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13 best hot chocolates: Milk, dark and white varieties for an indulgent treat

Create comforting drinks to keep you cosy, with these powders, flakes and bombes

Alicia Miller
Monday 12 December 2022 13:40 GMT
<p>We used the cult favourite Hotel Chocolat velvetiser, for a perfect mugful </p>

We used the cult favourite Hotel Chocolat velvetiser, for a perfect mugful

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Is there anything more comforting than a hot chocolate? Wait, we’ll answer that one for you: no, there’s not.

Whether you like yours to be rich and dark, milky and smooth, or topped with gooey marshmallows and pillows of whipped cream, a mugful of liquid cocoa is one of life’s reassuring indulgences. Everyone from age four to well into their nineties knows its sweet joy, especially on a frosty winter’s day.

Hot chocolate has had a bit of a makeover, too. You can still buy those ultra-sweet (and admittedly nostalgic) big-brand powders, of course. But the category has also gone gourmet and grown up.

Sustainable sourcing, single-origin cacaos and vegan options are now commonplace. The range of flavour profiles out there has exploded, from ultra-dark to fruity ruby. Whatever your taste, there will be a hot chocolate flavour out there that you’ll love. Even if you think you don’t like cacao.

While, back in the day, powdered hot chocolate led the charge, now you’ll find a variety of other cocoa formats are available. Many artisan brands use chocolate flakes or beads – leading to a velvety, intensely chocolatey drinking experience. There are also block-based hot chocolates for microwaving or melting with hot milk or water, choc stir sticks and dissolving chocolate bombes. With this range in mind, we’ve included a variety of styles in our delish round-up below.

Read more: Best Christmas gifts for 2022

How we tested

When tested, all of our hot chocolates were prepared according to the producer’s instructions, using semi-skimmed dairy milk (or oat milk for the explicitly vegan options). The suggested liquid-to-chocolate ratio from the manufacturer was strictly adhered to. For brewing consistency, a Hotel Chocolat velvetiser was used to heat the milk to the ideal temperature.

The best hot chocolates for 2022 are:

  • Best hot chocolate overall – Modern Standard hot chocolate: £6, Modernstandardcoffee.co.uk
  • Best hot chocolate for cacao connoisseurs – Islands 70 per cent hot chocolate buttons: £10.75, Islandchocolate.com
  • Best salted caramel hot chocolate – Love Cocoa salted caramel hot chocolate flakes: £8.50, Lovecocoa.com
  • Best dark hot chocolate – Knoops extra dark hot chocolate flakes: £10.95, Knoops.co.uk
  • Best milk hot chocolate – Chococo 45 per cent Venezuelan origin milk hot chocolate flakes tin: £8.50, Chococo.co.uk
  • Best halfway house hot chocolate – Cocoa Canopy milk and dark: £6.25, Cocoacanopy.co.uk
  • Best cafe-style hot chocolate – Cutter & Squidge luxury hot chocolate: £12.99, Cutterandsquidge.com
  • Best oat milk hot chocolate – Choc Affair classic oat m!lk hot chocolate: £6, Choc-affair.com
  • Best ruby hot chocolate – Farrer’s ruby hot chocolate: £7.95, Farrerscoffee.co.uk
  • Best hot chocolate for gifting – Gnaw boozy hot chocolate shot gift: £10, Prezzybox.com
  • Best hot chocolate bombe – Butterm!lk hot choccy bombe: £3, Buttermilk.co.uk
  • Best for hot chocolate sceptics – Asda extra special blonde style hot chocolate: £2.75, Asda.com
  • Best hot chocolate for orange fiends – Cartwright & Butler dark orange drinking chocolate: £12, Cartwrightandbutler.co.uk

Modern Standard hot chocolate

Modern Standard hot chocolate.png
  • Best: Hot chocolate overall
  • Size: 200g
  • Cacao: 52 per cent Colombian cacao

Last year, we named Modern Standard our top hot chocolate, and it’s still as good as ever. We’re obsessed with its not-too-sweet flavour, which gives archetypal hot chocolate energy but with an edge of sophistication – think hints of hazelnut and a dark undertone from 52 per cent Fino de Aroma cacao. But taste is only part of the reason this powdered hot chocolate is a consistent winner.

A lot of the world’s cocoa comes with hazy ethics attached, but Modern Standard is doing its bit to improve the industry. The company is direct trade – sourcing from family-run farms in Colombia – and supports social impact projects. In fact, a full 10p from every purchase is donated to good causes. What’s more, Modern Standard is signed up to 1 per cent for the Planet (meaning it donates at least 1 per cent of its annual revenue to environmental causes), and the packaging is recyclable.

Oh, and it’s dairy-free too, so suitable for vegans. All this for a bargain £6 for 200g. Seriously, what’s not to love?

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Islands 70 per cent hot chocolate buttons

Islands 70% hot chocolate buttons.png
  • Best: Hot chocolate for cocoa connoisseurs
  • Size: 250g
  • Cocoa: 70 per cent cacoa from St Vincent

Many of the UK’s discerning restaurants and cafes (including London-based The Gentleman Baristas) serve up Islands behind the scenes. And it’s little wonder why: this is absolutely fantastic hot chocolate. Sourced from the brand’s own cocoa farms in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the 70 per cent hot chocolate buttons are fully traceable, as well as full of premium flavour.

What do we mean by premium? It’s got proper high-brow cocoa character, with bright-red, fruity undertones and a lick of acidity to balance the more ‘chocolatey’ elements of its profile.

This is a cocoa that’s been sourced, processed and packaged right to make it shine. Our only complaint is that we can’t stop eating the amazingly delicious buttons direct from the bag, leaving fewer left for brewing in our mug.

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Love Cocoa salted caramel hot chocolate flakes

Love Cocoa salted caramel hot chocolate flakes.png
  • Best: Best salted caramel hot chocolate
  • Size: 200g
  • Cocoa: 36 per cent cocoa from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador

You’ve heard of Cadbury, right? Well, this is the next generation – literally. Love Cocoa was founded by James Cadbury, whose great-great-great grandfather, John, put his name to one of the world’s most famous confectionery brands. James is out to do good things in the chocolate industry, supporting sustainability (he plants one tree for each product sold) and sourcing his chocolate ethically.

The whole range is tasty, but we especially took to this salted caramel version. Unlike some others we tried, it’s not at all sickly – instead, it boasts a subtle salty caramel flavour, with a tiny burnt honeycomb bite on the finish. Delish!

  1. £8 from Lovecocoa.com
Prices may vary
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Knoops extra dark hot chocolate flakes

Knoops extra dark hot chocolate flakes.png
  • Best: Dark hot chocolate
  • Size: 250g
  • Cocoa: 72 per cent cocoa from San Martin, Peru

Last year, we named Knoops as our favourite white hot chocolate, and, just for the record, we remain obsessed with that creamy, silky, vanilla-scented brew. But after tasting through the range again, we think we’ve settled on a new favourite – the 72 per cent extra dark single origin from Peru.

We love that it has the deep, rich intensity you expect from a dark hot chocolate, as well as a little hint of bitterness, but it still remains gorgeously fruity. It’s bursting with notes of ripe banana and nutty cashew, a combination that makes it both sophisticated and approachable in equal parts.

Even if you’re not sure whether dark hot chocolate is your thing, we’re willing to bet you’ll like this.

  1. £10 from Knoops.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Chococo 45 per cent Venezuelan origin milk hot chocolate flakes tin

Chococo Venezuelan origin milk hot chocolate flakes tin.png
  • Best: Milk hot chocolate
  • Size: 200g
  • Cocoa: 45 per cent Venezuelan cocoa

To the unbelievers out there, milk hot chocolate seems like something of a kiddie drink – it can be overly sweet, overly milky and just a bit boring. But this artisan version by Dorset cocoa pro Chococo is anything but.

Boasting a higher cocoa content (45 per cent) than usual for a milk chocolate option, and blending Crillo and Trinitario beans from the Sur del Lago region of Venezuela, it’s a milk hot chocolate with real character. Mix it up with a high-quality semi-skimmed milk, and you’ll notice its silky caramel profile, backed up with a luscious texture. Connoisseurs and kiddies alike will approve.

  1. £8 from Chococo.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Cocoa Canopy milk and dark

Cocoa Canopy milk & dark.png
  • Best: Halfway house hot chocolate
  • Size: 225g
  • Cocoa: 47 per cent cocoa

When you want the intense punch of high cocoa content but the creaminess of milk chocolate, who you gonna call? Cocoa Canopy, that’s who! The brand has concocted this 47 per cent cocoa, the perfect hybrid between the two hot chocolate styles. It trots the decadent line between grown-up and comforting with finesse.

We’re fans of the big, chunky beads too – just try to resist munching them from the box while the kettle boils. They can be used in baking or other recipes as well – Cocoa Canopy even suggests cocktails – which is certainly a win if you are looking for a chocolate with a lot of versatility.

What’s more, the packing is plastic-free and the company is partnered with Cocoa Horizons, an organisation that aims to improve the livelihoods of communities involved in the chocolate industry.

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Cutter & Squidge luxury hot chocolate

Cutter & Squidge luxury hot chocolate.png
  • Best: Cafe style hot chocolate
  • Size: 250g
  • Cocoa: 65 per cent Caribbean cocoa

Made by London bakery Cutter & Squidge, this hot chocolate reminds us of the decadent cream-topped ones you get in upmarket cafes. Made with 65 per cent cocoa, sourced from the Caribbean and sweetened to perfection, it’s just the pick if you are looking for a hot chocolate with a more classical spirit, though made with contemporary thought for quality. The pretty tin – which is reusable, whether for more cocoa powder or something else in your kitchen – makes it a nice one for gifting, too.

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Choc Affair classic oat m!lk hot chocolate

Choc Affair classic oat m!lk hot chocolate.png
  • Best: Oat milk hot chocolate
  • Size: 200g
  • Cocoa: 43 per cent cocoa

Whether you’re vegan, dairy intolerant or just someone who appreciates the flavour profile of an oat milk hot chocolate, you’re sure to love this take from Choc Affair. Made in Yorkshire from sustainably grown chocolate and bundled up in fully recyclable packaging, it is gorgeously chocolatey. We mean it – there’s no compromise at all on flavour, even without the richness of dairy in your mug to back it up.

Brew it with oat milk if you love a rich, almost nutty oat taste, or try almond or soya milk instead for a more neutral profile.

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Farrer’s ruby hot chocolate

Farrer’s ruby hot chocolate.png
  • Best: Ruby hot chocolate
  • Size: 200g
  • Cocoa: 48 per cent cocoa

While it still flies relatively under the radar in the hot chocolate world, ruby chocolate – which is made from naturally pink-hued cocoa beans – is a deliciously fruity option. With its distinct, almost tart raspberry flavour and white-chocolate-style creaminess, it’s just the brew for anyone who’s on the fence about cocoa.

This ruby option from the UK’s oldest coffee roaster, Farrer’s, is textbook for the category. Spun in our velvetiser with milk, it turned out a creamy, frothy and gorgeously blush-hued drink that was decadently sweet but also had a hit of fruity freshness. Try it if you’re a fan of white hot chocolate but up for something new.

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Gnaw boozy hot chocolate shot gift

Gnaw boozy hot chocolate gift.png
  • Best: Hot chocolate for gifting
  • Size: Three chocolate shots
  • Cocoa: Unspecified

When it comes time to find a gift for the chocolate-lover in your life, you could do far worse than this series of three ready-to-go hot chocolate stir sticks. Especially if your recipient also likes booze because – hello! – they’re infused with the knee-weakening flavours of amaretto, cherry brandy and spiced rum.

Preparing the hot chocolate is easy: all you need to do is start with a mugful of hot milk or water, and stir through the chocolate block until it melts. Stirring in a shot of your own actual amaretto, cherry brandy or spiced rum is optional.

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Butterm!lk hot choccy bombe

Butterm!lk hot choccy bombe.png
  • Best: Hot chocolate bombe
  • Size: Single chocolate bombe
  • Cocoa: Unspecified

There’s just something theatrical about a chocolate bombe – pop it in your favourite mug, pour hot milk over the top and watch the magic unfold as it melts away. This one ticks boxes both on the visual front and for flavour. It’s got some sweetness, so kids will love it, and it’s dairy-free, so ideal for vegans.

Our favourite bit, though, is the interior. As the chocolate orb melted smoothly and effortlessly away into the liquid, it revealed a handful of scrummy mini marshmallows. These were pleasingly robust, holding up well against the heat, so we could nibble them over the entire drinking experience, rather than lose them immediately to the melt (an all-too-frequent complaint with other hot chocolates). Clever indeed.

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Asda extra special blonde style hot chocolate

Asda extra special blonde style hot chocolate.png
  • Best: For hot chocolate sceptics
  • Size: 300g
  • Cocoa: White-chocolate-flavoured powder

As we’ve already mentioned, we’re big fans of Knoops’s white hot chocolate. But Asda’s one is a slightly different prospect – a wallet-friendly blonde style that combines the milky, vanilla gorgeousness of white chocolate with a subtle hint of caramel. It’s sweet, it’s smooth and it’s very easy to drink – kids, especially, will love it.

Meanwhile, you’ll probably love the £2.75 price point. Affordable enough for everyday drinking.

  1. £2 from Asda.com
Prices may vary
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Cartwright & Butler dark orange drinking chocolate

Cartwright and Butler dark chocolate drinking chocolate.png
  • Best: Hot chocolate for orange fiends
  • Size: 250g
  • Cocoa: Unspecified

If, for you, the ultimate cocoa treat is a Terry’s chocolate orange, look no further than this rich, silky, citrus-infused number from fifth-generation family brand Cartwright & Butler.

It has just the right dose of choc-orange nostalgia, balanced with a grown-up and decadent dark-chocolate profile that keeps it from tasting sickly.

The brand also makes pumpkin-flavoured and rum and caramel hot chocolates – spicing up your hot drinks every day of the week.

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The verdict: Hot chocolate

There’s a lot of delicious hot chocolates out there. But we struggle to look past the masterpiece that is Modern Standard hot chocolate – with strong ethics, bang-on flavour and beautiful consistency, it ticks all our boxes.

Hot on its heels, however, we also loved Islands 70 per cent hot chocolate buttons – a premium hot chocolate that will delight cocoa geeks with its distinct fruity profile.

Beyond that, it becomes personal taste. If you’re keen on flavoured brews, try Love Cocoa salted caramel hot chocolate flakes. Or if you love raspberry, Farrer’s ruby hot chocolate.

Can’t get enough of cacao? Read our round-up of the best chocolate hampers

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