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I Tried 10 Hot Chocolate Mixes & The Best Tasted Like a Candy Bar

It's time to get cozy with a hot cuppa cocoa, but which mix is the absolute best for seasonal sipping?
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The fall marks the start of several exciting happenings. Apple picking becomes available. Football season begins. And cozy beverages are aplenty.

Beyond the pumpkin spice lattes and apple crisp macchiatos are other cold weather-friendly drinks that have offered a sense of comfort long before these trendy fall beverages stepped onto the scene. One of these is the humble hot chocolate.

Simple yet tried and true, a cup of hot chocolate can evoke memories of watching a sporting event, going inside after playing in the snow, or curling up next to a crackling fireplace. Although "hot chocolate" is technically made with melted pieces of chocolate while "hot cocoa" is typically made with cocoa powder, the terms are often used interchangeably.

As a chocolate fanatic, I set out to see which store-bought hot chocolate mix reigns supreme. I purchased 10 different options and rounded up three enthusiastic friends. With each sip, we paid attention to flavor, richness, and consistency while also considering ingredients and pricing.

To conduct this taste test, we combined all of the powders with 2% milk, though one brand—Whole Foods—specifically called for water. For this one, I tried the mix with both hot water and milk. Here's how the 10 hot chocolate mixes stacked up, which I ranked in descending order, from my least favorite option to the most delicious cup of cocoa.

Nestlé Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

nestlé milk chocolate hot chocolate
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 packet): 100 cal, 2.5 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 240 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 16 g sugar), <1 g protein

Nestle's Milk Chocolate hot cocoa mix boasts a "premium chocolate taste" that's made from sustainably sourced cocoa beans, according to the packaging. That being said, cocoa is the fifth ingredient listed on the label. I purchased this eight packet-box for $1.89—the cheapest hot chocolate product in this taste test.

The look: Out of all the hot chocolate drinks, this was one of the easiest to mix, with the milk and cocoa blending together almost immediately. There was very little cocoa sediment still swirling around by the time I took my first sip.

The taste: It's rare for me to say no to anything chocolate-flavored, but this hot cocoa mix proved me otherwise. The consistency was thin and watery, while the flavor was overly sweet—so much so that if someone told me this drink was made with chocolate syrup, I would have believed them. Plus, this hot chocolate had an off-putting saltiness that the other brands lacked. One of my fellow taste testers shared a similar opinion, noting that there was "not a true chocolate flavor."

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Trader Joe's Organic Hot Cocoa Mix

trader joe's organic hot cocoa
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 envelope): 100 cal, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (2 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 3 g protein

Trader Joe's highlights on its website that its Organic Hot Cocoa Mix contains dried organic milk, "so all that's needed on your end is hot water." However, the box also says, "For richer flavor, use milk or less water," so we opted to use milk for consistency's sake. I bought this 10-envelope box for $3.99.

The look: When I poured the powdered cocoa into my mug, I noticed that the sugar crystals were more apparent than some of the other mixtures. Once fully combined with the milk, the final product produced a deep brown color initially covered by an inviting layer of foam.

The taste: As a Trader Joe's fan, I expected to thoroughly enjoy this cup of hot chocolate. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. This drink was overwhelmingly sweet, causing me to want to dilute it with water. As I mentioned before, I'll rarely turn down something chocolatey, but the intense sweetness combined with the rich consistency dissuaded me from going in for another sip. On top of that, one of my friends described the flavor as "artificial."

Abuelita Mexican Style Instant Hot Chocolate Mix

abuelita mexican style instant hot chocolate
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 envelope): 120 cal, 3 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 3 g protein

This box of Abuelita Mexican Style Instant Hot Chocolate showcases a few cinnamon sticks on the box. Despite the package's display, cinnamon isn't even mentioned among the lengthy list of ingredients. I suppose the flavor of this spice falls under "natural and artificial flavors." I picked up an eight-packet box at Target for $2.69.

The look: This thin cocoa powder mixture didn't dissolve into the milk as easily as some of the others. Perhaps I needed a larger mug, but even after a thorough stir, there were still noticeable clumps of cocoa floating around that didn't completely disappear. While the top of the drink was dotted in some cocoa powder clusters, I didn't see any cinnamon specks.

The taste: This drink had the most distinctive flavor profile compared to the other ones. Although cinnamon isn't listed as an ingredient, the beloved fall spice was quite prominent, which my three friends found overpowering. One of them said it had "too much spice flavor," while another said it reminded them of a pumpkin spice latte rather than hot chocolate. While I was outnumbered, I appreciated the kick from the cinnamon, though I wished this flavor was derived naturally.

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Whole Foods Organic Hot Cocoa Milk Chocolate Flavor Mix

whole goods organic hot cocoa
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 packet): 100 cal, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 3 g protein

Whole Foods is known for its wide selection of high-quality products, so I predicted the store's hot chocolate would be one of the best. A 10-packet box of the organic milk chocolate-flavored hot cocoa mix cost me $4.99.

The look: Although this hot cocoa mix dissolved somewhat quickly, it didn't mix quite as well as some of the others. Like several of the drinks, the top was blanketed in a thin layer of foam.

The taste: One word: sugary. This applied to the drink when made with both water and milk. Contrary to my prediction, I wasn't impressed by this Whole Foods item. The chocolate flavor wasn't particularly noteworthy, tasting almost like sugary water with a hint of cocoa. The consistency was fairly thin and watery, as well. "I couldn't drink a whole cup," grumbled one of my friends, who also didn't enjoy this hot chocolate.

Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix

swiss miss milk chocolate hot chocolate
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 envelope): 160 cal, 2.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 28 g sugar), 1 g protein

Decked out in its signature blue box, Swiss Miss is probably the first brand that comes to mind when hearing the term "hot chocolate mix." Despite its name, the beloved drink mix isn't actually made in Switzerland. It's blended in Menomonie, Wis. I scored an eight-envelope box of milk chocolate-flavored hot chocolate for $2.69

The look: Grainy, foamy, and similar to what I remembered as a young child. The top layer of this paler hot chocolate had a grayish hue that was lightly speckled with cocoa powder, oddly reminding me of static from the TV screen.

The taste: Surprisingly, Swiss Miss was the most controversial option, with my friends recalling a tastier drink from when they were kids. One of them said it was "hardly competitive," while another likened the flavor to chocolate milk—and not in a good way.

I, however, was transported back to my childhood. Perhaps I was clouded by fond memories of warming up with a cup of Swiss Miss after playing in the snow, but I enjoyed this hot chocolate. It was considerably sweet, but it had a pleasant foaminess that the other cups lacked. Additionally, this hot chocolate presented a subtle marshmallow flavor, though adding marshmallows to this drink would have made it even better—and way more nostalgic.

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Good & Gather Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

good & gather double chocolate hot cocoa
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 packet): 100 cal, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 25 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (2 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 1 g protein

Target's Good & Gather Brand features a few different hot cocoa mix flavors, including Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Double Chocolate, Sea Salt Caramel, Peppermint, and Pumpkin Spice. I opted for an eight-count box of the Double Chocolate hot cocoa mix for $5.79. The package describes this mix as having a "creamy, rich & decadent chocolate flavor," free of artificial flavors and sweeteners.

The look: This powder required a decent amount of mixing to ensure all of the powdery chocolate chunks dissolved. Interestingly enough, the final product had a purplish tint that none of the other ones had.

The taste: There was a notable bitterness to this one, standing as one of the least sweet options of the bunch. However, for me, this didn't take away from the drink's delectability. In fact, the subtle bitterness helped level out the sweetness, presenting a well-balanced cup of what tasted like dark chocolate-flavored hot cocoa.

Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa

starbucks classic hot cocoa
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (1 envelope): 100 cal, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (3 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 2 g protein

Starbucks may be best known for its coffee, but the company still draws people in with its other hot beverages—like hot chocolate. I snagged a 10-count box of the classic hot cocoa mix for $8.69. The packaging describes this mix as "smooth, velvety cocoa with rich chocolate notes," and lists four ingredients: cane sugar, cocoa, cocoa (processed with alkali), and natural vanilla flavor.

The look: The milk and hot cocoa powder—which was speckled with sugar crystals—blended together within a few seconds. This produced a cozy-looking, considerably dark brown beverage once the bubbles settled.

The taste: The box's description fit the hot chocolate to a T. The drink's consistency was, in fact, smooth and velvety, while the chocolate flavor was indeed pronounced. Unlike the other mixes, though, there was a bit of an earthiness to this one, which created a somewhat bitter aftertaste. However, this didn't detract from the hot chocolate as a whole, which one taste tester described as a "true hot chocolate" that "didn't taste artificial."

Sillycow Farms Chocolate-Chocolate Hot Chocolate

sillycow farms hot chocolate
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (2 TBSP): 80 cal, 0.5 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (2 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 1 g protein

Packaged in pint-sized reusable glass milk bottles, Sillycow Farms' flagship flavor—Chocolate-Chocolate—offers a better-for-you option compared to other brands, as it's solely made with natural cane sugar and Dutch processed cocoa. The brand also carries multiple hot chocolate flavors, such as Chocolate Marshmallow Swirl, Chocolate Peppermint Twist, and Chocolate Ginger Snap. I picked up a bottle of the Chocolate-Chocolate flavor for $6.79.

The look: This cocoa powder had the largest cocoa granules out of all the brands. Once combined with the milk, it blended fairly quickly to produce a paler brown-colored hot chocolate beverage.

The taste: Delightfully sweet without giving you a toothache, this hot chocolate tasted like a more sophisticated—dare I say "adult version"—of Swiss Miss. The flavor was rich, cocoa-forward, and notably creamier than the others while  simultaneously delivering a sense of nostalgia, bringing me back to my childhood snow days. "That's how I thought Swiss Miss tasted," one of my friends declared.

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

ghirardelli double chocolate hot cocoa
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (2 TBSP): 90 cal, 1 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (2 g fiber, 19 g sugar), <1 g protein

From chocolate squares to brownie mix, Ghirardelli's products are widely celebrated by chocolate lovers, so I had high hopes for the popular confectioner. The chocolate company carries multiple hot cocoa mix flavors, including peppermint, mocha, and double chocolate. I purchased a package of Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix, which yields 10-plus servings, for $4.99. This mix contains five ingredients: sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract.

The look: This one had a similar shade to the Starbucks variety. Since it was noticeably darker than some of the other brands tested, I initially wondered if the flavor would more closely align with dark chocolate.

The taste: Out of all the hot chocolate drinks, this one delivered one of the richest consistencies. It offered a pleasant creaminess with each sip, which did, in fact, have a dark chocolate flavor. Plus, it simply tasted high-quality, which one friend attributed to its "true cocoa flavor."  Everyone was in agreement about this hot chocolate's deliciousness, with one crowning it as the winner. Still, there was one more variety that three of us enjoyed the most.

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Lake Champlain Traditional Organic Hot Chocolate

lake champlain traditional hot chocolate
Brianna Ruback / Eat This, Not That!
Per Serving (2 TBSP): 110 cal, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (2 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 2 g protein

When I saw this item's $13.99 price tag at Whole Foods, I set my expectations high. Lake Champlain's Traditional Hot Chocolate is organic, vegan-friendly, fair trade-certified, and made with just two organic ingredients: sugar and cocoa.

The look: This hot chocolate mix required a decent amount of stirring, with chunks of cocoa powder floating to the top after what would usually be sufficient mixing for some of other brands. However, this wasn't a drawback, as the thicker consistency excited me for a richer beverage.

The taste: Three out of the four taste testers, including myself, named this hot chocolate mix as their favorite of the 10 options. The drink was rich and chocolatey without being overly sweet, presenting a well-balanced flavor that resembled dark chocolate. "It's like drinking a chocolate bar," one friend exclaimed. "This is definitely the best," another one concluded.

If you're looking for decadence, this mix does more than satisfy. I'd enthusiastically purchase Lake Champlain's Organic Hot Chocolate again, gift it to a friend, and probably continue to think about it throughout the fall and winter—it was that good.

Brianna Ruback
Brianna is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! She attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Communication Studies. Read more about Brianna