Best hot chocolate 2020 taste tested – top instant powders and flakes
Whether it is from flakes of luxurious handmade dark chocolate, or a supermarket instant mix, one sip, and suddenly everything feels right with the world. Scientists can tell you what and why this happens; the fact that it tastes so good may be enough of a reason.
The market is overflowing with choices of hot chocolate drinks, and there is something out there for all budgets, diets and desires. Hot chocolate should not be confused with a mug of cocoa, even though the two expressions are used interchangeably.
Cocoa is the paste which is left when the fat is extracted from the cocoa bean. The fat makes chocolate, the paste is dried and then ground to make cocoa. Cocoa as a drink is light and usually sweetened with sugar, whereas hot chocolate is rich, creamy and dense and will often have little or no added sugar.
In choosing the right hot chocolate for you, it depends on how strong a flavour and how sweet you like it. Most dark chocolate will show the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher the number, the stronger and somewhat darker the taste.
With lesser numbers, the taste is softer, but beware sugar may be used to compensate for loss of flavour. Milk chocolate goes from dark to lighter too, but will always contain milk, so isn’t suitable for a vegan diet or dairy intolerance.
Authentic hot chocolate, therefore, is made with chocolate, whatever strength or colour you like. It can be a bar to grate at home, comes already grated, in chunks, flakes, drops, discs and even on a stick to stir through hot milk.
Read on to discover our top-rated hot chocolates for making instant warming drinks. For more unbiased expert buyer’s guides, visit our reviews section to find 400+ round-ups of everything from the best coffee machines to the best milk frothers for making hot chocolate.
The best hot chocolates to buy online
York Cocoa House 50% classic hot chocolate (150g)
Best for an authentic hot chocolate
The York Cocoa Works is opposite the site where Henry Isaac Rowntree started his very own chocolate business over 170 years ago. Today, the Cocoa Works’ managing director, Sophie Jewett, uses a special blend of cocoa to create recipes inspired by the classic chocolate drinking traditions of York.
The chocolate in the bag is all different sizes, from slightly powdery to flakes and chunks. Despite this variation, it melted quickly into milk and a non-dairy alternative.
The hot chocolate was deep and flavourful, exactly as would be expected from a ‘proper’ hot chocolate, giving lovely flavour without being cloying or bitter.
Sophie’s hot chocolate ranges from 36% white and 40% milk up to a staggering 100% pure dark chocolate, with many in between. Highly recommended. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans, no added sugar.
The Spice Kitchen hot chocolate (100g)
Best for a lighter more cocoa-like taste
This self proclaimed ‘yummiest’ hot chocolate is a powder made of fat-reduced 25% cocoa powder and sugar. Spice Kitchen suggest mixing the powder with water to create a paste before adding hot milk.
The fine powder blends super-fast with the heated milk and melts quickly. The result is a more cocoa-like drink; perfect if you like a lighter, yet still chocolatey flavour. There was high praise for the taste, though a few testers found it a little too sweet.
We also liked the ethics of the mother and son team behind Spice Kitchen, who produce award-winning spices, spice blends and gin. Through sales of their products, they help children in India to receive nutritious midday meals through the Akshaya Patra Foundation. Dairy and gluten-free, high in sugar.
Pittenweem Milk Vanilla luxurious hot chocolate (260g)
Best ethically-sourced, artisan chocolate
The Pittenweem Chocolate Company in the picturesque East Neuk fishing village in Fife is an independent, artisan and family-run chocolatier. The owner, Sophie Latinis, is passionate about showcasing fairtrade, responsibly grown and unusual chocolate. Her hot chocolate has been her signature product since starting the business 14 years ago.
The chocolate is 54% cocoa solids, and also contains skimmed milk powder (so not suitable for vegans), sugar and vanilla and is more granular than powder or flakes.
On the packet, Sophie recommends making the drink in the microwave or a mug, making a paste and adding scalded milk. We tried both methods with milk and a non-dairy alternative – there was little difference, but we feel there’s more of a chance of burning the milk in a microwave.
We loved this chocolate for the ease of making it in a cup, the velvety texture, the back note of vanilla and, although there was added sugar, it was in no way too sweet. Of the milky artisan chocolate, this scored the highest on the test. Not suitable for vegans, contains sugar.
Bullion Single Origin drinking chocolate (250g)
Best for chocolate aficionados
Award-winning Bullion chocolate is a newcomer to the chocolate business, founded in 2016 by Max Scotford in Sheffield. He follows the bean-to-bar approach for chocolate-making, and is one of only a handful to use craft, small-batch techniques to bring the best out of the cacao.
On opening the packet of chocolate, we were welcomed with a waft of heavy chocolate. A peep inside showed some serious chunks nestled into the powder.
We tested a 50% single origin chocolate from Santo Domingo, Ecuador – the only hot chocolate Max currently makes. He suggests mixing 30g chocolate with (an unspecified quantity – we used 200ml) of hot milk, stirring until the chocolate melts.
We followed these instructions and found that the chocolate melted very quickly, and were very impressed by the rich, thick texture, depth of flavour and creaminess.
For 50% chocolate, it tastes much deeper and darker, with a lovely sweetness. Like a good wine, Max offers tasting notes – expect roasted nuts, butterscotch and vanilla. Not suitable for vegans, contains sugar.
Modern Standard 52% hot chocolate (200g)
A gold standard hot chocolate with a social conscience
Modern Standard are first and foremost a coffee company, however they offer one hot chocolate sourced directly from a family-run business in Manizales, Colombia. To offset any social impact, they give 10p from every purchase to a local social impact project.
The chocolate is a light-coloured powder that has an intense, chocolatey aroma. They use Cacao Fino de Aroma beans (a classification of the International Cocoa Organization), which is the gold standard of all cocoa produced across the globe.
They recommend steaming the hot chocolate, which will only work for those with a coffee machine with a steaming wand. We made a paste with the chocolate and milk, then whisked in scalded milk (around 70C). They recommend a 9:1 milk to chocolate ratio, which is handy if you need to make a big quantity.
The texture was slightly grainy, but this didn’t affect the taste, which was wonderfully deep, strong and quite nutty, even with added sugar. This hot chocolate is delicious. Dairy-free, suitable for vegans, with added sugar.
Green and Blacks organic hot chocolate (300g)
Best straight-off-the-supermarket-shelf hot chocolate, widely available
You can find Green and Black’s hot chocolate in supermarkets across the UK. It gets points for its availability and price, the lowest we tested.
The packet suggest mixing 4 teaspoons hot chocolate powder to 250ml scalded semi-skimmed milk, or use the same ratio and heat in the microwave for 1 minute 40 seconds.
We tried both, and in both recipes, the drink was very light and a little bland – one tester said they could only taste the hot milk. We upped the number of teaspoons with much better results; it was creamier and chocolately.
The microwave recipe also worked well, but beware the risk of burning the chocolate unless the microwave is used precisely.
Of the ‘off the supermarket shelf ‘ brands we tested, this was our favourite, as it’s less sweet and had a more pronounced taste. Definitely worth having a tub of it in the cupboard. Organic, fat-reduced cocoa powder.
Cosy Chocolate original plain drinking chocolate (160g)
Best artisan plain chocolate for vegans
Cosy Chocolate is a small homemade hot chocolate business based in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside. They make hot chocolate in a range of flavours, with their aim ‘to create the perfect cosy moment in a mug’.
Their 62% chocolate is a handcrafted and hand-flaked drinking chocolate, which has a rich, dark colour.
There is no given quantity of milk in their recipe, so we used 200ml and four dessertspoons of chocolate.
The chocolate disappears into the milk in an instant and with a few stirs, froths up. A delicious aroma conjured smiles all-round. This is a lovely, deep-flavoured drink with a velvety texture. It lives up to its name – we immediately wanted to hunker down and enjoy it. Suitable for vegans, may contain milk.
Bettys Swiss dark hot chocolate (250g)
Best for a more pronounced chocolate flavour
The famous Yorkshire-based Bettys Cafés are known for all things delicious, including their hot chocolate. The Swiss chocolate used in this pretty caddy comes from Venezuelan cocoa beans, and is infused with Madagascan vanilla – it’s no wonder you’re met with a heavenly aroma on opening.
At 65%, the colour is darker than most, and the chocolate is a lovely, even, almost granular texture. The recommended five teaspoons to 200ml of scalded whole milk is precisely the right quantity to create a super-delicious mug of chocolate heaven.
We love the creaminess and ever-so slight bitterness, which combats the added sugar. The vanilla takes this to another level – we love it. There’s no surprise this is award-wining chocolate. May contain milk.
Hotel Chocolat Milky 50% hot chocolate drink (250g)
Quality chocolate from a big brand, easily available
You can find a Hotel Chocolat on most high streets and shopping centres in the UK. From a small start in 2004, they now have 106 stores and cafés and a strong online presence. They have a wide choice of all things chocolate, including the drinking variety.
We tested the highly popular Milky 50%, which is more mellow than the 70%, better suited to those who prefer a less sweet drink. The Milky comes in a resealable packet or in carefully measured 35g sachets (which are perfect if you have a Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser, chocolate maker).
We used the traditional stovetop method, with 35g chocolate to 220ml hot milk. We whisked in the chocolate grains, which melted in an instant, then reheated and enjoyed a deeply flavoured, velvety smooth chocolate that wasn’t too sweet.
The quality of the chocolate shone through. There are also several other interesting flavours to choose from, including a rather tempting salted caramel. Vegan-friendly, gluten-free.
Chococo 70% flaked dark chocolate (115g)
Packs a punch at 70%
This strong 70% hot chocolate comes from the Dorset-based independent artisan chocolate brand, Chococo. Their 70% flaked dark chocolate drink is a single origin Raisetrade chocolate from Madagascar.
The colourful tube only holds 115g, and seems to disappear quickly – we found five teaspoons too light in flavour, but a slight increase was declared perfect by our testers.
The beautifully flaked chocolate melted quickly into the hot milk, turning smooth and creamy in seconds. The flavour is deep, chocolately, and – though on the website they say no added sugar, cane sugar is listed on the packaging – not sweet at all.
Though a little pricey, the ethical promises from this company and the quality of the chocolate, make it a worthwhile treat. Vegan-friendly, no additives or preservatives.
How we tested hot chocolate
We made each hot chocolate mix with both dairy and dairy-free milk. For every chocolate sent for testing, we used the quantities and recommended recipe instructions from the company. We scored the hot chocolate against the following criteria on our test matrix:
- How easy it is to prepare
- How long it takes to make
Hot chocolate recipes
This review was last updated in December 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@