Hot Chocolate vs Hot Cocoa

Hot chocolate versus hot cocoa….customers constantly ask us if is there a difference. Our answer is always a resounding YES, indeed there is. Neither is better but the choice has to do with resulting flavor, texture and richness.

Both beverages are delicious and either can be topped off with lightly whipped cream, and or embellished with orange slices, cinnamon sticks or powdered cinnamon, peppermint sticks, chocolate sprinkles, etc.

A cup of chocolate was originally an Aztec beverage that was no doubt far less ‘tame’  and far more heady than our familiar drink. The French have claimed rights to a very rich style of Hot Chocolate that incorporates milk, cream, sugar, and shaved or chipped bits of bittersweet chocolate.  The chocolate melts as the milk/cream mixture is heated. French-style hot chocolate is wonderfully rich, creamy, and substantial. And depending on the amount and type of chocolate used, the result can be gloriously thick – almost spoonable in the cup.

Hot Cocoa is made with water, a few tablespoons of milk or cream, sugar and cocoa powder. Cocoa powder and sugar are mixed with the cream in the bottom of a cup or cocoa pot until a paste is formed, then hot water is added to the paste and mixed until a smooth consistency is reached. Hot cocoa lacks the creaminess and luscious mouthfeel of  a cup of hot chocolate, but it is more concentrated and has a more chocolaty taste. This is because there is less vegetable fat ( natural cocoa butter ) in the cocoa than there is in shaved chocolate. And as many know, fat coats the palate and minimizes flavor.

Here are a few recipes for delicious hot chocolate and hot cocoa. My advise ? Try them all and see for yourself which you prefer.

Makes 1 serving – scale up the quantity for additional servings

  • 4 tablespoons cream
  • 6 ounces milk
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (add more to taste after the chocolate is melted if desired)
  • 2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: whipped cream or mini marshmallows for garnish

Put the cream, milk and sugar into a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Add the chocolate and heat until melted, stirring constantly. Add the vanilla extract and heat for an additional few seconds. Ladle the hot chocolate into a mug and garnish if desired.

Makes 1 serving – scale up the quantity for additional servings

  • 2 teaspoons dutched cocoa powder ( we prefer dutched process cocoa because we feel that these cocoa powders have a deeper flavor, darker color and a smoother texture that blends flawlessly in hot beverages.)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cream, not heated
  • 6 ounces boiling water

Optional: whipped cream or mini marshmallows for garnish

Place the cocoa powder and sugar into a mug and mix well. Add the cream and stir into a smooth paste. Add the boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Ladle the hot cocoa into a mug and garnish if desired.


This recipe is from our book, Hot Drinks which Bob and I co-authored in 2007. Although Ten Speed Press published this book 3 years ago, sales are still strong as the recipes are intriguing and delicious, and perfect for warming winter and early spring days and nights! This is still one of my favorite recipes in the book.

Makes 2 servings – scale up the quantity for additional servings

  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1& 1/2 cups strong coffee, freshly brewed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, firmly whipped with 1 teaspoon sugar, for garnish

Optional: Pinch of fleur de sel or other sea salt for garnish

In each of two mugs, mix 2 teaspoons of the sugar and 2 teaspoons of the cocoa until well-blended and lump free. Add 2 teaspoons of the cream to each and stir until thoroughly combined into a light paste. Add 3/4 cup of the coffee to each and stir again until thoroughly mixed.

Top each with a dollop of whipped cream. Roll the dollop over to stain it with the coffee, then sprinkle a few grains of sea salt atop the whipped cream.

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