Hot Cocoa Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/Total Time: 15 min.
Making this hot cocoa recipe from scratch is almost as easy as preparing a store-bought version—but it turns out even more delicious.

Updated: May 06, 2024

Whether young in age or young at heart, nothing quite hits the spot like a steaming mug of hot cocoa after spending time in the frosty outdoors. Once you discover how easy it is to make it from scratch, you’ll never reach for the store-bought stuff again. This simple hot cocoa recipe is easy to modify, allowing you to make it with any additional flavors and as sweet as you may like.

What’s the difference between homemade hot chocolate and hot cocoa?

Hot chocolate recipes typically do not have added sugar; in contrast, the main ingredients in a hot cocoa recipe typically include cocoa powder, sugar and milk. If you want to learn how to make homemade hot chocolate, also called drinking chocolate, you will need actual melted chocolate and milk or cream.

Ingredients for Hot Cocoa

  • Cocoa powder: Baking cocoa (otherwise known as cocoa powder) is a great staple to keep in your pantry. Be sure to use an unsweetened cocoa powder in this homemade hot cocoa recipe, as it allows you to control the sweetness of the drink with sugar. We recommend using one of our Test Kitchen’s favorite cocoa powder brands, as each of these has a richer and more chocolate-forward flavor. Otherwise, Dutch-process cocoa powder would work since it is made using a method that removes the acidity from the cocoa beans, resulting in a slightly less bitter and more mild flavor than regular cocoa powder.
  • Milk: While anything from whole to skim milk will work in this recipe, we recommend whole for its rich and creamy flavor. If you’re looking to really indulge, replace half the milk with heavy cream or half-and-half. For a vegan spin, nondairy milks such as almond, soy or your favorite oat milk brand can also be used in this recipe.
  • Sugar: Granulated sugar works best in this hot cocoa recipe. You can play with the amount to reach your desired sweetness.
  • Vanilla: If you don’t already have vanilla extract at home, pick up one of our choices for the best vanilla extract brands. You could also use homemade vanilla extract instead, or scrape in the beans from half a vanilla pod if you’re feeling extra decadent.

Directions

Step 1: Make the chocolate syrup

overhead shot of cocoa and sugar mix in a saucepanTMB Studio

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa and salt. Add the water, and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for two minutes.

Step 2: Add the milk

overhead shot of boiling hot cocoa in a saucepanTMB Studio

Stir in the milk. Heat to serving temperature (do not boil). Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla. Whisk until frothy.

Step 3: Add toppings

If desired, garnish each serving with marshmallows, whipped cream or cinnamon sticks.

close shot of homemade hot cocoa served with marshmallows and creamTMB Studio

Recipe Variations

  • Spice it up: Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch cayenne for a riff on Mexican hot chocolate.
  • Make it minty: For a refreshing minty flavor, add a few drops peppermint extract to replace the vanilla. Or, stir the cocoa with a peppermint stick or candy cane instead of a spoon.
  • Add extra caffeine: Make your cup of cocoa a red eye by stirring in a shot of espresso, or make it a Swiss mocha by adding 2 to 2-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee along with the vanilla.
  • Spike it: A shot of Irish cream, Kahlua or your favorite schnapps flavor is the perfect addition for the 21+ crowd.

How to Store Hot Cocoa

You can store leftover homemade hot cocoa in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Hot Cocoa Tips

overhead shot of hot chocolate served with marshmallows and creamTMB Studio

How do you serve hot cocoa?

Jazz up your homemade hot cocoa with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and pile on the marshmallows! You can also sprinkle full mugs with some grated chocolate or chocolate shavings, or warm spices such as cinnamon or cardamom.

How do you reheat hot cocoa?

While a microwave will do the trick in a pinch, hot cocoa (like other warm and cozy homemade drinks) always warms up better on the stovetop. Heat hot chocolate over low to medium heat in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until nice and hot.

How do you make hot cocoa for a crowd?

To make this hot cocoa recipe for a crowd, start by adding all the ingredients except the toppings to a 3-quart slow cooker. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Cook, covered, on low for two hours, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scalding.

To go alongside your slow cooker, consider making a hot chocolate board to provide your guests with toppings, mix-ins and dunkers, including caramel bits, homemade marshmallows, biscotti or Pirouette sticks.

Watch how to Make Hot Cocoa

Homemade Hot Cocoa

Prep Time 15 min
Yield 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup baking cocoa
  • Dash salt
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: Miniature marshmallows, sweetened whipped cream or cinnamon sticks

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa and salt. Add water; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in milk; heat to serving temperature (do not boil). Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla. Whisk until frothy. If desired, garnish with marshmallows, cream or cinnamon sticks.

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 211 calories, 7g fat (4g saturated fat), 27mg cholesterol, 125mg sodium, 32g carbohydrate (28g sugars, 1g fiber), 7g protein.

This homemade hot chocolate recipe will make people think you fussed, but it is so simple. —Cheryl Reitz, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Recipe Creator