When coffee sucks, hot chocolate fills your cups: it's the hot liquid that soothes your inner being. But, there are so many options from expensive coffee shop drinks to dirt-cheap powdered mixes, and it's a challenge to find the best.
So, I did the hard work for you. I pitched four popular hot chocolate mixes against each other in a blind taste-test to determine which is the best. I had seven participants taste a cup of each brand, made to the instructions, and then complete a survey that asked them which of the four they liked the best
One of the premium brands, the Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa mix comes in a 3-pound canister versus the normal individual packets of the other brands. Good thing, considering it costs almost $20 a tin. Making hot chocolate, the directions say to add hot milk versus hot water with the Nestlé Rich Hot Chocolate and Swiss Miss Hot Milk Chocolate powders.
According to the nutrition information, one serving is about three tablespoons with 39 servings in a canister. If you're just using the mix for hot chocolate, you can expect about that many cups or more, considering how much you use per cup. The variability allows you to also adjust how strong the drink is by adjusting how much you add
The only ingredient is "sweet ground chocolate & cocoa," which has a short list of sub-ingredients but is nowhere near the paragraph of ingredients found in the other brands. It's hot chocolate, guys, the first ingredient should be chocolate—not sugar or corn syrup. Congrats on Ghirardelli on getting it right.
Three of the seven tasters chose Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa as their favorite cup. The tasters noted its sweeter, stronger, richer in taste and it has a thicker, milky feel in comparison to the others. They described the drink as tasting "like a melted chocolate bar" and "like it's made of more chocolate rater than more water."
One said it tasted similar to dark chocolate; another said it tasted "too sweet, like drinking sugar water with chocolate flavoring." For one taster, the lack of marshmallows was a major turn-off.
The Starbucks Toasted Marshmallow Hot Cocoa is the second premium brand I tested: it comes in a packet, like the Nestlé and Swiss Miss options. However, you get eight of them in the box versus six. With one box, you can last the entire week and still have an extra cup for bae or yourself if you're lonely. None of the other brands come with marshmallows so that's a bonus.
It's more expensive than the cheap options, at around $10 a box. The ingredient list is also acceptable: cocoa comes in second place, after sugar (feeding America's sugar addiction, eh, capitalism?). The marshmallows contain corn syrup but I'll give that a pass because it actually has important purposes versus just being a cheap super-sweetner.
Two of the seven tasters chose this brand as their favorite, liking its taste being the "least sweet, the strongest with marshmallows (smiley face)" and its "chocolate flavor." The other five tasters commented on its taste being like "dark chocolate" and "bitter." Another said it was "watery."One taster described the smell as being "very chocolatey" but didn't describe the taste. For most, this bitter, hot chocolate option is not the best for most.
The second of the two common brands, the Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa is perhaps the most ironic of the hot chocolate mixes. I remember the good ol' days when my mother made me a cup when I was just a wee lad. Nowadays, it hasn't changed much: still comes in a one-cup packet, in a standard 6-count box.
It's dirt-cheap too. I paid less than $2 for the box. It requires hot water to make the drink, compared to hot milk with the Ghirardelli mix and the Starbucks option. The ingredients are, well, disappointing: cocoa is third on the list. It includes a bunch of other ingredients, such as carrageenan, a thickening agent. Delicious.
One taster chose the Swiss Miss mix over the other brands, even the premium options, reasoning that "it has a milky, creamy taste; not too chocolatey." The other tasters noted its watery texture and sugary taste, saying it tasted like "chocolate-flavored water"and like "drinking sugar water with chocolate flavoring." One taster noted its "strong, gross smell" and "weird taste."
Considering the first two ingredients are sugar and corn syrup, it makes sense that the majority of the tasters commented on its sweetness; also makes sense that the drink is watery since it requires water. Maybe the taster who chose Swiss Miss over the others just had nostalgia for the good ol' days. We've all been there.
This product is the second cheap brand, requiring hot water to make hot chocolate. The mix is in a packet form and the box from the store contains the standard 6-count. Each packet makes one cup of hot chocolate so if you buy the standard box, you got six cups worth—quite lacking compared to the 39 cups in the Ghirardelli canister. It is cheaper, though. Actually, all the other brands are cheaper than the Ghirardelli option, but you get a lot less.
On the box, the market spiel is "Nestlé Hot Cocoa makes the moment even better"—sure, if you enjoy the laundry list of ingredients. Seriously, how can you market something as "hot chocolate" or "hot cocoa" if the fifth ingredient is cocoa—not the first, the fifth. I guess that's why it's "milk chocolate-flavored." Ugh, damn it, capitalism.
A surprise to me, one taster chose the Nestlé option as their favorite because to them, it tasted, "more malty and less sugary or chocolatey than the rest." The other tasters commented on the taste being "watery" and lacking chocolate flavor. A few tasters suggested the brand was Swiss Miss, which ironically is a brand in the line-up. Maybe the price makes up for the taste?
According to the very helpful graph, the Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa was favored by 42.9% of the tasters with the Starbucks Toasted Marshmallow Hot Cocoa coming in second with 28.6%. The Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa and the Nestlé Rich Chocolate Hot Cocoa tied with 14.3% of the tasters for each.
Of course, this study is hardly definitive, but hopefully it serves as a decent review of these four products and is beneficial in helping you decide which you should go with. In the end, it all comes down to preference; it doesn't matter which is your favorite just as long hot chocolate fills your cup because coffee sucks and tea makes me feel British.