The sheer joy of sipping a piping cup of hot chocolate on cold chilly nights is near universal. But you’ve probably learned by now that not all hot chocolates are created equal. Drinking chocolate is a luxurious drink made from chocolate that has been slowly melted and then mixed with milk, cream, or water.
Using cream makes it a very French-style drinking chocolate, but one you pick your mix, how you prepare it is on you.
In this article, I’ll share my decade-plus of experience in the chocolate industry to share why drinking chocolate is an elevation of the usual hot cocoa, and some of the best drinking chocolate brands to buy online & in person. All bean-to-bar chocolate makers are marked with an asterisk.
- Hot Cocoa Vs. Drinking Chocolate
- Best Drinking Chocolate Brands to Buy
- Criteria for the Best Drinking Chocolate
- *Vesta Chocolate
- *Dandelion Chocolate
- *Dick Taylor Chocolate
- *SoMa Chocolate Maker
- *Ritual Chocolate
- *French Broad Chocolate
- *Fruition Chocolate Works
- *Askinosie Chocolate
- *Guittard Chocolate
- LA Burdick
- Fortnum & Mason Chocolate
- *Endorfin Foods
- *Amedei Chocolate
- *Raaka Chocolate
- Lakanto Drinking Chocolate
- Cadbury Drinking Chocolate
Hot Cocoa Vs. Drinking Chocolate
Chocolate has been consumed by humans since the Olmec civilization, and there have been numerous unique innovations since then.
There is no set standard for a hot chocolate beverage, but there are stark differences between the ingredients in what’s available on the shelves. Hot cocoa and drinking chocolate may both refer to that beloved hot, chocolate-y drink we all know but what’s the difference between the two?
Drinking chocolate and hot cocoa are two products with a common ingredient — cacao. However, they vary greatly in the cacao percentage (and even quality), ingredients, and processing and blending.
Hot cocoa is typically made from a powdered mix that is created from the powder of pressed cacao beans (cocoa powder). The powdered base is then mixed with sugar, milk powder, flavoring, and other additives. Because of the additives, hot cocoa tends to have a creamier mouthfeel and sweeter taste.
Also known as sipping chocolate, drinking chocolate, on the other hand, is much richer and more complex in flavor. It can also have bittersweet notes depending on the type and percentage of pure cacao used as the base.
Hot cocoa is often flat, and with a thinner consistency while drinking chocolate is typically denser. Luxury drinking chocolate sets itself apart from drinking chocolate mixes like hot chocolate or hot cocoa because it’s a luxury chocolate drinking experience.
Not to be mistaken for cocoa powder, drinking chocolate sometimes contains added cocoa powder to make it have an even more intense chocolate flavor.
Best Drinking Chocolate Brands to Buy
While you can definitely buy from popular and nostalgic hot chocolate brands, the category has matured beautifully over time. Many brands now offer a variety of drinking chocolates, ranging from mildly sweet to slightly bitter, thick and dense to watery light options.
The cacao industry has changed greatly, as well, with artisan products reaching commercial shelves and ultimately the consumer. Though more expensive, expect better quality from small-batch, fairly traded, sustainably sourced, organic chocolate drink mixes.
Drinking chocolate is highly subjective and personal, since it’s not a ‘protected category’ (there are no definitions or limits surrunding like bread. Over the years I’ve tried and enjoyed most of these brands. But first, let me share a bit more about my personal standards in choosing what goes on the list.
Criteria for the Best Drinking Chocolate
- Quality of ingredients (e.g. pure cocoa, whole milk, etc.)
- Taste (e.g. rich, smooth, not too sweet, etc.)
- Texture (e.g. creamy, not too thick or thin, etc.)
- Appearance (e.g. visually appealing, etc.)
First check the manufacturer’s ingredient list to see how much sugar is in your drink. The good news for consumers is, all chocolates are strictly subject to FDA regulations and everything must be clearly put on the label.
Then because hot chocolate and hot cocoa generally contain less cocoa and more sugar than drinking chocolate, regardless of how a container is labeled, I typically look for high cocoa content, a luxurious mouthfeel, and those that don’t leave a bad taste in your mouth (literally speaking) for ethical reasons.
Other factors include varying sweetness levels, which can come from the type and quality of cocoa beans used, and how it’s processed into drinking chocolate. A drinking chocolate mix with a higher cacao percentage will yield a less sweet tasting cup than a brand that has a lower cacao percentage.
Since it’s always easy to add a sweetener later on, I look for a cup that gives a richer and more intense chocolate drinking experience. Another consideration is a heavier, thicker hot chocolate texture.
A richer cup, thinking along the same lines as the sweetness level, can always be altered by adding more milk or water to thin it out later on. There are a few drinking chocolate brands that are simply outstanding and deserve to be mentioned. So when looking for the best drinking chocolates to buy online, these are my expert picks.
Based in: Montclair, NJ, USA
Where to Buy: Directly from Vesta
Vesta is a NJ-based bean-to-bonbon chocolate factory and café that specializes in handcrafted chocolate delights, caramels, coffee, bonbons, and other sweets crafted with only the purest ingredients. To learn more about the company, listen to my interview with the co-founders.
Their chocolate is made from unrefined cane sugar plus organic cacao beans grown in just a few single origins, including the Dominican Republic, from where co-founder Roger hails. Their bean-to-bar Classic hot chocolate powders are created using fully organic ingredients and meticulous attention to detail.
Vesta’s Dominican Dark Drinking Chocolate is made from only organic cacao beans, organic unrefined raw sugar, and organic vanilla. So like most of the luxury drinking chocolate brands here, Vesta’s can be made vegan by using water or a plant-based milk.
For a shot of sipping chocolate, simply pour 2oz. of hot chocolate powder into a mug and cover with hot water or steamed milk. Allow it to sit for a minute before stirring to get a smooth drinking chocolate.
Based in: San Francisco, California, USA
Where to Buy: Directly from Dandelion
If you’re looking for a rich and profoundly fudgy hot chocolate mix that isn’t overly sweet, Dandelion’s drinking chocolate is a must-try. The company launched their chocolate factory in San Francisco in 2012, and while their collection of hot chocolates didn’t come about until later, it’s worth the trip.
The collection now includes three flavors available year-round in their 70% Camino Verde, Ecuador chocolate: original, hojicha, and mocha. The iconic Japanese cork bottles in which they sell their drinking chocolates could be considered a collector’s item, though it’s also available in large bags.
Inside each bottle is a drinking chocolate mix made from just two ingredients (cocoa beans and organic cane sugar). The traditional hot chocolate is thick, slightly sweet, and intensely chocolatey no matter which origin you sip.
Dandelion Chocolates are all vegan and free of soy, dairy, eggs, and gluten, and manufactured at a factory that does not process nuts (which is part of the reason they outsource production of certain products). To learn more about the company, listen to my interview with the co-founder.
*Dick Taylor Chocolate
Dick Taylor is a small batch bean-to-bar producer of fine craft chocolates, focusing on single origin two ingredient chocolates. They ethically source all their cacao from a variety of well-known ethical cacao brands, including the Maya Mountain Co-op in Belize.
Their Single Origin Drinking Chocolate is a delightful European-style drinking chocolate with a rich, dark flavor. It contains 72% Belize chocolate and A2/A2 whole milk powder, which some individuals find easier to stomach than whole dairy milk (at least those with casein issue).
They created the product using classic European processes, cane sugar, and organic cocoa butter, resulting in a velvety cup of hot chocolate with overtones of dried plum, tart cherry, and jasmine. Simply stir a couple spoonfuls of the drinking chocolate mix into a cup of boiling milk, water, or your preferred milk alternative.
*SoMa Chocolate Maker
Soma makes tiny batches of limited edition chocolate bars and bonbons in addition to a large regular menu of sweet delights such as hot chocolate, biscuits, house-made gelato, toffee, and truffles. To learn more about the company, listen to my interviews with the co-founders.
This Toronto-based company boasts bean-to-bar chocolates that taste true to the bean, and they’ve been serving them up since 2005, when the founding couple first started selling their wares. For more about their story, check out my interviews with the two founders, Cynthia and David.
SoMa has five hot chocolate flavors – Dark Side of the Mug, Maya, A La Taza, Gianduja, and Malted Milk. The classic The Dark Side of the Mug hot chocolate is phenomenal, produced with only three ingredients: cocoa liquor (mass), organic cane sugar, and bourbon vanilla beans.
The bag contains premium dark chocolate shavings, which is still my favorite way of turning chocolate into a beverage. To make hot chocolate, bring a half cup of water or milk to a boil and add 6 tablespoons of Soma’s hot chocolate dry mix.
This hot chocolate drink has a creamy and smooth foundation, even though it’s a dark chocolate. It’s rich-tasting like a true drinking chocolate, with wonderful fudgy notes at the end and not a hint of bitterness.
This Utah-based company produces craft chocolate bars and premium drinking chocolate made with beans sourced from small farms in four regions of the world. While it’s not an explicit part of the company’s philosophies, all of their products are vegan-friendly and gluten-free.
In their product line, there seems to generally be an emphasis upon being accessible to those with dietary restrictions, something I’ve always appreciated. Their 60% drinking chocolate is rich & creamy and available year-round, with a deep chocolate flavor that is not too sweet.
*French Broad Chocolate
This Asheville-based company is known for its commitment to using organic, direct-trade cocoa beans and its unique flavor combinations. Their brownies and truffles may be better-known, but their drinking chocolate is rich and indulgent, with a velvety texture and a deep chocolate flavor.
They keep in stock a few different origins each season, offered in dark and milk chocolate, each tied to a small estate or region in which the cacao was grown.
*Fruition Chocolate Works
Based in: Shokan, NY, USA
Where to Buy: Directly from Fruition Chocolate
This small-batch chocolate maker based in New York state offers a fantastic sipping chocolate, made from their own bean-to-bar chocolate. I love using it as a base for flavored drinks, like my Mexican hot chocolate drink, since it melts up nicely enough to enjoy hot or over ice.
Their luxury drinking chocolate is smooth and velvety, with a rich chocolate flavor that’s not too bitter, and complex as well as balanced.
Based in: Springfield, MO, USA
Where to Buy: Directly from Askinosie
Askinosie Chocolate is a craft chocolate maker that uses single origin cacao sourced directly from farmers they’ve formed relationships with since their founding in 2007. They make bars, chocolate confections, sipping chocolates, and various baking chocolates.
The company has been very slowly expanding each of those lines to include collaborations with other small ethical companies. As a big fan of gourmet drinking chocolate, their Single Origin Sipping Chocolate is one of my personal favorites.
The flavor and texture remind me of a silky dark chocolate ganache, even smoother than their Philippine-origin tableya. Like drinking a dark chocolate bar, Askinosie sipping chocolate has an intensely bittersweet, dark chocolate flavor.
Because each one is made from different single origin bean varieties, there are fruity, grassy, tart, earthy, and spiced hints coming through with each batch (Honduras, Ecuador, Tanzania or the Philippines). The cocoa beans are obtained directly from cacao farmers and are combined with organic cane sugar.
Each cardboard canister contains their respective origin of chopped-up dark chocolate bits, small enough that they melt easily. The package directions suggest 4 tablespoons of milk or cream and about 4 teaspoons of chocolate, served in a cortado glass, but add more or less chocolate to adjust intensity.
Guittard is a well-known semi-commercial chocolate brand that offers a wide selection of baking and eating bars and cocoa powders. From an extension of the brand’s cocoa powder series, the Guittard drinking chocolate contains 53% cacao and is made the old-fashioned way – with a Dutch press.
The traditional way of extracting fat from the nibs makes use of a press that allows the resulting cocoa powder to retain more of the fat. Correspondingly, Guittard’s drinking chocolate is a rich and flavorful mixture of finely-ground chocolate, fine-quality cocoa powder, real vanilla, cocoa butter, and cane sugar.
This well-balanced product is also made in a segregated processing area that doesn’t contain any of the 9 major allergens. Just 4 tablespoons in a saucepan mixed with a cup of warm milk gives you a thick chocolate beverage with a luxurious mouthfeel.
Based in: Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, New York, Walpole, Washington D.C.
Where to Buy: Directly from LA Burdick
LA Burdick’s Milk Chocolate Drinking Chocolate is exactly the kind of packet hot chocolate you want in your home. With 40-42% cocoa content, it makes a dreamy cup of hot chocolate perfectly reminiscent of melted milk chocolate.
Coming in several variants – white, dark, single-sourced dark, and spiced – the packaging includes a miniature whisk to boot. Though naturally gluten-free, this drinking chocolate is made with soy and milk aside from cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin, and vanilla bean.
All of LA Burdick’s gourmet chocolates (mice, penguins, and assortments are the top sellers), delectable desserts (chocolate mousse cake, mocha cake and chocolate chip cookies), and decadent beverages are handcrafted with natural ingredients and don’t contain preservatives.
Fortnum & Mason Chocolate
Based in: Westminster, London, UK
Where to Buy: Directly from Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason is a posh London department store famous for being the first in town to sell drinking chocolate in the 1860s. They were granted a royal license for confectionery in 1867, so their high standards of quality and flavor have extended to the chocolate confectionery section.
Since its renovation in 2019, the luxury chocolate department of the store has produced five single origin types in England. The Ultimate Milk Hot Chocolate contains 41% single origin Colombian milk chocolate and 100% natural cocoa butter.
Only ICCO classed ‘Fino de aroma’ or fine flavor cocoa (accounting for only 6-8% of the world’s chocolate) beans from Trinitario and Criollo trees is used to make this hot chocolate mix. Hence this indulgent cup of luxury drinking chocolate will set you back with a commensurately hefty price tag.
Though not for everyday use, the thin chocolate flakes yield a luxurious cup of hot drinking chocolate. Dark, rich, with the exotic sweetness of cane sugar and hints of floral notes, Fortnum and Mason’s Ultimate Milk chocolate’s velvety creaminess may soon be a favorite.
When mixed with milk, it produces a luxurious cup of velvety hot chocolate. They also have vegan, organic, salted caramel flavors available.
Endorfin Foods is a California-based bean-to-bar chocolate company that uses cacao from small farmer cooperatives and estates in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. They’re a truly ethical chocolate brand that makes great hot chocolate mixes.
Endorfin uses Fair Trade heirloom cacao, caramelized coconut, and organic botanicals to make their creations. To wrap their bars and pack their ice for shipping, they use 100% compostable biofilms, as well as Fair Trade paper and vegetable-based inks.
The company offers four hot chocolate flavors that are all single origin, ceremonial grade, and 100% unsweetened (no added sweeteners!), as well as certified USDA organic and Fair Trade. Each pack contains teeny dark chocolate disks that smell absolutely delicious.
Just 30-40 grams of chocolate (about 10-14 disks) mixed with 3/4 cup hot water creates a healing cup of hot chocolate. This pure sipping nectar fit for the gods is smooth, earthy, and flavorful. It’s also keto-friendly, vegan, paleo and is made in a facility that processes tree nuts, no dairy, soy, gluten, or sugar.
Amedei Cioccolato is an award-winning chocolate maker from Pontedera, Italy. This woman-owned company long-ago established their place in the pantheon of excellent European chocolatiers, manufacturing high-quality bars and other chocolate confections, most notably their Porcelana bar and neapolitans.
Using fine cocoa beans and natural ingredients, Amedei’s Drinking Chocolate Flakes give you the opportunity to drink decadence in a hot cup of liquid chocolate. Flaked Amedei chocolate (63%), cocoa butter, cane sugar, vanilla, ground hazelnuts, and almonds are the only ingredients.
It’s one of the best drinking chocolates for those who like nuts, because it’s formulated to be enjoyed as a thick and aromatic sipping chocolate with hazelnut and almond undertones. Simply whisk it into warm milk and serve; it’s both gluten-free and vegan.
Raaka Chocolate is an ethical chocolate maker specializing in using unroasted cacao to make vegan chocolate bars. They specialize in single-origin beans and maintain ethical practices in their supply chain by being completely upfront with customers through their annual transparency report.
Raaka’s Winter Spice Hot Chocolate is made with single origin, unroasted Dominican cacao beans from Zorzal Cacao and all organic secondary components, such as coconut sugar, coconut milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. It’s certified organic, kosher, non-GMO, and free of gluten, dairy, and soy.
This luxury hot chocolate is a die-hard vegan hot chocolate aficionado’s dream come true. Gourmet chocolate crafted from premium ingredients and handcrafted technique makes for an absolutely sinful cup of hot chocolate with intense dark chocolate flavor and fruity undertones
Mix four tablespoons of hot chocolate into a cup of steaming milk or water, then whisk until smooth. Add more chocolate or less milk for more of a thick consistency, if desired.
Lakanto Drinking Chocolate
This brand offers a range of drinking chocolate mixes that are sweetened with erythritol and a bit of monk fruit instead of sugar. Their drinking chocolate is quite fruity and not too sweet but does have a cooling finish, which I don’t like.
All their offerings are suitable for people looking for a low-sugar or low-carb option, but the quality of the cacao they use is too acidic and bitter for me.
The touch of monk fruit sweetener gives the drinking chocolate a unique flavor that is not too overpowering, and while it’s not for me, many people find it to be a great alternative to traditional sugar-sweetened hot chocolate.
Cadbury Drinking Chocolate
This classic British brand is known for its rich and creamy drinking chocolate, which is made with a blend of cocoa powder and sugar, ostensibly vegan-friendly. The flavor is too sweet and flat for me, though it has a smooth texture that’s perfect for blending with coffee or cozying up with on a cold day.
While it’s not as high-end as some of the other brands on this list, Cadbury drinking chocolate is a classic comfort drink that many people love, and I avoid purely for ethical reasons.