WINTER IN THE MIX
Much to the delight of skiers, snowboarders, hot cocoa drinkers, and "Game of Thrones" fans, winter has finally come. That means it's time to get snuggly and warm with a cup of cocoa every time you're at home or entertaining holiday house guests. Which cocoa to choose? There are a lot of brands out there — so we decided to research this very question.
Swiss Miss with Marshmallows
Swiss Miss is the go-to brand for most people, and there's a reason for that. Even after all this time, it doesn't just taste like chocolate syrup; we're talking about a very distinct sweet, malty, and chocolatey taste. The marshmallows are tragically small, but they are very welcome.
BEST FOR THE PRICE
Signature Select Rich Milk Chocolate
This is exactly what you'd expect: a grocery store knockoff of Swiss Miss. It definitely doesn't taste as good as Swiss Miss, but at a dollar cheaper (this will run you $2.99 at Safeway), it's a steal. Truly not bad, though each package is strangely hard to open, and will undoubtedly leave your kitchen counter with a dusting of cocoa mix.
Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce
This is a $7.99 box of overly thick chocolate powder packets that taste like somebody dumped some cinnamon into them but didn't mix them up. How it's possible that only some of the sips taste like cinnamon and others don't, we have no idea; it's truly a marvel of modern science. Cinnamon definitely works in hot chocolate, but this just isn't worth the money.
BEST BOX TO READ THOROUGHLY BEFORE PURCHASING
Droste hot cocoa is actually not hot cocoa at all, but rather pure cacao powder that was for some reason placed on the shelf in the hot cocoa section of the Albertson's where we bought it. We're not quitters though, so we mixed it with sugar and tried to create a hot cocoa mix out of it. It was still horribly bitter and essentially undrinkable. This one's on us.
BEST HOT COCOA TO THROW DIRECTLY INTO THE TRASH
Nestlé with Marshmallows
This was unquestionably the worst hot chocolate we had. If you stuck some NesQuik in the microwave and threw some deconstructed bits of Lucky Charms marshmallows on top, you'd have an identical match, flavor-wise. We're not sure what it is with the Nestlé mix, but it has a weird aftertaste that you just can't shake. Even at $1.79 a box, it's not worth it.
BEST HOT COCOA TO SPLURGE ON
You'll spend almost $6 on this, but the container is big enough to warrant it. The flavor is undeniably solid, and tastes like something you might get at a cafe. It's extremely chocolatey in a good way; even more chocolatey, in fact, than the Ghirardelli mix.
BIGGEST FLAVOR FAIL
Starbucks Salted Caramel
This creature of Starbucks' design is intended to be salted caramel-flavored, but it truly doesn't taste any different. We had three different cups. No dice. Unless you enjoy $7.99 packets of hot chocolate that don't actually taste like salted caramel, look elsewhere.
BIGGEST LET DOWN
You'd expect a hot cocoa mix from a company like Ghirardelli to display the deepest, boldest, chocolate-iest flavors. While the Ghirardelli mix is decently tasty, it's just not what we expected. It should have been so much more powerful.
BEST HOT COCOA FOR CHOCOHOLICS
If the Ghirardelli mix let you down, look to classic Starbucks flavor. This was easily the richest, most decadent chocolate flavor of any brand that we tried. It tastes like a big cup of melted dark chocolate — we filled our mugs to the brim with milk, and the stuff was still insanely thick. This guy right here is for the true chocolate lover.
BEST OVERALL HOT COCOA
Silly Cow Farms Chocolate Chocolate
What a truly pleasant experience this was, from start to finish. It's sold, first and foremost, in a very pleasant glass bottle, offering you a look at exactly what product you're getting. The mix itself is stellar — full-flavor taste without being too rich, and not at all clumpy when you mix it up. These geniuses have the foresight to tell you to use milk only, and don't even give you the option for water. After a dizzying array of mediocre mixes, Sillycow was a real breath of fresh air.