Snowy day? Check! Cozy blanket? Check! Hot cocoa? Of course, but what kind do you like? If you ask a room of food editors, the answer depends on which packet each of us grew up stirring into our milk (or water). It turns out that the best hot cocoa is familiar and comforting.
Simply Recipes editors recently challenged our hot cocoa mix preferences with a blind tasting of popular brands like Swiss Miss, Nesquik, Trader Joe’s, and Nestlé. Could we pick out our go-to from a bunch of options and would it still be our favorite? Here’s what we learned.
The 13 Brands of Instant Hot Chocolate We Tasted
The global sales of hot cocoa mixes are almost $1 billion, which isn’t surprising because there seem to be a bajillion options you can buy. Some with teeny marshmallows and others sugar-free, dairy-free, or flavored with peppermint, salted caramel, or pumpkin spice.
For this test, Simply Recipes editors conducted a blind tasting of instant hot chocolate mixes with no added bells and whistles—just plain chocolate. We stirred them into warmed whole milk or almond milk (for some of us with sensitive tummies), following the package instructions. Then we judged each sip for flavor, texture, and overall increase (or decrease) in our happiness.
These are the 13 brands of hot cocoa mixes we tasted:
- Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate
- Swiss Miss Rich Chocolate
- Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix
- Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate Flavored Cocoa Mix
- Nestlé Rich Milk Chocolate Flavor
- Nestlé Nesquik Chocolate Flavor
- Bowl & Basket Hot Cocoa Milk Chocolate
- Land O Lakes Cocoa Classics Supreme Cocoa Mix
- Starbucks Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
- Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa Mix
- Ovaltine Rich Chocolate Mix
- Sillycow Hot Chocolate Mix
- Dunkin’ Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa K-Cup
Childhood Dreams Come True: Nestlé Rich Milk Chocolate Flavor
Whenever my kids come back into the house after playing outdoors, their hands are numb and half-frozen. The only antidote to cold fingers is a warm mug of hot cocoa, and from now on, it’s going to be Nestlé Rich Milk Chocolate.
“This tastes like I’m eight years old, just got off the skating rink, and went to the vending machine to get myself a nice little cup of cocoa,” says editorial director Ariel Knutson. A handful of the editors immediately smiled after taking a sip—this hot cocoa mix has a nostalgic milky chocolate flavor that reminded them of their childhood.
The Grown-Up Cocoa: Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa Mix
Who says only kids can have fun? Among the tasters that are parents, Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa is the one we’d hide from our kids and keep for ourselves. It’s a bitter, extra creamy, and not-too-sweet hot cocoa mix that would make most kids scrunch their faces.
“This is bitter in a good way, but my kids would not like this. It has a rich chocolate flavor and the texture is creamy,” says art director Sarah Crowder. Associate social director Brooke Schuldt agreed: “It doesn’t taste artificial, and it’s not overly sweet and very cocoa-y. If you’re a child or like things sweet, you’d probably need to add something, like a marshmallow.”
Mmmm…So Rich: Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate Flavored Cocoa Mix
The biggest complaint our editors have with store-bought cocoa mix is that most taste like fake chocolate—flat, artificial, or like chocolate perfume, but not in a good way. Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate is one of the few we agreed tastes and smells like real chocolate. “It’s like melted chocolate ice cream, but warm. And in a good way!” says Arie.
This is no surprise because this hot cocoa mix is made with just four ingredients: sugar, cocoa, natural flavor (an ambiguous ingredient, but we didn’t taste anything artificial), and a bit of salt. When added to milk (or any kind of dairy), it becomes rich, thick, and so decadent.
“It’s well balanced,” says general manager Emma Christensen. I agreed and sneakily set the container aside to bring home with me—a perk of our work is that you get to take leftovers home! I like that it’s so rich, silky, and has the right amount of real chocolate flavor and sweetness. I would make this for myself with frothed almond milk and a sprinkle of cocoa powder on top.