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Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa: A Look at the Basic Differences and How To Enjoy Them.

Graham is a former chef and food stylist with a passion for all things food-related. She has also never been known to decline dessert.


I just came in from taking my two dogs for a long walk. The weather here in New Hampshire is crisp. There is plenty of snow on the ground and we are currently getting more. Fat, billowy snowflakes are filling the sky. I'm in the mood for a cup of hot chocolate to warm me.

As I searched through a few recipes, I recalled a few weeks ago when a new friend of mine asked me if there is a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. She's a bit of a chocoholic, but after a few moments of talking, I realized that she had never had a cup of melted chocolate. I'd heard the question asked before, so I provided the short answer of, "yes".

Yes, there is a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa.


So, what makes them different?

Although many people use the two interchangeably, hot chocolate and hot cocoa are, in fact, quite different.

The difference begins with the ingredients, but is most obvious in the beverage's flavors and textures.

Hot chocolate is made with finely shaved chocolate and is sometimes referred to as sipping chocolate. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, is made will cocoa powder, a by-product of the chocolate-making process. Although high quality cocoa has a stronger chocolate flavor, hot chocolate delivers a richness that can not be mimicked by the cocoa.

As children, many of us grew up with hot cocoa. A few spoonfuls of cocoa powder from a tin were dropped into a mug. Boiled water would slowly be added and, if you were lucky, a few tiny little marshmallows would briefly float on top before dissolving into a cloud of white foam.

I was actually never a big fan of hot cocoa, but as an adult, I have come to enjoy a soothing cup of hot chocolate. As winter days dim, my husband and I take a drive to Walpole, New Hampshire. There, after enjoying a casual brunch at LA Burdicks bistro, we make a scheduled stop into the adjacent chocolate shop and buy a bag of shaved dark chocolate. The bag is just enough to last the winter months.

This is one of my favorite hot chocolate cookbooks. There are some very creative drinks in here and many of them could be served in fun ways. I highly recommend this book - another one of those fabulous gifts from my sister-in-law!

This is one of my favorite hot chocolate cookbooks. There are some very creative drinks in here and many of them could be served in fun ways. I highly recommend this book - another one of those fabulous gifts from my sister-in-law!

The texture difference comes from the fact that cocoa powder does not contain cocoa butter.

Cocoa beans are split and dried. The dried beans are then allowed to ferment. This is a critical step in the process. Once the beans have been fermented, they are roasted and then ground into a thick paste. This paste is called chocolate liquor. This liquor, which has no alcohol in it, is the elemental ingredient in solid chocolate. When the cocoa butter is expelled from the chocolate liquor leaving a dry lump or cake-like substance, it is ground into a fine powder. That is cocoa powder.

To lighten both the color and the flavor of the cocoa powder in order to bake with it, a process of 'dutching' is used. Simple stated, the powder is processed with alkali. Because the process was created in Holland, we commonly refer to the resulting product as Dutch cocoa.


Hot cocoa can be good for you

Research tells us that dark chocolate, in moderation, has a few health benefits (see Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus), but what about cocoa?

Cocoa powder contains no sugar and is naturally low in fat. Cocoa is also lower in caffeine than a black tea or coffee. Like dark chocolate, cocoa is a good source of antioxidants. For more antioxidant power, choose non-processed cocoa(Dutch). The natural cocoa power can be found at your local health store and has a slightly bitter taste.

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There are many types of cocoa. To the right, you'll notice a dutch baking cocoa from my pantry. It is the lighter color cocoa on the top. Below, is a cocoa I order from Lancaster, PA. It is nearly black in color and has a strong flavor.

Shop for different types of cocoa and different brands. Take a look at this taste test conducted by Serious Eats. They tasted 17 different brands. Why not conduct your own taste test? What a heavenly way to spend a weekend!

How To Prepare a Satisfying, Guilt-Free Cup of Hot Cocoa

This recipe is not only easy, but if you are trying to cut back on your holiday calories, this is a perfect choice for you to indulge with.

What You'll Need:

  • 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Hot Water

Once water has reached a boil, pour carefully into mug with other ingredients. Add a pinch of peppermint extract or a small peppermint stick. Enjoy.

A small cup is all you'll need of this decadent treat.

A small cup is all you'll need of this decadent treat.

Cook Time:

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

10 min

30 min

4-6 cups of hot chocolate depending on cup size


  • 4 thick cut slices bacon, cooked, crisp
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 ounces Frangelico
  • 4 ounces Bourbon
  • Whipped cream, *for garnish
  • Chopped hazelnuts or chocolate sprinkles, *for garnish

How to Make Marshmallow Creme


  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Pat bacon of excess fat. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
  2. Pour bacon fat into a small bowl and stir in the corn starch with a fork, whisking gently. (this step can be omitted)
  3. In a medium saucepan, stir cocoa with sugar and salt. Stir in bacon fat/corn starch mixture. Add milk and both chocolates. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture has melted, whisk gently to homogenize (the appearance will be a creamier, glossier beverage).
  4. Add Frangelico and Bourbon. Pour into serving cups. Top each cup with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with chopped, toasted hazelnuts or sprinkles. Place a strip of bacon into the cup or chop a strip of bacon and sprinkle it over the whipped cream. Serve.

Lavender Hot Chocolate

For any of you new to cooking with such ingredients as rose water or lavender, do not be afraid. The floral notes contributed by such ingredients is minimal and in most cases, their flavors meld and mingle beautifully. Such is the case with this recipe for lavender hot chocolate. Because lavender can be quite fragrant it is best to adjust the amount according to your preference. It is also important to note that lavenders scent and flavor will diminish greatly over time, as will it's attractive color.

Hot Chocolate:

2 cups whole milk

3 ounces dark chocolate (I like to use 70% cacao)

1 ounce milk chocolate

1/4 teaspoon lavender buds

Whipped Cream:

1/2 cup cold heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 tablespoon powdered sugar

For hot chocolate, heat milk and lavender over medium heat, whisking until milk begins to simmer.

Top Your Hot Chocolate or Cocoa Off With Style!

Top It WithAvailable Here

Homemade Marshmallows

Search Smitten for recipe

Toasted Marshmallows

Briefly toast over open flame, drop into cocoa

Marshmallow Snowflakes


Marshmallow Cream

Search for instruction

Whipped Cream

Search for recipe

Edible Lace


Edible Gold Stars


Want Homemade Marshmallows Without All The Mess?


Hot Chocolate on a Stick

Specialty shops have been selling hot chocolate on a stick for years now. Making your own is easy and a fun project to make with the kids. Packaged in cellophane and laced with a ribbon, hot chocolate on a stick can be a perfect gift for friends, teachers, the mailman and, of course, yourself.


More Ideas for Hot Chocolate on a "Stick"

A few years back, I had made several hot chocolate spoons for a dessert party. I had a half dozen or so vintage spoons that I bought while rummaging through an antique shop. Each of the spoons had a unique handle. They didn't cost much and I knew that I could make something fun with them at some point. After discovering the Chocolate Company spoons, I knew what I wanted to do with my vintage spoons. Check out this super easy diy from MarryThis! which is what I had made for the party.

You can also find wooden spoons online and small wooden sticks (like the kind that rock candy is on). Both of those would be fabulous to use. Once your chocolate has hardened, wrap in a cellophane bag. If your party includes adults, why not wrap a small liquor nip into the bag as well.

7 Ingenious Hacks to Make Hot Chocolate Even Better

This is an adorable and easy gift package to make. I love the idea of blending two o three different flavors. Small containers can be purchased at your local craft store. This image is from

This is an adorable and easy gift package to make. I love the idea of blending two o three different flavors. Small containers can be purchased at your local craft store. This image is from


Create Your Own Hot Chocolate Festival!

    The City Bakery in New York hosts a hot chocolate festival each year. Throughout the month, City Bakery sells different flavored hot chocolate to please everyone's tastebuds. Host your own hot chocolate bar or package various flavors of cocoa.

Many people host holiday cookie swaps. Why not be a little different this year and invite your friends for a hot cocoa bar? There are some inspirational pictures and idea here.

Have your guests bring a topping or different chocolate bars. The possibilities are endless. Little ones will think this is your best idea yet.

What You'll Need:

  • Cups/mugs
  • Chocolate
  • Cocoa
  • Marshmallows
  • Whipped Cream
  • Caramels
  • Peppermint sticks/Candy canes
  • Flavored syrups
  • Liquor

Prepare small gifts for your guests to take home. Make small bags of cocoa mix and place it into mugs with a holiday wish. Using a ceramic pen, inexpensive mugs can be personalized and make a heart felt gift. For a quick tutorial, visit


Chocolate and Mint

There are flavors that were born to be combined. Chocolate and mint, for example. The flavor of peppermint can be blended with your hot chocolate in a variety of ways and it many a splendid way. I love adding chocolate dipped candy canes to a piping cup of chocolate.

Serve a few on a small plate along with the cup of chocolate and your guests will love it. Perhaps, better yet, make these marshmallow candy canes and dangle one from the edge of the mug.


I Can't Resist!

Here is one more recipe for you to try. As I was wrapping up this article, I happened upon this recipe from Pip & Ebby, because sometimes you just want a little more.



Kenneth Avery on July 07, 2014:

Hi, alifeofdesign,

I DID enjoy this hub. Fact is, I could really go for a steaming cup of hot chocolate right now. You deserve encouragement as all writers do and I am glad that I was here to build you up.

If you were to choose to follow me . . .ThankYOU and if you do not, it is still nice to read your hubs.

You have a day of peace and success.

Graham Gifford (author) from New Hamphire on July 07, 2014:

Kenneth, such generous accolades-thankyou so much! I'm thrilled that you enjoyed this article - it is the reason that I write. I wish you a most delightful day.

Best Regards,


Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on July 02, 2014:

Hello, alifeofdesign,

This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing, to be quite frank with you.

I loved every word--and the lay-out was superb. Interesting, in-depth, helpful, and very informative. Great job.

Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it. Honestly, I LOVE hot chocolate with a passion and it's up there with hot apple cider in fall of the year.

You have such a gift for writing. Just keep writing and good things are bound to happen to you.


Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

Graham Gifford (author) from New Hamphire on April 04, 2013:

Hello to all ! For some reason, I am just seeing all your nice comments now -forgive me. I'm delighted that you all enjoyed this article. BIG SMILE for all the votes, sharing and re-pinning, too! Although the weather here in New Hampshire is beginning to warm up and hot chocolate may not be the drink of choice -fear not...the iced version is simply amazing, so I hope that you all give it a try next time you want a little chocolate fix. :)

Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on April 04, 2013:

Voted up and useful. Enjoyed reading all about chocolate. Nice hub, good info.

L C David from Florida on April 03, 2013:

This is completely not fair. I'm hungry now and I just ate. What an interesting piece!

L Izett from The Great Northwest on April 03, 2013:

this a great hub

Jill Spencer from United States on April 03, 2013:

Love this hub! Great recipes beautifully presented. Voted up, pinned & shared. Thanks! --Jill

moonlake from America on April 03, 2013:

I enjoyed your hub. I like all the recipes. The marshmallows look so great. Gave you five stars. Voted up, shared and pinned.

Graham Gifford (author) from New Hamphire on December 19, 2012:

Hello fastfreta, thank you for stopping by and am happy that you enjoyed my hub.Perhaps you should try chilled 'hot chocolate' (hot chocolate chilled with milk cube). Decadent and refreshing on a hot summer evening. Best Regards,

Alfreta Sailor from Southern California on December 18, 2012:

Great educati0n hub. I always thought that the names were interchangeable. Now I know the difference. I don't think I'll be making it myself, but I sure would like a cup of hot chocolate. The next time I'm out I'll ask for Hot Chocolate instead of Cocoa.

Very good, voted up, useful, interesting. I also pinned it.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 13, 2012:

Your hub is making my saliva drooling non stop. I love hot choc coco. Great hub

Justsilvie on December 13, 2012:

Lovely and delicious looking Hub! Voted up and sharing.

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