We Sipped On And Ranked 13 Hot Chocolate Brands

Assorted hot cocoa mixes
Assorted hot cocoa mixes - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Hot chocolate has a long history dating back to the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations of Mesoamerica. This early xocolātl bore little resemblance to the powder inside envelopes you mix with water or milk commonly found today. It was a ceremonial or medicinal beverage made from pulverized cocoa beans combined with water, spices, or flowers before getting aerated and served at room temperature.

The hot iteration of this beverage emerged as a noble delicacy in 16th-century Europe. It continued to evolve with the introduction of cocoa powder by Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten in 1828. This digestive cocoa powder eventually morphed into the modern-day iteration of a hot cocoa mix, which combines cocoa powder with sugar and other natural or artificial flavorings or preservatives.

There are many brands of hot chocolate or cocoa mix available commercially. I scoured several grocery stores to obtain as many as possible to sip and study. To appreciate the flavor of the cocoa mix as is without being diluted by any dairy, I combined all of these with the suggested amount of water before assessing them based on aroma, texture, flavor, and overall appeal. I then ranked them from least to most favorite. Read on to see which cocoa brand landed on top.

Read more: The 15 Best Milk Brands, Ranked

That's Smart!

That's Smart! hot cocoa
That's Smart! hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Last on my ranking of hot chocolate brands is the cocoa mix from That's Smart! This discount brand can be found in myriad grocery chains and contains six 1-ounce packages. Each package contains 110 calories and is designed to be blended with 6 ounces of hot water or milk.

My first impression of this cocoa from the moment I tore the package open was that it was all sugar, no cocoa. There is an almost synthetic smell that is off-putting. When I combined the powder with hot water, the texture was thin, watery, and lacked heft. The flavor of this cocoa was dull and muted. It was like drinking sugar water with a dusting of cocoa thrown in for good measure.

If you read the ingredient label on this cocoa, the first three items are sugar, whey, and cocoa. The remaining contents include more sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavorings. This explains the overall flavor profile and lack of complexity. The noticeable lack of chocolate made this cocoa mix my least favorite.

Great Value

Great Value hot cocoa
Great Value hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The milk chocolate-flavored mix from the Walmart Great Value line came in second to last on this ranking of hot chocolate brands. This mix comes in a 27.7-ounce tub with 22 servings per container. Each 3-tablespoon serving contains 150 calories and is intended to be mixed with 8 ounces of hot water or milk.

This cocoa suffered from similar flaws to others toward the bottom of this list. An unpleasant synthetic saccharine aroma hits you over the head immediately upon peeling back the foil freshness seal. Once the hot water was added, the liquid looked more like chocolate milk than rich cocoa. The flavor follows suit. It is cloyingly sweet and leaves an off-putting aftertaste in your mouth.

Again, the primary ingredient in this cocoa is sugar, with milk solids and cocoa next. The remaining flavorings, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives do little to add much by way of nuance to this beverage. While this cocoa was marginally better than our lowest-ranking brand, it tastes like drinking a hot cup of lightly flavored sugar water, not cocoa.


Nestlé hot cocoa
Nestlé hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

It is hard to believe that the Nestlé's milk chocolate-flavored cocoa mix landed toward the bottom of this list, but here we are. With a legacy dating back to 1866, this brand has long been known for its quality chocolate products. While the demise of this cocoa on this ranking may be partly a byproduct of high expectations, it did not have the rich flavor or texture I anticipated.

Each package contains eight envelopes of cocoa. These envelopes have 100 calories and are designed to be combined with 8 ounces of hot water or milk. When you open the envelope, the aroma of this cocoa is overtly sugary, with little cocoa essence to be detected. Once combined with hot water, the texture is thin and lacks oomph.

The taste of this cocoa can be described in one word as disappointing. It was exceedingly sweet and had hardly any chocolate flavor. According to the ingredient list, cocoa powder does not appear in the top three ingredients, so this makes sense but is still deflating. That said, it is somewhat better than those ranking below it.


Stephen's Gourmet hot cocoa
Stephen's Gourmet hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Next on this ranking is Stephen's Gourmet Hot Cocoa. I found the milk chocolate variety in a 1-pound canister with 13 servings per container. Each 3-tablespoon serving has 150 calories and is intended to be combined with hot water or milk.

When I peeled back the vacuum-sealed protective foil, I was ill-prepared for how powdery this mix was. I happened to inhale and got a noseful of the cocoa mix, which both made me cough and gave me a good whiff of the aroma. This cocoa is also quite sugary smelling, though perhaps less aggressively than the previous brands, owing to its more pulverized texture.

The texture of this cocoa was thin but not quite as watery, with a slightly more chocolatey hue. Its highly powdery consistency makes it blend more smoothly and quickly than the other cocoa products I sampled.

The flavor was markedly improved over its smell. While it was sweet, it did not completely overwhelm the cocoa. The cocoa was present but still very mild. What was unusual was that this drink almost had a salty aftertaste. This was a decent contrast to the sweetness, but it caught me off guard. Overall, this is a good hot cocoa, but not a great one. It is perhaps the first one I would buy for myself, which earns it some brownie points.


Hy-Vee hot cocoa
Hy-Vee hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The Hy-Vee brand of hot cocoa mix lands in ninth place on this list. This store-brand product contains 10 1-ounce packets per box. Each packet has 110 calories and requires 6 ounces of hot water or milk to resuscitate.

Though the ingredients listed on this hot cocoa resemble the others sampled, the aroma is far more well-balanced between the cocoa and sugar, and there is no lingering synthetic nose, which I appreciated. Once the cocoa was blended with the hot water, the resulting beverage was far more chocolate-forward, with a richness that I had not yet encountered.

The flavor followed suit, being sweet but not cloying. It highlighted the chocolate taste far more, even if it was not the most potent cocoa I sampled. This markedly improved upon some of the other cocoa mixes I tested, and I would purchase it again. Next time, I might try the marshmallow variety for added interest.

Swiss Miss

Swiss Miss hot cocoa
Swiss Miss hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The Swiss Miss brand is another cocoa mix I expected to land higher in this ranking. This is the first hot cocoa mix designed to use hot water. It emerged in 1961 and has remained a fixture on grocery store shelves since. For this reason, the name Swiss Miss is synonymous with hot cocoa in many brains, including mine.

This box of this classic contains eight packets of cocoa. Each packet has 160 calories and requires 8 ounces of hot water to whip up. The aroma of this cocoa had that quintessential cocoa mix profile that filled me with a sense of nostalgia. When I added the hot water, all the anticipation I felt was quickly diffused.

It is not that there was anything wrong with this cocoa. It is a good, standard cocoa that has remained consistent for decades. It's just not as unique as some of the others sampled. The texture of this cocoa finally had some heft with bolder chocolate that was less watered down. It was not overly sweet but highlighted more of a bittersweet undertone of real chocolate.

It just lacked the "it" factor. Like other foods and beverages I have fond memories of from childhood, this didn't quite withstand the test of time. It fell short of the version which has been etched into my taste buds. Despite this, it is a good cocoa that would be fine for kids or those wanting a slice of yesteryear.

Land O'Lakes

Land O'Lakes hot cocoa packet
Land O'Lakes hot cocoa packet - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Unlike most other cocoa mixes I sampled, the Chocolate Supreme from Land O'Lakes was sold as a single packet rather than in a box. This 1.25-ounce envelope of cocoa has 140 calories and requires 6 ounces of hot water to blend. Like some others, its aroma was distinctly sugary rather than chocolate-forward. There was also a hint of a synthetic scent that was present but not overwhelming.

Once the hot water was added, the texture of this cocoa was milky looking, lacking richness. Ironically, its flavor was not overtly milky or sweet. It was rather well balanced, with the Dutch-processed cocoa featuring prominently but not being the star.

This cocoa was good but lacked some of the potency and complexity that rich bittersweet chocolate can and should impart. For this reason, it landed toward the middle of this ranking. Its availability in single packets rather than a full box makes it appealing. Sometimes, you want a cup of hot cocoa, but if it's not something you drink regularly, you may not want a whole box. That's good marketing.


Dunkin' Hot Chocolate Bomb
Dunkin' Hot Chocolate Bomb - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The Dunkin' Original Hot Chocolate Bomb was the only non-powder hot chocolate I sampled. Only one Dunkin' cocoa variety was available, so I included it in this ranking. It may be an outlier simply because it takes real Belgian milk chocolate filled with marshmallows and melts it in milk rather than rehydrating a sugar powder mix.

Each bomb has 230 calories and requires 6 ounces of milk to activate. The bomb lacked any aroma until it was heated and began to melt, which took quite a while, even with piping-hot liquid. Once the bomb started to melt and the marshmallows popped out, the whole cup smelled like a melted candy bar.

The texture of this hot chocolate was perhaps somewhat thicker than the others. That said, considering it was made from melted chocolate versus rehydrated cocoa, it wasn't as luxurious as I anticipated. Its flavor was distinctly that of milk versus dark chocolate and not overly potent.

It was pleasant but on the modest side in terms of overall taste. This is a fun treat that would be a great gift, especially for kids who may not appreciate overly bittersweet cocoa. For this reason, it ranked in sixth place and not higher.

Beaumont Cocoa

Beaumont hot cocoa
Beaumont hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The milk chocolate-flavored hot cocoa mix from Beaumont is an Aldi find. This brand has the same cocoa flavors in both K-cup and envelope options, so read the packaging carefully before purchasing to ensure you get the correct one. Each box contains eight envelopes of cocoa that have 150 calories per serving. This cocoa is intended to be mixed with 8 ounces of hot water.

Based strictly on the aroma of this cocoa, I was unimpressed. It had virtually no chocolate scent and was very artificial smelling. Even when hot water was added, the cocoa did not inspire me. It was watery, lacked body, and appeared bland.

In this case, the adage of not judging a book by its cover is appropriate. I should not have assessed this cocoa strictly by its smell or visual appeal -- its flavor was quite rich and chocolate-forward. It was not excessively sweet, was well balanced, and the cocoa shone through even if there was a touch of that synthetic aftertaste.

I should have had more faith in Aldi from the beginning. This product was flavorful, and I'd purchase it again, even if it did not land closer to the top of this ranking.

Best Choice

Best Choice hot cocoa
Best Choice hot cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

When taking inventory of the hot cocoa mixes I had collected from local grocery stores, I never anticipated the milk chocolate-flavored Best Choice brand being near the top of this list. This discount brand is the only one that has no sugar added. Each box contains eight envelopes of cocoa that have 50 calories apiece. The cocoa is designed to be mixed with 6 ounces of hot water.

Its aroma was surprisingly chocolate-forward. There was no lingering synthetic smell or overtly sugary scent. The texture of this cocoa was quite rich and shockingly thick. Though not the most nuanced of the bunch, the flavor of this cocoa was rife with bittersweet chocolate and barely a kiss of the natural sweetness present in the dehydrated dairy in the mix.

For someone who enjoys robust chocolate flavor and less sugar, this hot cocoa mix hit me in my sweet spot. And considering it has half the calories of the other brands sampled, this is a superior option for someone wanting a sweet treat without added calories. For these reasons, this cocoa landed in fourth place.


Ghirardelli hot cocoa packet
Ghirardelli hot cocoa packet - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Edging into the home stretch of this ranking of hot chocolate brands is the Double Chocolate cocoa mix from Ghirardelli. This was another product sold in individual serving envelopes rather than in a box, which gives it an edge for those wanting an occasional sweet treat. This cocoa contains 90 calories per serving. It also has the fewest ingredients of the cocoas, including sugar, cocoa, chocolate, soy lecithin, and appealing vanilla.

The aroma of this cocoa was all dark chocolate. After mixing it with 6 ounces of water, its texture was thin but rich. The lack of dairy in the mix means you lose a hint of creaminess, but I did not mind. Its flavor was rife with all the chocolate you would expect from a product made by Ghirardelli. A hint of sweetness and a lovely nutty aftertaste is conferred by the vanilla extract rounding out the taste.

What you lose by not having dairy powder in this cocoa can be remedied by mixing it with either milk or a non-dairy milk alternative. For those looking for a non-dairy alternative to other cocoa mixes, this one delivers and will satiate anyone with a penchant for dark or bittersweet chocolate. For this reason, it lands in third place on this list.


Starbucks Hot Cocoa
Starbucks Hot Cocoa - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The Starbucks Double Chocolate hot cocoa mix variety ranks second on this list. This cocoa shone in a similar capacity to Ghirardelli. It has few ingredients, with sugar, cocoa, chocolate, soy lecithin, and vanilla rounding out the list. The noticeable absence of added milk powder gives this cocoa mix an advantage over others for those sensitive to dairy. The box contains six 1-ounce envelopes that each have 110 calories.

The aroma of this cocoa is potent, with rich dark chocolate notes coming through. Even combined with just 8 ounces of hot water, the texture is luxurious with a deep, tawny hue. The flavor is markedly bittersweet without a hint of residual sugar. The vanilla is less noticeable in this cocoa than in the Ghirardelli cocoa. Despite this, the flavor was every bit as complex.

This is a premium cocoa mix that delivers in spades. If you are willing to pay a bit extra, it is worth the splurge, especially if you are fond of dark chocolate. If you prefer milk chocolate or like cocoa on the sweeter side, this is not the cocoa mix for you. For my palate, it was divine.


Abuelita Mexican Style Hot Chocolate
Abuelita Mexican Style Hot Chocolate - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

The winner of the best brand of hot chocolate is none other than the Abuelita Mexican Style Instant Hot Chocolate Mix from Nestlé. True to its name, this cocoa had me feeling as comforted as my grandmother would when I was a little girl. The unique cocoa comes in a box containing eight 1-ounce envelopes. Each package has 110 calories and requires 6 ounces of hot water to resuscitate.

Where this cocoa diverges from all others is the addition of spicy, warming cinnamon to the cocoa mix. From the moment you open the envelope, the cinnamon is distinctive. The cocoa is more powdery than most other mixes, which helped it to melt rapidly. While the flavor is rich and deeply chocolate-forward, there is enough sweetness to temper the bitterness. Punctuating all of it is the punchy cinnamon, which is festive, exotic, and completely distinctive.

Frankly, this cocoa wins hands down because it is not precious in its inclusion of intense flavors. I was looking for something different, setting a cocoa mix apart from all the others. This mix was the only one that was notably distinct from all the rest, even though it is not overly fussy, expensive, or hard to find. If you want something bold that hearkens back to the origins of hot chocolate, this is the cocoa for you.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.