Put on your comfiest, coziest sweaters… and let’s enjoy a chill evening together with mugs of hot chocolate!
It may surprise you that chocolate was solely consumed as a beverage for most of its existence, with evidence of its consumption possibly dating back four millennia to cultures of Mesoamerica.
The first solid bar of chocolate actually didn’t make an appearance until 1847, created by British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons who molded a bar from a paste of sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter.
The indigenous tribes of Mesoamerica revered the fruit of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, Latin for “food of the gods.”
In fact, the origin of the word “chocolate” is traced back to the Aztec word “xocolatl.”
Valuable enough to be used as currency, cacao beans were a cherished food item, and were also considered to have divine properties for sacred rituals.
The Aztecs and other groups would consume a bitter drink using fermented and roasted cacao beans with no sweeteners, but after the Spaniards arrived to the Americas and introduced this native concoction to Europe in the 1500s, Europeans started adding sugar, spices, and other flavorings to the beverage.
Throughout the following centuries, demand for this tasty and versatile product in its various formats – beverages, powders, bars, candies, etc. – has continued to flourish to present day, with more options and transparency for fair trade products and the pursuit of educating buyers on its origins.
And now, we can enjoy multiple versions of hot chocolate, one of the most iconic cold-weather drinks consumed and beloved at any age throughout the colder months of the year.
You might be looking for a basic, crowd-pleasing recipe you can make every year to start a heartwarming tradition among family and friends, or maybe you want something new and unexpected, with a unique twist, for when you’re craving a fun night in with equally fun flavors.
In our little roundup, learn how to make four fun styles of this beverage to enjoy all winter long! The recipes are quick, easy, and tasty!
And if you don’t drink dairy-based beverages, you certainly won’t feel left out! The milk used in all of these recipes can be substituted with equal amounts of your favorite non-dairy milk substitute.
I’ve had sweet success with using other non-dairy milks in many of these recipes. Almond, oat, soy, macadamia non-dairy milks are all great options you can buy at the store. You can even make your own almond milk from scratch, with our help!
Choose unsweetened, or go for the vanilla-flavored options if you want even more flavor with every sip.
Sweaters on? Let’s cozy up and drink!
The Best Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa Recipes
Chestnut Hot Chocolate
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… and then mixed into our mugs for a delightful drink!
Our recipe for this delectable homemade beverage featuring classic cold-weather holiday ingredients is worthy to be included in any song of the winter season.
You can roast the chestnuts fresh yourself – whether that is done on an open fire or in your stove is completely up to – or you can buy chestnuts that are already roasted and peeled.
Fresh and packaged chestnuts in either format are often available to purchase at the grocery store during the winter holidays.
Blended until smooth along with warming ground cinnamon spice, beans from a vanilla pod, and sweet honey, we also add freshly grated orange zest in this recipe for a subtle zing of citrusy goodness.
Our unique twist on the basic drink will have you caroling its deliciousness all winter long!
But is there actually a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa?
While the terms may be used interchangeably, there can also be a clear distinction between the two, based on the ingredients in the recipes.
Using a hefty 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate for four drink servings, this homemade recipe is an incredibly, outrageously, intensely – seriously, no joke – thick and rich ode to my favorite version of this wintry drink.
This is the time to use the higher quality bars you have stashed away in the back of the cupboards, separate from all the Halloween candy!
For this recipe, I prefer to use bittersweet bars between 60 to 75% cacao for deeper, more pronounced flavors. The drink is still sweet and delicious, but if you prefer something even sweeter, decide to purchase bars with a smaller percentage of cacao, or use a combination of different percentages.
For the quickest melting time, finely chop the bars with a sturdy cutting board and sharp chef’s knife when you are in the prep phase of making this recipe. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will melt, and the faster you can sit back and relax!
Easy and unfussy, you’ll love this version when you’re looking for a quick fix of a warm and sweet drink!
With the least amount of prep work involved – no chopping required! – our cocoa-based recipe is a quick mix of cocoa powder, milk, sugar, and vanilla heated together on the stovetop.
The cocoa powder will look a little clumpy at first, but within just a couple minutes on the stovetop whisked with the other ingredients, everything combines into a smooth and creamy concoction.
In my home, we are big fans of this perfectly simple option. And I am the biggest fan of all.
I absolutely love this basic recipe to serve the whole family, when we host the adults and their children all together at the house.
This recipe is so easy to make in large batches to satiate a whole crowd of folks coming back from a day of playing in the snow, Christmas caroling, and other cold festivities.
But I also like to create adults-only drinks every now and then, using this recipe as the base.
If you want to liquor things up a bit, add a shot of Bailey’s, Grand Marnier, Frangelico, or Kahlua to your mug before you ladle up a serving of this recipe.
Or take inspiration from our naughty Pharisäer Kaffee, and serve with dark rum and thick layer of whipped cream!
I’ve also included a spoonful or two of this magical liquid when I want to make a sweeter, more dessert-like version of espresso martinis, as a fun way to use leftovers from the night before!
White Hot Chocolate
As a loud and proud white chocolate enthusiast, I would sorely regret not including this recipe in our roundup!
The perfect option for anyone who needs to satisfy a sweet craving, this recipe will scratch that itch.
I love serving this with shavings and a dollop of whipped cream on top. To make spiralized shavings, repeatedly drag a sharp vegetable peeler on the side of a white chocolate bar.
The combination of white colors from the drink, whipped cream, and shavings create an unexpectedly elegant presentation, the perfect option to serve for dessert at an upscale winter dinner party.
Sweet, creamy, and lovely, with just a hint of salt for balance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you will enjoy every sip of this drink!
Top It Off
We can’t talk about this warm and comforting style of winter drink without recommending some terrific toppers when serving.
These warm and creamy drinks are excellent on their own, but childhood nostalgia beckons us to garnish them with something sweet and delightful.
The classics reign supreme, like whipped cream or fluffy marshmallows – mini or jumbo!
You can certainly use store-bought products when you want to eliminate additional prep work outside of making the drinks. I tend to keep a bag or two of marshmallows in my pantry when I know the cold weather approaches!
But if you are determined to go homemade from the drink to the garnish, we have all the advice and made-from-scratch recipes you need!
Make our classic vanilla-flavored marshmallows, which you can cut into any size or shape you prefer. Consider making your own jumbo-sized marshmallows, or make them mini by placing the mix before it sets in a piping bag fitted with a round tip, piping them out in lines, then slicing them into small squares.
If you love mint, try our peppermint version to savor the sweet and refreshing flavors of the winter holidays.
What’s your favorite way to serve a steaming cup of pure fun at home? Do you love to use marshmallows or whipped cream as the final topping? Let us know in the comments!
For more warm and soothing beverages, you’ll bring a smile to everyone at the table with these steamy favorites:
Photos by Meghan Yager and Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Ashley Martell on December 20, 2014. Last updated on January 15, 2023.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.