Hot chocolate is a winter tradition for a reason—it makes the house smell great, it's warming to hold in your hands, and yes, it tastes amazing. In fact, our enamored relationship with the cozy beverage is nothing new. Hot chocolate was the very first way chocolate was consumed…well, sort of. More than a millennium ago, far before a chocolate bar even existed, the Mayans and Aztecs created hot chocolate drinks made from ground cacao beans, spices and water. With no marshmallows in sight, these drinks were unsweetened and quite potent, but were decidedly valued and even deemed sacred.
These days, while the commercial blends of hot chocolate may taste better than the drink's ancient formulations, the ingredients are significantly worse. High amounts of sugar, artificial flavors and extremely processed ingredients make up the bulk of the ready-to-drink blends—certainly a far cry from hot chocolate's healthy roots. Luckily, hot chocolate is exceptionally easy to make at home. All you have to do is gently heat your milk of choice (or water), powdered chocolate and sweetener (more on these ingredients in a moment), and you've got an incredible drink that's not only light years healthier, but also more flavorful! Keep reading for six secrets to making the best-ever hot chocolate.
1. Start with the Milk
Although many people are accustomed to using cow's milk in hot chocolate recipes, the truth is that many plant-based milks taste strikingly better. That's because each of these “alternative” milk varieties offer slightly different flavor nuances—many of which are shoe-in flavor combinations for chocolate. Some favorites to try are almond milk, hazelnut milk, cashew milk and due to its ultra-creamy viscosity, even pea milk!
2. Choose Quality Chocolate
Unsweetened cocoa powder is a good start, but if you use cacao powder (basically think of it as real chocolate), you'll gain an immense nutritional boost in the form of antioxidants. What's more, cacao powder has a more delicate flavor than cocoa, which plays well with the drink's creamy base.
3. Use Sweeteners to Enhance Flavor
Even though it's the most commonly used sweetener in the world, cane sugar is a little, well, boring in terms of its flat taste (not to mention a nightmare for your immune system and beyond). Instead, use alternative ingredients that not only up the sweetness of your drink, but add to its flavor profile as well! Maple syrup, molasses and agave are all excellent choices. Conversely, if you're wanting to cut sugar even further, you can use a little Stevia, Monkfruit or Erythritol to help slash the calories.
4. Create Creaminess with a Little Fat
If you want a truly luxurious treat, a small amount of healthy fat goes a long way in making a good hot chocolate truly great. A spoonful of coconut oil makes a solid choice or better still, use a little cacao butter to exaggerate the chocolate flavor even further (and create an intoxicating aroma at the same time). For the truly chocolate-obsessed, you can even add a small amount of melted dark chocolate to your drink to create the ultimate indulgence.
5. Add a Little Superfood Finesse
Functional drinks are a hot topic these days, and in the case of our subject here, the pun is very much intended. Chocolate can mask many flavors of potent superfoods, making it a great base for small amounts of super ingredients like maca, medicinal mushrooms, adaptogenic blends and more, which can amp up its healing benefits.
6. Finish Drinks in the Blender
While a whisk does a decent job of combining your ingredients while on the stovetop, a quick blitz in the blender earns you the professional hot chocolate-maker title. Hot chocolate's ingredients benefit greatly from the high speed of the blender blades, which whip the mixture together into a proper emulsion that feels smoother while consumed. Plus, a blender will naturally create a slight foam that tops your mugs once the hot chocolate is poured, which adds an invitingly pillowy start to your decadent beverage.
As for whipped cream or marshmallows? That's a debate only you can resolve.