It's the season to indulge with sweet, festive drinks, and sipping a piping cup of hot chocolate—or, if you prefer, hot cocoa—is simply unmatched during the winter months. The silky smooth beverage is best enjoyed after a chilly night spent outdoors or sitting by a fire with loved ones. It's a surefire way to spark joy.
For many fans, the drink also has a nostalgic factor that brings up childhood memories. Hot chocolate and outdoor winter activities go hand in hand, and that coupling makes the drink special.
While you might prefer to whip up your own hot chocolate mix at-home, there's an easier way to get your fix. Simply swing by the nearest drive thru, where you can grab a hot cup in a flash. Here's a roundup of 10 fast-food chains that serve the best hot chocolate.
Many In-N-Out locations are in climates where the weather rarely gets chilly enough to warrant a hot chocolate. But, surprisingly, the burger joint serves an excellent cup, made with hot water and Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix. Customers can even choose to add tiny freeze-dried marshmallows to their eight-ounce cup. In-N-Out added hot cocoa to its famously small menu in 2018, making it the first new addition in 15 years. The chain wanted to add a classic, kid-friendly option, per Business Insider. In fact, In-N-Out served hot cocoa way back in the 1950s during its first years in business.
For those who like a thinner hot chocolate, McDonald's serves it up with steamed whole milk, hot chocolate syrup, whipped light cream, and finished off with chocolate drizzle. Sounds decadent, but it's not too rich. "The hot chocolate always tastes fresh and creamy, but not too sickening creamy," one commenter noted on the consumer site Review Stream. "It has a chocolately flavor just right and the best part of all is the whip cream with drizzled chocolate they put on top." In a recent taste test of fast-food hot chocolate options, Eat This, Not That! ranked McDonald's around the middle of the pack, so that's something to keep in mind. If you're into lots of toppings and creamy vibes, this could be the one for you.
Starbucks is the largest coffee chain in the country. So, of course, the hot chocolate is on point. Made with steamed milk and mocha sauce, the beverage is then topped with whipped cream and mocha drizzle, if you want it. The result is a rich, frothy drink with a great texture and a ton of fans nationwide. The best part about Starbucks is the ability to customize any drink. Some fans add a pump of vanilla or hazelnut syrup for an extra special treat. "This hot chocolate always seems like a real treat. It's incredibly rich, almost like a ganache," one reviewer wrote for Taste of Home. "The chocolate used in this drink reminds me a lot of Dutch process cocoa—very dark, decadent and not overly sweet."
Krispy Kreme knows doughnuts, but it also serves up a mean cup of hot chocolate. Similar to In-N-Out, Krispy Kreme uses a Ghirardelli powder base with steamed 2% milk. It's then topped with whipped cream. The result is decadent, rich flavor in every sip, and an optimal balance of chocolate and sweetness. "Great Coffee, Hot Chocolate, and Doughnuts," one reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor. "In fact I find their hot chocolate to be superior to Starbucks." Another reviewer noted that the chocolaty taste came through—it didn't have a weak, artificial taste. "It's very rich and sweet," he said, and then gave it a score of 9 out of 10.
While Tim Hortons' hot chocolate is made with water, not milk, it still tastes creamy and thick, with a deep brown color. "A delicious hot chocolate," one reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor. In a taste test between Starbucks and Tims, one TikToker said Tim Hortons' was hotter and had more flavor. Around the holidays, Tims also offers a white hot chocolate, plus mint-flavored "candy cane" versions of both drinks, made with Candy Cane Syrup and topped with whipped cream and peppermint bark pieces. Of note: the doughnut chain also sells take-home tins of the powder for at-home enjoyment.
Dunkin's hot chocolate is nothing fancy, it's just water and a hot chocolate powder mixture, like many other chains. But while competitors use milk or whipped topping to add a bit of creaminess to the powder mix, Dunkin's may not even need it. In fact, an Eat This, Not That! taste tester dubbed it the winner among four top chains, noting the thick texture and truly chocolaty flavor. It's a sweet, if basic, option, like a cup of hot choco you'd enjoy as a kid. "I love our hot chocolate with a shot of espresso," one reviewer posted on Reddit. "It's still thick and 'creamy' to me even though it's made with water."
Of all the drinks on this list, Panera's signature hot chocolate is perhaps the most unique offering. It's a sweet, decadent treat, and it leans a touch bittersweet. Three chocolate chip marshmallows are placed atop a bed of foamy whipped cream and then finished off with salted caramel syrup. The toppings set this sweet treat apart from the rest, and the hot chocolate itself is made with chocolate syrup that carries a hint of natural cocoa flavor. Uproxx described Panera's hot chocolate as the "best tasting, most complex" among seven drive-thru options, due to its nuanced flavors of cinnamon, clove, and coffee bean.
Caribou's take on hot chocolate is likely the closest you'll get to homemade. Unlike other chains, Caribou ditched the powdered chocolate mix and instead opted for real chocolate for its chocolate-based drinks, like mochas and hot cocoa. The real chocolate chips are hand-steamed in milk until it's all melted together, and then the drink is topped with whipped cream and finished with chocolate chips. "I found it to be a really excellent treat. It was a nice balance of chocolate, sweetness and milk," one reviewer noted in Taste of Home. "It can be a difficult balance to strike, so I was happy to find that Caribou managed it."
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
Coffee Bean's hot chocolate is a simple formula: its proprietary Special Dutch chocolate powder mixed with nonfat milk and topped with whipped cream. It doesn't sound like much, and the nonfat milk may give some drinkers pause. However, the cocoa has a surprisingly thick consistency with a good mouthfeel and distinct notes of cocoa, which lean earthy. A reviewer for Insider noted Coffee Bean's offering is extremely sweet, while Uproxx suggested that customers request full fat milk for the ultimate drinking experience.
This U.K. coffee chain opened its first store in the U.S. last year, and it's already expanded to six locations, mainly clustered in and around Atlanta. However, Costa Coffee has been sold via Smart Cafe and BaristaBot coffee-dispensing machines in most states east of the Mississippi River, according to Tasting Table. Costa Coffee's hot chocolate is an artisanal treat, made with 2% milk. The impressive bit is that Costa offers many types of hot chocolate, including Roasted Hazel, Terry's Chocolate Orange, and After Eight.