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Hot Cocoa vs Hot Chocolate: Choose Your Cozy Cup! +RECIPE

Hot Cocoa vs Hot Chocolate: Choose Your Cozy Cup! +RECIPE

It’s that time of the year again where we start looking for something warm to drink that is comforting. Ok yes, coffee is always in my hands every morning but I don’t drink it at night. So when the first hint of cool air hits, what do you do?

Often my go-to hot drink at night is hot chocolate! So true to the season, I started dreaming of a warm cup of hot chocolate but then something dawned on me. On the internet, I see people calling it hot chocolate and sometimes it is called hot cocoa. So which is it?

Is it hot chocolate or hot cocoa? 

It turns out that this is quite the question.  Despite looking similar in a mug, these two comforting beverages have their unique twists. 

Let’s get into it. Here is what I learned. And scroll to the bottom to get our authentic homemade recipe for hot chocolate.

A mug of hot chocolate is topped with whipped cream and cinnamon sticks.

Hot chocolate vs hot cocoa

Key Takeaways:

  • Hot Cocoa vs Hot Chocolate: They’re not just different names; they’re different drinks.
  • Hot Cocoa vs Hot Chocolate: Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder for a lighter hot cocoa, and hot chocolate is made with melted chocolate for a richer hot chocolate.
  • Personal Preference Rules: It’s all about what your taste buds are craving.

Hot Cocoa: This is your go-to for a lighter sip. Made from cocoa powder (chocolate with the fat pressed out), it’s sweetened up and has a friendly, approachable vibe. It’s like that easy going friend who’s always there to cheer you up.

I wanted to understand this a bit better so I went down a research rabbit hole about how cocoa powder is made. 

Hot Chocolate: Think of this as the chocolate bar’s more luxurious cousin. It’s all about melting real chocolate pieces into a creamy dream, often with milk or cream. It’s the rich, indulgent choice for those days when you need a little extra comfort.

A Sip Through History:

Let’s time travel with our teaspoon to explore the origins of these drinks.

Origins of Hot Cocoa:

It all started with the Mayans. They were the first to create this chocolate drink and I love them for it.

Imagine the Mayans around 500 BC, brewing up a no-nonsense mix of ground cocoa seeds, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. No sweeteners, no milk – just pure cocoa essence.

At that time hot cocoa was a symbol of status and wealth and was revered and used in rituals.

Rise of Hot Chocolate:

Fast forward to Europe’s chocolate discovery. Initially hot chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court, as a luxury beverage for the elite. Gradually Europeans added sugar and milk to get rid of the bitter taste. Soon it was a creamy and sweet drink that we all came to love.

The Industrial Revolution’s Twist:

The Industrial Revolution was a game-changer. Chocolate’s transformation from an exclusive luxury to a popular indulgence owes much to this era. Innovations like the Dutch processing method, pioneered by Coenraad Van Houten, revolutionized chocolate production. This process made chocolate smoother and more palatable, leading to its widespread availability and the birth of the modern hot chocolate as an everyday comfort.

Hot chocolate began as an elite luxury and transformed into the sweet, creamy mug of joy we all love. A little milk here, some sugar there, and voilà, it became a treat for everyone.

Two mugs of hot cocoa with whipped cream and marshmallows on a plate.

The Great Debate: Ingredients and Process

Let’s dive into what sets these two apart in terms of ingredients and preparation.

Cocoa Powder vs Chocolate Bars

  • Cocoa Powder: The heart of hot cocoa, providing a smooth, slightly bitter, and chocolatey taste.
  • Chocolate Bars: The essence of hot chocolate, bringing richness and a touch of luxury, especially with dark chocolate.

Milk or Water: The Wet Wars

  • Hot Cocoa: Can be made with water, but milk adds a rich, creamy touch.
  • Hot Chocolate: It’s all about the milk or cream for that velvety feel.

Sweetness Spectrum: Sugar and Spice

  • Hot Cocoa: Sweetened up just right.
  • Hot Chocolate: Relies on the chocolate’s sweetness, with a sprinkle of spices like cinnamon or vanilla to elevate the flavor.

Cultural Cupfuls: How the World Sips

Every corner of the globe has its own way of enjoying these drinks.

Continental Rifts and Recipes

  • North America: Classic cocoa with milk, sometimes a marshmallow on top.
  • Europe: Thicker, spoon-worthy hot chocolate, often made with melted chocolate bars and cream.

Around the world, these aren’t just drinks; they’re an expression of culture and tradition. From the chili-spiced Mexican hot chocolate to Spain’s orange zest-infused version, each cup tells a story.

These drinks are more than just winter warmers; they’re part of our celebrations and traditions. In Latin America, hot cocoa symbolizes warmth and unity in family gatherings. During the winter holidays, hot chocolate takes center stage, whether in a fun cocoa station or as an elegant treat in sophisticated parties.

Two mugs of hot cocoa and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows.

The bottom line

As we raise our mugs, we’re not just savoring a drink; we’re embracing tradition, community, and joy. So, whether you’re a hot cocoa enthusiast or a hot chocolate aficionado, there’s a cup out there waiting to be your perfect cozy companion. Cheers to that!

More About Chocolate

Authentic Homemade Hot Chocolate

Authentic Homemade Hot Chocolate

Yield: Serves 2

This traditional recipe highlights the robust flavor of 70% dark chocolate and creamy whole milk, making it a truly rich and indulgent treat. The vanilla adds a layer of complexity and aroma that rounds out the chocolate beautifully. This is hot chocolate in its most authentic form—simple yet incredibly satisfying.


  • 2 c whole milk
  • 4 oz high-quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), finely chopped
  • 2 T sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Whipped cream or marshmallows, for serving


  1. Heat the Milk: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat just until it starts to simmer. Be careful not to let it boil to help keep the milk sweet.
  2. Melt the Chocolate: Add the chopped dark chocolate to the simmering milk, stirring continuously until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add Flavors: Stir in the sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Continue to stir until everything is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth and velvety.
  4. Simmer: Allow the mixture to simmer on low for about five or six minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the chocolate from scorching on the bottom, which will cause a bitter taste. This will also help thicken the hot chocolate slightly.
  5. Serve: Carefully pour or ladle the hot chocolate into mugs. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows if desired, and maybe a little dusting of cocoa powder or chocolate shavings for an extra chocolatey touch and a flair for the dramatic.


Key: c = cups; oz = ounces; T = tablespoons; t = teaspoons

  • If using artificial sweetener instead of regular sugar, only add at the last step and adjust to taste.

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