In the Mix: Sampling some hot chocolate

February was National Chocolate Month, so I took it upon myself to do as much sampling of different forms of chocolate as was humanly (and healthily) possible, including that magic and luxurious elixir of winter — hot chocolate.

I’ve always had a few issues with hot chocolate mixes. One would be the texture or “dissolve-ability.” Often, even if prepared as directed, these powdered drink mixes don’t mix with hot liquid (milk or water) very well and leave a ring of residue around the top of the cup, bubbly lumps of dry mix floating on the surface and a good bit of dredge in the bottom.

My other issue would be with taste. Most directions for hot chocolate mixes have the maker blending them with hot water. This (plus that dissolving problem), results in a bland, tepid flavor that tastes like watery cake mix in a cup.

Finally, my third issue would be sugar. Too many hot chocolate mixes are loaded with sugar and the few who have “no sugar added” versions, again, result in blah flavor. Consistently, though, if given the option of a full-sugar versus no-sugar-added rendition, I’ll choose sugar (for flavor) and just  drink less than the serving amount.

Or, most often, if I treat myself to hot chocolate at home, I make my own — a blend of a rich milk/half-and-half mixed with a good cocoa powder/chopped dark chocolate and sweetened with everything from a little honey, brown sugar and stevia and enhanced with cinnamon and chili powder. 

For the purposes of “research,” though, I wanted to take a little taste of the “more convenient” mixes for hot chocolate during what was the coldest winter we’ve had in our region for many years. Over the month of February, I decided to try a number of different brands of hot chocolate mix, from grocery store brands to exclusive “haute” blends from designer chocolate companies. What I share in this blog post is my very unscientific, somewhat random and completely subjective (I walk the dark side where hot chocolate is concerned) taste test.

I did keep a few things consistent for my test. I decided to ditch the water for these cocoa mixes (some of them gave the option to do that) and use milk (either low-fat regular or unsweetened almond milk) rather than water heated via kettle or microwave I instead used a method of heating the milk to just beginning to bubble in a saucepan first, then adding the hot chocolate mix and whisking all thoroughly. Also, I served my chocolate in a smaller serving than directed — most mixes recommended an eight-ounce cup per serving, I made two servings and served each in the same six-ounce size cups (smaller size equals less sugar). Really, a little cup of chocolate is all you need (says I).

Dandelion Chocolate Camino Verde Ecuador Hot Chocolate Mix: Dandelion Chocolate is a gourmet chocolate company based in San Francisco, featuring an array of quality chocolate products, including bars and a drinking chocolate mix that caught my eye at their San Francisco Ferry Building location recently, due to its container — a lovely slender, amber, laboratory-looking glass bottle, complete with a cork. I could not resist giving this a try, although I waited for a special occasion (the start of this taste-test). I was surprised this bottle only made one batch (2 to 4 servings) of hot chocolate, but once I uncorked the bottle, I could see why. Not only did the drink mix contain rich cocoa, but also bits of real, finely chopped chocolate. I debated on doing half and saving the other half, but I splurged and made the whole batch (refrigerating part to drink the next day). The bits of chocolate melted quickly in the hot milk. I whisked thoroughly, as directed. This makes a very thick, dark batch of deeply flavored hot chocolate. It may not be the thing for those who like pallid super sweet cups of cocoa laden with marshmallows, but as I ladled it into my cups, I knew it was as close to my homemade drink as I was going to get.

Price and availability: $18,

Texture and dissolve-ability: Thick texture, some undissolved, but completely drinkable, residue at the bottom of the cup

Drinkability (taste): Deep dark chocolate taste, perfect “hoitey” gift for the chocolate fans who love the dark side.

Archer Farms Cinnamon Hot Cocoa Mix: I loves me some spice in my hot chocolate and was willingly welcoming to this mix, reasonably priced (I found it at Target). The cocoa component in this mix is lighter, but the cinnamon added brings a full, warming flavor to this drink. I made this hot cocoa with almond milk, which also leant a more wholesome component and made me feel as though I was drinking something nearly healthy.

Price and availability: $4.99  for 8 packets,Target

Texture and dissolve-ability: Light texture, dissolves well.

Drinkability (taste): Not-too-sweet, nicely spiced, lighter cocoa taste.

Starbucks Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa: I was a little surprised (but not really, considering this company is everywhere) that Starbucks had its own hot cocoa mix. Given the high sugar content of many of the coffee drinks served in Starbucks, I was expecting their cocoa mix to be of the same ilk. It actually had the least amount of sugar in all the brands I tried. It mixed up to a nice dark cup, and the absence of sugar helped the enhancement of the cocoa taste.

Price and availability: $5.89 for 8 packets, Target and other grocery stores and Amazon.

Texture and dissolve-ability: Fairly thick and rich for a hot cocoa mix, a slight bit of remaining residue in the final sip.

Drinkability (taste): The cocoa flavor was the “star” (get it?), given the lower amount of sugar.

Ghirardelli Premium Indulgence Hot Cocoa: Ghirardelli is a San Francisco chocolate landmark and a nationwide company of endless yummy chocolate products, from caramel-filled chocolate squares to cocoa, bars and chocolate chips for baking. They also have a wide array of hot cocoa mixes in many flavors. I decided to try their straight-up premium cocoa mix. Though not terribly expensive, this cocoa delivered a nice cup of well-balanced chocolate-to-sweet.

Price and availability: $10.23 for 15 packets, Amazon.

Texture and dissolve-ability: Not super-thick, a light texture, but did dissolve well when whisked thoroughly.

Drinkability (taste): Sweet, but also good chocolate flavor, a nice even balance of the two tastes.

Blogger’s Note: Some add-ins can really liven up hot chocolate mixes. Try adding a splash of vanilla, almond or rum extracts; a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or cloves; a smidgen of ancho chili powder; orange zest or orange-flavored oil (for cooking and baking). Top your chocolate with your fave marshmallows (with graham crackers on the side for s’more-like dipping) or whipped cream. Add a splash of half-and-half to lighten up the hot chocolate, or add some shaved, chopped or broken up pieces of dark chocolate to intensify dark chocolate flavor and texture.

Comments are closed.