Hot cocoa vs. hot chocolate

What’s the difference?

Warm up with some hot chocolate, or hot cocoa, while the weather still warrants it. — Photo courtesy of

During these cold winter months, I’m going to bet, your hot beverage consumption has gone up. Whether it’s tea, hot chocolate, coffee, or hot cocoa — we’re drinking gallons more of it. Did you notice how I mentioned both hot chocolate and hot cocoa? It’s not a typo; they are two distinct things. These two recipes are not the same, and we’re going to dive into the world of their differences.

Legally, there is no difference, and brands can label their products interchangeably, but historically and methodically, there are definite distinctions.

Hot cocoa is a thin, chocolate-flavored drink that’s made with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. Some hot cocoa mixes have dried milk powder integrated, so they can also be made with hot water: Think Swiss Miss (even though the box says “hot chocolate,” hence my earlier point about labeling).

Unlike hot cocoa, however, hot chocolate (also referred to as sipping or drinking chocolate), is traditionally made from actual chocolate. Whether using a chopped chocolate bar, ground-up chocolate, or chocolate shavings, it results in a thicker beverage. Much richer than hot cocoa, due to the high fat content of chocolate, hot chocolate is a creamy, almost decadent beverage. Both hot cocoa and hot chocolate can be flavored in a variety of ways, such as with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or vanilla extract.

Hot Cocoa

Serves 2

2 cups milk
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Simmer milk until hot and then quickly whisk in the cocoa powder, granulated sugar, and cinnamon stick. Turn down heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until everything is dissolved and incorporated. Serve immediately.

Rich Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

2 cups milk
1 8 oz. chocolate bar, or ¾ cup chocolate chips
2 Tbsps. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch whisked into 2 Tbsps. hot water*
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

Simmer the milk until warm, and add the chocolate and sugar. Whisk until chocolate is melted, then quickly whisk in cornstarch mixture, vanilla, and cinnamon. Turn heat to high, and quickly bring to a boil. Serve immediately.

* Note: Adding cornstarch thickens the hot chocolate even more, making for a decadent winter treat!

On-Island, Mocha Mott’s makes a delicious hot cocoa with whipped cream; Black Dog Bakery creates its own house-made cocoa mix; and Espresso Love has a hot chocolate all its own, with Monin USA dark chocolate sauce and steamed milk. Go forth and conquer those hot chocolates and hot cocoas of the Island and beyond, before the snow melts and we’re back to craving the cold, refreshing goodness of a chocolate shock from Slice of Life.