There are few things more comforting on a cold winter day than a warm mug of hot cocoa; it's like a hug from the inside out. Hot cocoa is the kind of sweet drink that can spark memories from childhood snow days or that ski trip you took last year.
With winter moving in quickly, I thought it was the perfect time to sip on some of the different hot cocoa options out there. Here are our thoughts on the six brands we tried, as well as our favorite brand. Want to see our top pick?
Hot Cocoa Versus Hot Chocolate
While we often use these names interchangeably, hot cocoa and hot chocolate are actually two different drinks. Hot cocoa, while it doesn't contain actual chocolate, is a chocolate-flavored drink made by mixing cocoa powder with a sweetener and hot water. Hot chocolate, on the other hand, is a chocolate drink that's made by mixing shaved, ground, or another form of actual chocolate with a sweetener and hot water or milk.
This taste test focused only on hot cocoa.
How We Selected the 6 Brands
I selected a variety of well-known national brands of powdered hot cocoa mix that can be found at most grocery stores across the country. I included plain, unflavored hot cocoa mix, although the actual names of the mix varied from brand to brand.
No special flavors, like dark chocolate, peppermint, or salted caramel; no mini marshmallows; and no hot chocolate mix, which is richer than hot cocoa. All the brands included were found from visiting a variety of major grocery stores in New York City.
How We Set up the Blind Taste Test
I purchased six brands of powdered hot cocoa mix sold in packets. I boiled a large kettle of water, then one by one I mixed six ounces of water (per box instructions) with each packet of hot cocoa mix, and poured each brand of cocoa into small tasting cups. I assigned each brand a letter, and then lined them up on the island in our studio kitchen.
I asked everyone in the office to give me their thoughts on all six brands.
The Taste Test Results
Finding a wide selection of brands of strictly hot cocoa mix proved a tougher task than I expected. Grocery store shelves were largely dominated by Swiss Miss (which sells quite a few different varieties) and Nestle (which also sells a few different varieties) hot cocoa.
While each brand recommends combining the hot cocoa mix with six ounces of water, the packet sizes varied slightly from less than one ounce to over one ounce. I was curious to see how easily (or not) each brand dissolved and mixed together, and of course how they stacked up when it came to taste. I was looking for qualities like sweetness, thickness, richness, and chocolate flavor.
Key Food Hot Cocoa Mix ($.24/ounce)
After the first sip, most of my officemates felt a connection with this store-brand hot cocoa. It reminded us of our childhood, and had just the right balance of sweetness and chocolate flavor without being too rich or overwhelming. "The kind of hot cocoa you could drink a lot of, and not feel bad about it." A few tasters separately commented that this tasted like the cocoa they'd drink after a day of skiing.
Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix ($.23/ounce)
This hot cocoa mixed together quite easily with the water, but when it came to taste, my officemates were left wanting a little something more. It wasn't as rich or chocolatey-tasting as some of the others, and some commented that it felt a little thin.
Swiss Miss Classic Hot Cocoa Mix ($.34/ounce)
Swiss Miss is the classic hot cocoa brand so many of us know from childhood; it's what we grew up with. While this brand mixed together the easiest of all six, the flavor wasn't what most of us remembered. It was more mild and not as rich or chocolatey as the rest.
Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Mix ($.33/ounce)
Right off the bat this hot cocoa looked much darker than the rest. It gave the impression of a drink that was rich with chocolate flavor — and sure enough, it was. This hot cocoa wasn't nearly as sweet as the rest, and it tasted like a very dark chocolate with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The tasters were split on the flavor; while some really enjoyed it, others thought it "needed more sugar."
Whole Foods Hot Cocoa Drink Mix ($.40/ounce)
This hot cocoa had a depth of flavor that reminded most of the tasters of a more mild version of the Trader Joe's hot cocoa. One taster commented that this was the kind of hot cocoa she'd "serve to friends." While some tasters wished for a more pronounced chocolate flavor, they found it "rich and not too thin."
Hot Cocoa Mix: The Office Favorite
While all of these brands came out well in our taste tests, one stood up as the favorite.
Land O Lakes Chocolate Supreme Hot Cocoa Mix ($.63/ounce)
While this cocoa is called "Chocolate Supreme," this is Land O Lakes' version of regular hot cocoa. And unlike the other brands, which offer a box of packets, this hot cocoa mix is sold as individual packets.
These cups of cocoa didn't look remarkably different than the rest of the brands, but the taste was something truly special. It had a flavor that was incredibly creamy and thick, with a good depth of flavor and just the right amount of sweetness and chocolate.
Taste Tester Quotes
- "Rich and salty and caramely."
- "It has a kick."
- "Mmm, this one has a lot of depth."
- "It tastes a little eggy (in a good way)."
- "This one is thick and chocolatey."
Do you have a favorite brand of hot cocoa mix? Any brand we missed that we have to try? Let us know in the comments!