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What Is the Difference Between Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa?

My name is Becki, and I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

What is the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa?

What is the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa?

Did You Know That Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa Aren't the Same Thing?

Many Americans don't. In fact, I was among them until quite recently. Growing up, my mother used to mix hot milk with Nestle Quick and call that "hot chocolate." In fact, this concoction is neither hot cocoa nor hot chocolate! I had no way of knowing better until I got informed, and then had my first opportunity to have some hot chocolate.

Most Americans refer to hot cocoa as hot chocolate. Even companies selling hot cocoa often call their powders hot chocolate. By their nature as powders, these commercial mixes cannot be called "hot chocolate."

If you've never experienced hot chocolate before, this article will explain the difference to you and help you through the process of making your own hot chocolate or tell you where you can get some of your own as a special treat.

Hot chocolate is often more expensive, but it's also very much worth the extra cost to purchase it!

Starbucks hot chocolate is made with syrups, not with solid chocolate.

Starbucks hot chocolate is made with syrups, not with solid chocolate.

What Do the Chains Sell: Hot Chocolate or Hot Cocoa?

Most chain shoppes advertise hot chocolate. Their product, however, is syrup-based. Real hot chocolate has a base of solid chocolate, often which has been melted down and re-formed or mixed with other ingredients in order to achieve a particular consistency which can be mixed with milk and cream (or half and half).

Starbucks, for example, provides a product made with vanilla and mocha-flavored syrups. This is, in essence, hot chocolate milk. That's what you're getting when you purchase hot chocolate from a retailer of this sort. Keep this in mind when ordering. It may taste amazing, but you'll get a different experience if you try real hot chocolate.

Cocoa powder with a heart-shaped measuring spoon.

Cocoa powder with a heart-shaped measuring spoon.

What Is Cocoa?

Cocoa, as it pertains to this article, is a powder that is a by-product of the process by which we create chocolate. This powder is often used to flavor baked goods and in this case, hot drinks. Combined with sugar, it makes a sweet substitute for rich milk or dark chocolate.

The word cocoa may also be used in relation to chocolate as a liquid extract from the cacao bean which is used in the creation of the resulting chocolate.

Chocolate starts as Cacao and becomes cocoa, which produces chocolate. Cocoa refers either to the liquid extracted from the beans or to the powder that is a by-product. The powder is used to provide a chocolate flavor to products but doesn't really taste like chocolate—it tastes like cocoa.

Hot chocolate, with a latte (?) in the background.

Hot chocolate, with a latte (?) in the background.

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What Is Hot Chocolate?

Hot chocolate is just what it sounds like: It's chocolate that is hot. This chocolate is mixed with hot milk (or usually a mixture of milk and half and half or milk and cream) and is then served hot, or sometimes steamed as with a latte.

You can find many recipes for hot chocolate that differ from one another, but the main ingredients of any hot chocolate are chocolate (usually shaved chocolate but sometimes it's cubed as in the picture above), milk and cream. The chocolate may be thickened with ingredients such as corn starch in order to give it a creamier texture.

As with cocoa, hot chocolate is relatively easy to make at home in your kitchen if you have the right ingredients, but the quality will vary depending on the base chocolate that you're using. The higher quality your chocolate, the higher quality your drink, so use chocolate you really enjoy.

Hot Chocolate vs Hot Cocoa: Which Is Better?

It depends on what you like. If you're accustomed to coffee-type drinks, you may prefer hot cocoa because it still has a creamy consistency and it has a milder, more consistent flavor. Hot cocoa is, in general, hot cocoa. Some cocoas may be marketed as "dark chocolate" but most of those you can buy from the store are similar. Recipes, however, may vary.

Hot chocolate is richer, it's creamier and it tastes very much like you're drinking a chocolate bar.

The difference between the two is in the richness. Most Europeans wouldn't recognize what Americans call "hot chocolate" as chocolate at all and would likely turn their noses up at it. If you haven't tried hot chocolate, now is a very good time to give it a taste!

What to Add to Hot Cocoa or Hot Chocolate

  • Cayenne pepper (ground)
  • Cinnamon (ground)
  • Peppermint flakes
  • Vanilla extract

How to Add Flavor Hot Cocoa or Hot Chocolate

Both hot chocolate and hot cocoa can take extra flavors added to them, and the traditional additive may surprise you! Have you ever tried hot cocoa with cayenne pepper added to it?

The key to adding flavors to your cocoa or chocolate is to do it in the right amounts. If you're going to add ground cayenne pepper to your drink, make sure that you mix it in thoroughly as you're going to have a very spicy drink otherwise. Some cafes rim their cups with the powder and the flavor can be quite shocking. Purchasing one of these from a coffee house isn't recommended as you cannot prepare the drink to your own taste.

Chocolate can be flavored similarly as well. For some ideas for what you can add to your hot cocoa or hot chocolate, see the list to the right.

Make Hot Cocoa Mix at Home

No hot cocoa mix that you can make at home will ever compare to making your hot cocoa mix at home. You may be able to find several different recipes on the internet. Some are more complex than others (some are intended to be mixed with water while others are intended to be mixed with milk) and what you choose depends on you.

The recipe in the video below is uncomplicated and involves only three ingredients (including the milk). Note that the man in the video refers to this as "hot chocolate" but it is, in fact, cocoa.

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti

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