Taste Test: Difference Between Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa and Which Tastes Better ☕️

Learn the difference between hot cocoa versus hot chocolate & which tastes better in a blind taste test. Find out how to make your ideal cup of hot chocolate based on the findings.

An annotated image of three tall glasses with different hot chocolate conditions for the hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa taste testPin

What Is the Difference Between Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate?

There is fierce debate over the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. If you look at many hot chocolate recipes on the Internet, you’ll discover that they contain cocoa powder. Should cocoa powder be in hot chocolate? Let’s look at how the two beverages differ.

Hot Cocoa

Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, milk, water, and sugar. Hot cocoa is only made from cocoa solids. Not having cocoa butter makes hot cocoa thinner, less rich, and cheaper compared to hot chocolate. Typically, dry mixes, such as Swiss Miss, are hot cocoa made with plenty of sugar, milk powder, and flavorings such as vanilla. Hot cocoa is more likely to have clumps than hot chocolate.

Trader Joe's package of hot cocoa with ingredients and directions to brewPin
Trader Joe’s hot cocoa mix gives you an idea of the ingredients in hot cocoa and nutritional facts.

Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate is made from melted chocolate and milk, which includes both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Hot chocolate has a richer taste and texture. Depending on the ratio of milk and cream, hot chocolate can be thick like softly whipped cream.

Learn more about the history of hot chocolate from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Williams Sonoma, which cover how the wealthy made hot chocolate in the 17th century and the Mesoamerican origins of hot chocolate.

Trader Joe's package of sipping chocolate with ingredients and directions to brewPin
Trader Joe’s sipping chocolate turns out to be a cocoa mix, even though sipping chocolate is frequently considered hot chocolate. It gives you an idea of how confusing and interchangeable the terms are. Also, you can see the European inspired version of sipping chocolate has fewer filler ingredients than the hot cocoa mix.
Trader Joe's package of hot chocolate in a stirring spoon with marshmallowsPin
Finally, hot chocolate made from a real block of chocolate…only it’s called hot cocoa ?‍♀️

Does Hot Chocolate Taste Better Than Hot Cocoa?

The passionate hot chocolate debates combined with our recent snowstorms in Boulder inspired Alex and me to run a taste test to determine whether hot chocolate tastes better than hot cocoa.

Overhead view of a cup of hot chocolate on a saucer on a table with plenty of snow nearbyPin
Snowy weather was the perfect excuse for us to do a chocolate taste test and drink dozens of cups of hot chocolate…all in the name of science, of course.

Our goal was to create the best 5-Minute Hot Chocolate recipe based on our taste test findings.

How We Ran the Hot Chocolate Taste Test

Alex and I ran set out to test 3 conditions:

  1. Hot chocolate made from 40 grams of 72% cacao Trader Joe’s Pound Plus baking chocolate only
  2. Hot chocolate made from 20 grams of 72% cacao Trader Joe’s Pound Plus baking chocolate and 15 grams of Trader Joe’s cocoa powder + 5 grams of cane sugar
  3. Hot cocoa made from 30 grams of cocoa powder and 10 grams of sugar

While Trader Joe’s may white label the chocolate and cocoa powder from different chocolate manufacturers, I tried to stick with the same container and bar to ensure consistency.

An annotated image of three bowls with different hot chocolate conditions for the hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa taste testPin

What Are the Results of the Hot Chocolate Taste Test?

Alex and I rarely agree during taste tests. However, we had the same preferences in this taste test, yielding unanimous agreement about what we believe tastes better and how to best make hot chocolate.

Alex’s & Anna’s ranking from most to least favorite hot chocolate and hot cocoa (including comments from the taste test):

  1. Baking chocolate only: (Alex) Very good. Very smooth not gritty. Good flavor. (Anna) Smooth and delicious, sweetest but tasted the most luxurious.
  2. Baking chocolate + cocoa powder + sugar: (Alex). Not sure I can really tell the difference from baking chocolate only. Maybe I like hot chocolate without cocoa powder slightly better. (Anna) Nice balance, smoother than cocoa powder only but with the benefit of being less sweet than chocolate only.
  3. Cocoa powder + sugar: (Alex) I like this the least. It’s gritty. It has less depth of flavor. This may just be because it tastes slightly less sweet. (Anna) Gritty and very chocolatey/cocoa-y. I like that it was not too sweet but the texture wasn’t smooth like the pure chocolate 
Three tall glasses with different hot chocolate conditions for the hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa taste testPin
The hot chocolate made from baking chocolate (left) disappeared quickly. The hot cocoa was gritty (right), and nobody wanted to drink it.

What Did We Learn From the Hot Chocolate Taste Test?

We can DEFINITELY tell the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. And hot chocolate came out as the winner by far.

However, there are trade offs between hot chocolate and hot cocoa, and we can improve our hot chocolate by incorporating what makes hot cocoa great.

A mug, a cup and saucer, and a glass of hot chocolate with whipped cream on a baking tray with snowPin

Here are the reasons hot chocolate is better than hot cocoa:

  • Hot chocolate tastes richer and more luxurious
  • It is easier to melt chocolate to make hot chocolate than to make hot cocoa because cocoa powder clumps and it takes more work to smooth out the clumps.
  • Hot chocolate tastes smooth

TIP: Learn how to eliminate clumps to make smooth hot cocoa.

Here are the reasons hot cocoa is better than hot chocolate:

  • People generalize by saying hot cocoa is sweeter than hot chocolate. This might be true of packaged mixes, like Swiss Miss and Nesquik. But if you make hot cocoa from scratch, you can use less sugar. It is harder to buy 80% and higher cacao baking chocolate and chocolate chips. Unless you use chocolate bars, you’re stuck with a sweeter hot chocolate.
  • The technique to make a cocoa powder paste with milk helps make hot chocolate smoother too.

Finally, is it worth making hot chocolate from a combination of baking chocolate and cocoa powder?

To me, it is not worth your time to use a combination of baking chocolate and cocoa powder to make hot chocolate. Why? It is more work to smooth out cocoa powder lumps. After all the hard work, your hot chocolate will still have a gritty texture, which I dislike.

TIP: If you liked this taste test, you’ll want to make our 5-Minute Hot Chocolate recipe that used the best practices we uncovered from our taste test findings.

FAQ About Hot Chocolate

I covered many questions about how to make your hot chocolate better in the 5-Minute Hot Chocolate recipe, including how long does hot chocolate last for and how to make hot chocolate taste better with dozens of topping and mix-in ideas.

Here are additional questions you may have about hot chocolate.

Does Hot Chocolate Have Cocoa?

There’s no single definition of what hot chocolate and hot cocoa are. Some recipes call for cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate or chocolate chips (though that makes their recipe hot cocoa and not hot chocolate). Others might combine solid chocolate and cocoa powder. You should try both to see which you prefer. As you can tell from this taste test, we think hot chocolate is way better than hot cocoa.

What’s the Difference Between Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Milk?

Chocolate milk is typically enjoyed cold. Chocolate milk is typically made with chocolate syrup or even cocoa powder mix! Chocolate milk also has additional ingredients that vary depending on the manufacturer. For example, Trader Joe’s chocolate milk uses cocoa powder mix containing guar gum and other fillers. Alberta Milk writes that chocolate milk can have carrageenan and added vitamins.

Trader Joe's carton of chocolate milk with ingredients and nutritional factsPin
Trader Joe’s chocolate milk showing the chocolate milk is made with cocoa powder mix and additional ingredients like cream and vitamin D3.
Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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