Hot chocolate season is here! Warm up with a cup off our favourite cocoas (2023)

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How do you like yours: rich and dark? Milky and smooth? How about topped with gooey marshmallows and clouds of whipped cream?

Whether you’re four or 94, hot chocolate is one of life’s reassuring indulgences. It’s there to warm frosty hands on chilly days or provide liquid cheer when you’re feeling blue. It satiates sweet tooths and provides a kick to get you through the afternoon slump.

It’s also come a long way. Those overly sweet, big-brand powders – while nostalgic – are no longer the only choice. Like so many other drinks, hot chocolate has grown up.

There are single-origin cacaos, sourced directly from grower estates; ultra-dark blends, designed for an adult palate; and even vegan options, produced without dairy. If you can’t find a hot chocolate you love, it’s probably because you don’t like chocolate.

Contemporary hot chocolate is largely divided into three camps. There are the conventional powders, typically the simplest to make and – generally – the lightest in chocolatey flavour. Next are the flakes: an artisan option designed to offer a velvety, intensely chocolatey drinking experience. Finally, there are the block chocolates. These large chunks, often produced in novelty shapes such as hearts, are meant to be stirred into hot milk whole or melted in the microwave, pre-pour.

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How we tested

When choosing our best hot chocolates, we tested all three styles, because just as there are countless different tastes, there are various occasions for enjoyment. You don’t necessarily want the same hot chocolate for capping off a sophisticated dinner with friends as you would for sharing out at a kiddie bonfire night party.

Each was made to the brand’s instructions, with semi-skimmed milk and the suggested liquid-to-chocolate ratio. Where necessary, we double-tested, adding more or less chocolate as we thought would benefit the final result (usually more; we’re greedy).

For consistency, we mixed all powdered and flaked hot chocolates in a dedicated hot chocolate maker: Hotel Chocolat’s velvetiser (£99.95, Hotelchocolat.com). Finally, follow-up tastings with nut drinks were conducted with vegan-friendly hot chocolates, to ensure we had catered for every kind of cacao lover.

The best hot chocolates for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Modern Standard hot chocolate: £6, Modernstandardcoffee.co.uk
  • Best premium – Cartografie hot chocolate – signature dark blend: £15, Cartografiechocolate.com
  • Best for experimentalists – Hotel Chocolat the everything hot chocolate sachet selection: £14, Hotelchocolat.com
  • Best white chocolate – Knoops 28% white chocolate flakes: £9.25, Knoops.co.uk
  • Best milk chocolate – Cocoa Loco milk chocolate flakes: £6.99, Cocoaloco.com
  • Best bargain – Café Direct San Cristobal: £18 for six, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for kids – Lakeland dinosaur egg hot chocolate melt: £3.49, Lakeland.co.uk
  • Best for vegans – Pump Street drinking chocolate, Ecuador 85%: £12.45, Pumpstreetchocolate.com
  • Best spiced – Mayan Mexican chocolate: £5.99, Souschef.co.uk
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Modern Standard hot chocolate

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

This hot chocolate, produced by eco-conscious coffee roasters Modern Standard, ticks so many boxes. It’s ethically sourced: the cocoa beans come directly from family-run farms in Colombia and producers get a fair cut. It’s impactful, with 10p from every purchase donated to South American social projects. And it tastes great; at 52 per cent cacao, it’s produced from Fino de Aroma beans, and has a noticeable bite of hazelnut.

Besides having recyclable packaging, it’s incredibly fairly priced – £6 for a 200g bag, which is less than £1 per serving if you make it to the brand’s directions (if we’re honest, we’d add more – we like it extra chocolatey). Finally, it’s vegan, so everyone can enjoy it. Try mixing with hazelnut milk to really ramp up those nutty notes.

Modern Standard is signed up to 1% for the Planet, which means it donates some of its annual profits to positive environmental projects. That’s just one more cherry-on-the-cake reason to satisfy your cacao habit with this brand.

Cartografie hot chocolate – signature dark blend

Best: Premium

Rating: 9/10

This nuanced and fruity blend shows just how good hot chocolate can be. A mix of three single-origin “couvertures” from Peru, Tanzania and Ecuador, it’s a complex drink that bursts with layers of red fruit, dark dried fig, prune, cacao nib and toasted nut. Each sip builds on the last, giving a distinct drinking experience that’s the chocolatey equivalent of fine wine.

That’s all because Cartografie’s founders know their flavours. Head chocolatier Kae Shibata is a former pastry chef at the Ritz, while another co-founder is Sven-Hanson Britt, who appeared on MasterChef the Professionals. They source all their chocolate direct from farmers, and the packaging is free of plastic.

We liked it prepared best as Cartografie makes it in-house – 120ml milk to 35g chocolate – as that makes the fruity notes really sing and creamy texture dominate. Even at that smooth, rich intensity, and despite the “dark blend” tag, it doesn’t taste bitter; this is a hot chocolate that anyone can enjoy. Saying that, you’ll only get about seven servings per tin, so keep it for those moments you’re craving something special.

Hotel Chocolat the everything hot chocolate sachet selection

Best: For experimentalists

Rating: 8/10

What would a list of the best hot chocolates be without Hotel Chocolat? This powerhouse brand basically reinvented premium chocolate with its slick design and higher percentage products. It even released the aforementioned velvetiser (£99.95, Hotelchocolat.com), a frothing and heating contraption designed to produce the perfect hot chocolate (which, if we’re honest, it really does).

But, despite what is suggested on the Hotel Chocolat website, you don’t need the Velvetiser to make these tasty hot chocolates: a selection of 10 single serves, each in a different enticing flavour. We hopped from cooling peppermint with 70 per cent dark chocolate flakes to a nutty and creamy hazelnut praline, finding each one turned out perfectly splendidly when mixed with microwave-warmed milk, too.

It’s the perfect pick for those who like to taste a bit of everything before settling on their favourites, or for households with a variety of different tastes – especially given that four of the flavours are suitable for vegans.

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Knoops 28% white chocolate flakes

Best: White chocolate

Rating: 9/10

Founded in East Sussex, hot chocolate maker Knoops now has several outposts in London and Brighton. Here, they serve up a hot chocolate menu that’s customisable – so if you want a pinch of sea salt in your 34 per cent milk chocolate or a dash of rosemary in your dark 70 per cent, it’s yours. It’s a deliciously fun concept, pairing good-quality chocolate with flavours you love to create something new.

We sipped our way through pretty much the entire range, from the smooth 54 per cent dark to the uniquely red-fruity 47 per cent ruby, and all impressed. But we were especially smitten with the white chocolate. It’s smooth. It’s creamy. It is sweet and vanilla-scented, but not sickly. Basically, if you’re someone who appreciates white chocolate, this is essential drinking. Take a (herb) leaf out of the “Knoopology” book and pair it with fresh mint as suggested. Or matcha, which adds a green and bitter hint that balances that gentle sweetness gorgeously.

Cocoa Loco milk chocolate flakes

Best: Milk chocolate

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Rating: 8/10

Sometimes, only creamy milk chocolate will do. And for those moments, we love these flakes from Cocoa Loco. The flavour is great – nutty and caramel-forward, and comfortingly sweet without verging into sickly. The texture? Silky smooth, with not a single clump in sight when stirred through hot milk, due to its fine, soft flakes.

The eco-creds are sound, too. Organically produced and Fairtrade certified, the cacao used is grown in gaps in the rainforest canopy, rather than through clear-cut areas. At its West Sussex base, Cocoa Loco produces only minimal waste and the packaging is fully recyclable too. A great hot chocolate for everyday sipping.

Café Direct San Cristobal

Best: Bargain

Rating: 9/10

The clue’s in the name: this powder-based hot chocolate tastes like it’s straight out of an upmarket neighbourhood café. It’s luxuriously velvety – especially if you ignore the three teaspoon recommendation and up it to four or five. The powerful chocolately taste, while dark, is not too bitter. It’s basically exactly what you’re imagining when you think of a quintessential hot chocolate to warm you on a chilly day.

Made with 40 per cent cocoa solids, sourced from the town of San Cristóbal in the Dominican Republic, it is also Fairtrade and properly versatile: you could easily spoon it into your baking or chocolate-based sauces. And all without feeling like you’re bankrupting yourself. After all, when a whole tin costs the same as a single serving of some of the luxury brands, literally every day can be hot chocolate day. Now, where’s the whipped cream?

Lakeland dinosaur egg hot chocolate melt

Best: For kids

Rating: 7/10

Having hot chocolate should be fun, right? And – especially if you are in the under-10 demographic – this one is exactly that. Place the chocolate dinosaur egg in your mug, pour over hot milk, and whoosh! Watch the magic happen. Pink, orange and white mini marshmallows float up as the shell melts away. Sprinkle over some of the colourful dinosaur-shaped sprinkles to finish, and it’ll delight every junior Jurassic Park enthusiast.

As for flavour? Actually, while not sophisticated, it’s pretty sippable. The quantities suggested result in a rather milky, gently chocolatey drink, with more sweetness than proper cacao. It tastes of childhood: after-school treats and cosy bonfire nights. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

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Pump Street drinking chocolate, Ecuador 85%

Best: For vegans

Rating: 9/10

Vegan hot chocolate can be hit and miss. Without the creaminess that comes from dairy, lesser chocolates can taste thin and unsatisfying. But Pump Street is not lesser chocolate: every one of its dairy-free offerings – which happen to be most of its range – is tasty enough to win over even avid milk enthusiasts. And that includes its single-estate Ecuadorian hot chocolate flakes, which come in at a decadently dark 85 per cent.

Made in Suffolk using beans sourced from the Hacienda Limon estate, it’s velvety, rich and complex, with noticeable notes of nut and sweet toffee. For the ultimate vegan serve, mix it with hot almond milk, which brings out the natural walnut notes of the chocolate.

Mayan Mexican chocolate

Best: Spiced

Rating: 7/10

Cinnamon and chocolate: a match made in heaven. And if you’re big into the pairing, you needn’t look much further than this block-based hot chocolate, which brings a South American twist to your mug of hot cocoa. After all, the ancient Mayans were famous as early adopters of the drink, mixing it with spices and chilli. (Though the specifics, including the amount of sugar, have evolved since then: no one’s claiming this one’s “authentic”.)

If you’re one to use your hot chocolate as a multi-purpose kitchen sweetener, it’s also perfect. It’ll go in rich Mexican mole sauces, for example, and our tester found that in the absence of a stash of chocolate bars, it worked pretty great for general nibbling, too.

The verdict: Hot chocolate

For an everyday pick, Modern Standard hot chocolate is an exceptional choice: it’s good for the planet, and reasonably priced. But we also had a lot of time for Café Direct’s San Cristobal. It’s on the sweeter side, but it’s hard to argue with delicious FairTrade hot chocolate for £3 a tin.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on chocolate and other food and drink offers, try the links below:

  • Hotel Chocolat discount codes
  • Ocado discount codes

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