Learn whether making a cocoa paste or sifting your cocoa powder is more effective for making clump-free hot cocoa, plus 4 extra tips for smooth, no-clump hot cocoa.
Lumpy hot chocolate is no fun to drink because it tastes like clumps of grit in your mouth. This is a nasty surprise when you’re sitting down to enjoy a rich and decadent mug of hot chocolate to de-stress after a busy day.
How Do You Make a Good Hot Chocolate With Powder?
Good hot chocolate made with cocoa powder is possible. You need to make clump-free hot chocolate containing cocoa powder and you can spruce it up with mix-ins and toppings.
After spending the last two weeks experimenting with how to make the best 5-Minute Hot Chocolate recipe and dealing with how cocoa powder makes hot chocolate gritty, I can share my favorite tips for how to make smooth, clump-free hot cocoa.
This article will outline my experiments with the techniques to eliminate clumps and show you a side-by-side comparison of how effective the techniques are. I will also share which is the ultimate technique that I recommend based on the 80/20 rule (80% of the results for 20% of the effort).
1: Make a Cocoa Paste
The most common and known way to remove clumps from your hot chocolate is to make a paste by mixing the cocoa powder and a tablespoon of milk. Simply Recipes and countless threads on Reddit recommend this strategy.
Cooking Stack Exchange explains why it helps to create a slurry by dissolving cocoa powder in milk and how heat changes the slurry by thickening the starch which risks making unbreakable clumps.
2: Sift the Cocoa Powder
A classic baking technique, sifting cocoa powder removes clumps and adds air in between the cocoa particles. I found sifting to be a very effective technique to eliminate clumps from my hot cocoa without the hassle of creating a slurry. On the other hand, sifting cocoa powder over a mug can become messy quickly.
BONUS TIP: I found using a spoon to press the cocoa powder through the sieve was much more effective than using a fork to push the powder through.
3: Add the Milk to the Cocoa Powder
If you add the cocoa powder to a cup of milk, the cocoa powder sits on top of the milk and creates clumps immediately. The cocoa powder separates into mini balls with a tight seal where the milk touches the cocoa powder. It becomes maddening to try to break apart these clumps.
To avoid this problem, put the dry cocoa powder into your cup and pour the milk over top to make the cocoa paste.
4: Stir With a Whisk or Fork
Although it is easier to sift cocoa powder with a spoon, especially as you push the final clumps through the sieve, it is far easier to mix the cocoa powder and milk using a whisk or fork. Spatulas are not even very helpful at this stage. Spatulas are best used for the very end if you are trying to be perfect (the 20/80 rule, meaning 20% or less of benefits for 80% of the effort).
5: Use a Glass
I found a glass helpful for mixing the cocoa powder and milk even if I planned to serve the hot cocoa in a mug. I like seeing the bottom of the glass to see where I can whisk apart any remaining clumps against the glass wall. A mug makes this task harder because you can’t see where the clumps are.
If you want to serve the hot cocoa in a mug, you can transfer the hot cocoa after mixing it into a mug before reheating it in the microwave.
6: Add Emulsifiers
Part of the challenge of eliminating clumps to make smooth hot cocoa is the process of emulsifying the mixture of fat in milk and cocoa powder with the water. There’s a reason soy lecithin is frequently added to chocolate.
Now, you could add some lecithin to your hot cocoa but it’s hard to buy lecithin alone, and some people are put off with the idea of adding these “artificial chemicals”*. You could add egg yolks and mustard, which have lecithin in them, but that changes the nature of your hot cocoa.
* Lecithin is naturally occurring in foods like egg yolks and soy but the process to extract seems to cause alarm in some people.
My workaround is to add some chocolate, which usually has soy lecithin in it already. Though if you’re going to bother adding baking chocolate or hot chocolate, you might as well skip the cocoa powder altogether and make the 5-Minute Hot Chocolate recipe based on our findings from the Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Chocolate Taste Test.
The Ultimate Technique for Clump-Free Hot Cocoa
Let’s see the efficacy of these tips side by side. Tips 1 to 2, which are make a slurry and sift the cocoa powder are the 2 foundational tips for clump-free hot cocoa. Tips 3 to 6 are nice-to-have techniques that might make the process easier but do not make as much of a difference.
Let’s compare the 3 conditions:
- Hot cocoa made without cocoa paste or sifting
- Hot cocoa made with the cocoa paste technique
- Hot cocoa made with sifting the cocoa powder
You can see that making hot cocoa without first making a paste or sifting the cocoa powder leads to the most clumps. The cocoa paste and the sifting produce almost identically smooth results.
Looking at the top of the glasses of hot cocoa gives us a clearer view of how many clumps remain.
Finally, a scoop into the hot cocoa shows us what clumps may be hidden beneath the surface.
Looking at the results, I’d conclude that making a cocoa paste and sifting the cocoa powder make a difference. If you want clump-free hot cocoa, it is worth taking action to make a slurry or sift your cocoa powder.
Sifting Cocoa Powder Eliminates the Most Clumps
Based on my results, and your mileage may vary, sifting produced the smoothest, clump-free hot cocoa.
But the downsides of sifting are:
- You must own a sieve that can be used for sifting cocoa powder over a mug
- Sifting can be messy
I found sifting is faster than making a cocoa paste, especially when I sift the cocoa powder over the sink. Then it’s easy to turn on the tap and wash away the excess cocoa powder. That makes sifting cocoa powder the 80/20 strategy to make smooth, clump-free hot cocoa.
However, if you don’t have a sieve and you don’t mind stirring, then the more common technique of making a cocoa paste is the right strategy for you. You can also speed up the mixing strategy by following Tips 3 to 6.
Enjoy your hot cocoa! We’ll be sipping our hot chocolate during the cold snowy months in Colorado.
9 thoughts on “6 Tips to Eliminate Undesirable Lumps in Your Hot Cocoa”
At Walmart I found a small plastic salsa bowl. With the larger top working the coco powder thru a sieve is not messy and the almost round bottom makes creating a slurry much easier than using a flat bottom mug, etc. Those bowls are found, when in stock, in the area of kitchen nicknacks (sp?).
BTW you can get really small sieves at stores like Walmart. The one I use is about 2.5 inches. The one I saw being used here is way too large for making one serving. Before I got the salsa bowl I would simply press 1 T of powder at a time thru the sieve with a spoon. Now I just gently tap the sieve on the inter edges of the bowl.
Hi Adal, I’m glad you found a smaller sieve. I agree, if you can find one that can fit just over your mug, it will produce the least about of mess. Great find! I prefer a minimalist kitchens so I use what I’ve got. But if you can get a smaller one, that will work best.
seems like you would get better results from an actual sifter, not a seive. if you could find one small enough to fit your mug there would be no mess at all.
Adding vanilla or almond extract to hot cocoa and milk helps smooth out the cocoa lumps.
Thanks for the tip. Didn’t know this.
Wow such a great and informative article, thanks a lot!
Hi Anna and thank you for this article. I used a small sieve that rested over my cup, warmed the milk and poured it in. There were a few clumps on top but I kept stirring until clumps were gone.
When I watched my friend warm milk, put the cocoa powder in briskly whisk, he would get chocolate milk all over the stove and kitchen counter and that discouraged me from making hot chocolate! A sieve is the best way for me.
For years I have used the slurry method. It still left me with lumpy hot chocolate. I would switch to the liquid chocolate in a squeeze bottle however I am a diabetic and using the sugar free cappuccino flavored instead. I also use the little bit of cream to make a paste, doesn’t work. I will try sifting but I doubt that works also.