoa and hot chocolate are both hot drinks made with milk and flavored with chocolate, so what makes these two drinks distinctly different? The answer is, not surprisingly, chocolate. Hot chocolate must be made with chocolate and a little cocoa powder, while cocoa can be made entirely of cocoa powder. Some hot cocoa recipes call for both cocoa and chopped chocolate. Hot chocolate is usually richer, brewed from a whole milk with a thick, almost dip-like texture. Cocoa is usually sweeter, appealing to the young and the young at heart alike.

The Best Chocolate for Hot Chocolate

For this hot chocolate recipe, you’ll need about a candy bar’s worth of dark chocolate. Considering the small amount of chocolate and how it will affect the hot chocolate’s flavor, you should buy the best chocolate you can. Look for dark chocolate in the 60 percent range or higher.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Best Dairy for Hot Chocolate

One distinction between hot chocolate and hot cocoa is the dairy used. Hot chocolate should be thicker and richer, so some recipes go so far as to use half-and-half or heavy cream for their dairy. The recipe below calls for whole milk, which will be thickened significantly by the dark chocolate. If you’re avoiding dairy, canned coconut milk is a wonderful alternative to whole milk. Other non-dairy milks are too thin for this hot chocolate, but you can also use them in a 50-50 mix with the canned coconut milk to cut down the coconut’s flavor. Our favorite was two cups of almond milk with two cups of canned coconut milk.

58 Ratings

How To Make Hot Chocolate

Makes4 servings


  • 5 ounces

    dark chocolate, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons

    cocoa powder

  • 2 tablespoons

    packed brown sugar

  • 1 quart

    (4 cups) whole milk

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • Pinch of salt

  • Whipped cream or cocoa powder, for serving (optional)


  • Chef's knife

  • Cutting board

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • 2-quart pot or saucepan

  • Whisk


  1. Combine the chocolate, cocoa, and brown sugar: Whisk together the chocolate, cocoa powder, and sugar in a small saucepan. This helps break up any lumps in the cocoa or sugar.

  2. Add the milk: Add the milk and set the saucepan over medium heat.

  3. Bring to a simmer: Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally, until hot and smooth, about 5 minutes.

  4. Add the vanilla and salt: Add the vanilla and salt.

  5. Serve: Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat gently over low heat.

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