As soon as the temperatures start to drop, I crave one thing more than any other on a cold night: hot chocolate. A cup of the good stuff made with real cocoa and milk is pure holiday magic. Lucky for me, my husband is always game to stir up a cup from scratch on a chilly night—he always adds a dash of cinnamon to really make it feel like home, but these mix-ins are tasty, too. I’ll admit, though, on a chilly night when I want cocoa quick, I’m very much OK with using a package of hot chocolate mix—especially if it has those mini marshmallows.
However, I’m not always sure if that marshmallow-packed brand is really the best hot chocolate—it is pretty darn sweet. Maybe there’s a richer, more chocolatey variety out there better suited for evenings watching Christmas movies. That’s why I wrangled together 11—yes, 11!—brands of hot chocolate in a blind taste test to see which tastes best. Here’s what I tried along with a team of cocoa-fans. And, yep, we made sure to use real milk (not just water) in this test. Anyone who knows hot chocolate knows that milk always makes it better.
- Great Value
- Land O’Lakes
- Private Selection, a Kroger-exclusive brand
- Silly Cow
- Swiss Miss
- Tim Hortons
Competition for this test was steep. See which brands were our favorites.
Honorable Mention: Cocomama
Taste of Home
When it comes to hot cocoas, some folks prefer a richer, darker chocolate flavor. Those were the people that gave Cocomama’s semisweet hot cocoa mix the highest marks. This fair trade, non-GMO, kosher hot chocolate was a favorite among those that enjoyed dark chocolate. That’s because in addition to hot chocolate’s standard ingredients—sugar and cocoa powder—Cocomama’s mix contained a good helping of dark chocolate chips. Testers loved that the melted chips gave this mix a really decadent flavor and cut down a bit on the sweetness. Sound like something you’d like? You’ll love these rich dark chocolate recipes.
$5.99 for a 7.5-oz. box; available at select stores and Amazon.
Runner-Up: Great Value
Taste of Home
Testers also really enjoyed Walmart’s Great Value hot chocolate. Great Value offered a much sweeter flavor than Cocomama, but that satisfied the kid in all of us. We’d equate it to the style of cocoa that Mom would make after you came in from sledding—sweet but so so easy to sip. While we made all our hot chocolates in our test with milk, we did like that Great Value’s hot chocolate mix could be made with water if you didn’t have milk on hand. There’s definitely a convenience factor to a mix like that. Plus, it came with itty-bitty marshmallows. Who can resist?
$4.88 for a 40-oz. canister; available exclusively at Walmart.
Best in Show: Tim Hortons
Taste of Home
The mix we loved the most, though, seemed to combine the best qualities of our honorable mention and runner-up. Tim Hortons hot chocolate mix gave us that bit of sweetness that we craved while also offering rich chocolate flavor, though we’d say that Tim Hortons had more of a milk chocolate flavor than semisweet. Overall, we decided that this was the best hot chocolate mix because the components—chocolate, sugar and milk—were all in perfect balance. This was the only brand we tried that had people coming back for seconds later in the day. It really is that irresistible.
$8.99 for a 14-oz. canister; available at select stores and online.
Taste of Home
Milk is always better
After testing hot cocoa made with 2% milk for this test and then with water to just to compare later, I can assure you that no matter than brand, hot chocolate mix always tastes better made with milk. It has a much fuller and more satisfying flavor. Also, watch out for some hot chocolate brands like Cocomama (one of our favorites); they aren’t made with milk powder so they need to be blended with milk in order to taste right. And if milk isn’t your thing, you can always use a nondairy option—these are our favorites.
Never underestimate an unknown or store brand
Let me say that I was just plain shocked when Swiss Miss and Starbucks didn’t place in the top three for this test! As the bigger names in hot drinks, I assumed these two would have this competition locked up. But just like in so many other taste tests—like chocolate chip cookies and salted butter—generic and less common brands took the top spots. It just goes to show you that you never know until you try! Now grab a box of our favorite hot chocolates and get comfy! Those Hallmark Christmas movies are waiting!