Popular Hot Chocolate Mixes, Ranked Worst To First

Nothing warms the spirits on a cold and dreary day like a cup of hot chocolate, and making it at home usually involves a packet or a K-cup combined with hot milk or water. While it may not be gourmet, it's still delicious. Plus, there are plenty of ways to enhance hot chocolate and make your hot chocolate taste like heaven


The origins of this warm, rich beverage can be traced back to the cultures of the Aztec, Maya, and Olmec, civilizations that lived in Mexico and Central America thousands of years ago. Today, of course, hot chocolate looks a little bit different. It can be homemade, or made with an instant mix. While homemade hot chocolate is great, not everyone has the time to make it from scratch. It starts with choosing the right mix, and luckily, there are plenty of options on the market. We've tested some of the most popular hot chocolate mixes and assessed taste, texture, and overall chocolatey goodness. Below are our top 12 brands of hot cocoa mixes.

12. Guittard's grand cacao drinking chocolate isn't grand

The Guittard Chocolate Company is a chocolatier based in California  that uses chocolate-making techniques that go back generations. It primarily makes chocolate for baking, and its semi-sweet chocolate chips are some of the best chocolate chips on store shelves. Its drinking chocolate can be used for drinking and baking.


The chocolate is 53% cacao, made with red Dutch-process cocoa powder and finely ground chocolate. The canister also include instructions for a "cocoa beverage" and hot chocolate brownies. Making the drink requires mixing 1 tablespoon powder with 1 cup of milk in a saucepan and heat on the stovetop on medium-low until it reaches a smooth consistency.

While heating, the hot cocoa smelled amazing, like chocolate pudding. Unfortunately, it didn't taste like pudding at all. The drink was incredibly bitter, like the chocolate hadn't been sweetened at all. This taste didn't change after a few extra sips, instead leaving behind a sour taste. Maybe the brownies are better.

11. Equal Exchange's hot chocolate has a bitter taste

As a brand, Equal Exchange focuses on fair trade and maintaining a sustainable supply chain. It sells drinks like coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, including nuts, dried fruit, olive oil, and chocolate. Equal Exchange's hot cocoa mix is made using cacao grown by farmer cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, and the cane sugar used is grown by a farmer cooperative in Paraguay.


The mix already has milk powder, so the instructions state to mix 3 tablespoons of cocoa and 8 ounces of hot water, or to taste. The powder is a pale brown and a little clumpy and doesn't dissolve well in water, leaving a lot of powder clods floating on the surface. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better from there.

The package describes the hot chocolate as having a "rich, chocolaty flavor," but that's not the case. The drink was bitter, almost like it was trying to be dark chocolate rather than classic milk chocolate. However, it didn't even have enough sweetness to pass as dark chocolate, tasting more bittersweet. While Equal Exchange's vision of fair trade and sustainability are awesome, its hot chocolate is not.


10. Great Value's hot chocolate tastes more like chemicals than hot chocolate

Only slightly better than Equal Exchange's hot chocolate is the Great Value hot chocolate. Great Value is Walmart's store brand for food items, and its hot chocolate is made with real cocoa and no artificial sweeteners. The mix only comes in a large, 27.7 ounce canister; thus, consumers have no choice but to buy that size.


The package offers two sets of instructions, one for using boiled water and one for using a microwave. However, the instructions are essentially the same: Put 3 tablespoons of powder into a cup and pour 8 ounces of hot water over it, then mix. The powder is a very pale brown, lighter than the Equal Exchange mix, and doesn't dissolve very well in water.

The drink tasted fine at first, although not particularly rich. Unfortunately, there's an abrupt, strange aftertaste that's almost chemical. While it's hard to say if the Great Value mix would have been higher without this sudden change, the unpleasantness plunged it to almost last place. It's safe to say that this hot chocolate mix is one value item you should avoid at Walmart.


9. Starbucks' hot cocoa doesn't live up to expectations

Starbucks is on practically every corner these days, but it doesn't just offer made-to-order beverages. The brand also offers ready-to-drink jarred and canned beverages, creamers, coffee beans, instant coffee, hot chocolate mixes, and K-cups. The hot chocolate mixes are available in double chocolate or with marshmallows.


The box for the double chocolate hot cocoa sets the expectation that the drink will be smooth and velvety. The instructions are simple: Pour the envelope into a mug, add 1 cup of hot milk, and stir. While the mixture dissolved well, the taste left a lot to be desired.

Hot chocolate is one of the most popular Starbucks drinks, so it was surprising that the instant mix was so bland. It tasted a little bitter, like dark chocolate, but even worse, it was a bit watery. The drink wasn't rich at all, nor was it particularly smooth or velvety as the package indicated it would be. The box also includes a recipe for a homemade caffè mocha; maybe it tastes better with coffee.

8. Williams Sonoma's hot chocolate is semisweet and unsatisfying

Williams Sonoma is primarily known for selling kitchenware and housewares, but it has a surprisingly wide selection of food items. This includes meats, cheeses, prepared dishes, and pantry items, like hot chocolate mix. Williams Sonoma describes its classic hot chocolate as "intensely chocolatey" with an "exquisite aroma." Interestingly, the semisweet chocolate used in the mix is crafted by Guittard.


The instructions are a little more involved than the other entries on this list. It says to warm 1 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges, then whisk in 5 tablespoons of mix into the milk until it completely dissolves. The mix is also unique, as it's not a powder — it's actually made of bits of chocolate, but dissolves just as well as powder does. The instructions also say to serve immediately, but we wouldn't recommend this as you may end up burning your mouth, which we definitely don't say from experience ... oops.

While Williams Sonoma's hot chocolate is definitely flavorful, the semisweet taste is odd. It leaves behind a sort of stale taste, similar to what you'd get if you snuck a handful of chocolate chips while making cookies. This probably would have been better as either a milk chocolate or a dark chocolate. The texture was creamy, but the awkward taste was hard to get over.


7. Land O'Lakes chocolate supreme is supremely sweet

Land O'Lakes is an agricultural cooperative headquartered in Minnesota. The company is primarily focused on dairy products, including butter, creamer, and cheese. It also makes a variety of hot chocolate mixes. Unlike most other brands, these mixes are sold in single-serve packets as well as in multipacks. The instructions say to mix the packet with 6 ounces of hot water. The mix dissolved easily at first but a frothy film formed over the top as it cooled. This went away after mixing again, but would reappear if the drink was left sitting.


While Land O'Lakes makes several flavors of hot chocolate, there is no basic milk chocolate flavor. The Chocolate Supreme version promises a "richer in chocolate flavor than a regular chocolate hot cocoa" and the results did not disappoint. Although this mix isn't described as milk chocolate, that's exactly what it tastes like. It's extremely chocolatey, like someone had melted a milk chocolate bar and poured its contents into a mug. The texture is delightfully creamy, but the overwhelming sweet milk chocolate taste was just a little bit much. However, if you're a fan of extra sweet, then this hot chocolate is for you.

6. Nestlé's hot cocoa is exactly what you expect from an instant mix

Nestlé is a brand with a wide a selection of food products but is best known for its chocolate. Nestlé is a hot chocolate staple, found on the shelves of most grocery stores and big-box retailers. The milk chocolate mix comes in both a canister and packets. 


Like the Great Value mix, the Nestlé mix offers instructions for already hot water or for microwaving. Both use 8 ounces of water, but the "conventional preparation" says to pour the mix into a mug and pour 8 ounces of hot water over it while stirring, while the microwave preparation says to heat 8 ounces of water in the microwave, then stir the mix in, adjusting the milk and water to your preference.

Nestlé describes its hot chocolate as a "classic that never gets old ... creamy mug of hot cocoa like no one else!" and I would absolutely agree. Its hot cocoa mix is exactly what you expect to taste from an instant hot cocoa mix: Chocolatey but not as rich and flavorful as other mixes on this list. There's also a slight hazelnut undertone to the chocolate. The powder dissolves easily, making for an overall satisfactory cozy drink, perfect for a cold winter day.


5. Swiss Miss's hot chocolate is sweet but not a showstopper

Swiss Miss is another staple hot chocolate brand available at most grocers and big box stores. Though the brand also makes pudding, the hot cocoa mix is what it's known for. Swiss Miss is credited as the original creator of instant hot chocolate, one of many interesting facts about Swiss Miss. There's a huge variety of options available from Swiss Miss, but the milk chocolate is the classic. 


The preparation instructions on the box are simple: Empty the packet into a mug, add 8 ounces of hot water (or, as the instructions suggest, use milk for a richer taste), and stir. The powder dissolves well into the mix, not leaving any lumps or clods behind. The drink is a swirly, creamy brown, and doesn't clump up as it cools.

Swiss Miss's milk chocolate hot cocoa is rich and warm, striking a delightful balance in terms of chocolate flavor. While not mind-blowing, the hot chocolate is again what you'd expect from an instant mix, but just a little richer than Nestlé. It may be a tad too sweet, but it's a great option for those wanting a little extra sugary goodness.

4. Good & Gather's hot cocoa is a bit dark

Good & Gather is Target's current store brand for pantry staples as well as frozen and refrigerated foods. It offers a handful of instant hot chocolate options in K-cup and drink packets. The brand doesn't offer a milk chocolate powder, but does offer a double chocolate hot cocoa mix, described as "creamy, rich and decadent."


The instructions for this hot chocolate are simple: Mix 1 cup of hot milk with one packet of hot cocoa mix and stir. The powder dissolved without any problems, creating a dark brown, almost black drink. While not as rich as other drinks on this list, the drink definitely had a richer, deeper flavor than the one before it. The taste is a blend of milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which may be where the "double chocolate" label comes in. It struck an even balance between a little too sweet, like the Swiss Miss and Land O'Lakes, and not sweet enough, like Guittard or Equal Exchange. The one downside is that the texture was a bit off, leaving a bit of a powdery residue behind.

The package also includes options for making your hot chocolate even better, like adding cinnamon or marshmallows. While nothing revolutionary, these could potentially make the drink much more enjoyable. Overall, the Good & Gather hot chocolate is a good option for those who want some depth to their drink but want to stay on a budget.


3. Trader Joe's sipping chocolate is definitely made for sipping

Trader Joe's is a grocery chain known best for its unique, and sometimes viral, product selection. One unique item on shelves is Trader Joe's sipping chocolate, meant to be slipped slowly, rather than drunk like a traditional hot chocolate. There are only four ingredients: sugar, cocoa, natural flavor, and salt.


The instructions say to mix 3 tablespoons of powder into ⅓ cup of hot milk for a rich sipping chocolate. When made this way, the powder doesn't quite dissolve all the way. However, it does create an incredibly rich chocolate that has a slightly bitter taste (like dark chocolate) to it. The drink is dark and creamy, and so rich and chocolatey that you really only can sip a little at a time.

The tin also offers instructions to make more of a traditional hot chocolate. When 3 tablespoons of powder are mixed with ¾ cup of hot milk, the powder dissolves much better. The drink isn't as dark, rich, or creamy, but is still lovely to drink. The dark chocolate tones remain but aren't as intense when the drink is made this way. As a traditional hot chocolate, it's still a more intense flavor than the Good & Gather and doesn't leave behind the same strange residue.


2. Aldi hot cocoa is surprisingly warm and creamy

Aldi is a European grocery chain that's been spreading across the United States over the past decade. While the chain stocks some name brands, Aldi is best known for their in-house brands. The hot chocolate at Aldi is listed as being made by Beaumont Cocoa, available in packets or as K-cups and also sold at Walmart.


You can make this hot chocolate using either the conventional or microwaveable way. Both involve mixing one packet with 8 fl ounces of hot water, adjusting milk or water as necessary. The powder dissolves without a problem and creates a milky brown drink.

This hot chocolate has a delightfully chocolatey taste and is richer than you might expect for a store brand. It also has a warmth and depth to it that's almost like hazelnut, making this drink perfect for cozying up on a rainy or snowy day. It goes above Trader Joe's because the flavor isn't as dark, and the price is exceptional; this is a great option when you want to keep costs low but still want to taste a little luxury. Next time winter comes around, you may also want to keep an eye out for Aldi finds like hot chocolate stirrers and bombs, which are great for stocking stuffers or holiday parties.


1. Ghirardelli's hot chocolate surpasses them all

Ghirardelli is one of the most popular chocolate brands in the U.S., up there with Godiva and Lindt. The company has a handful of stores throughout the U.S., but is better known for its chocolate squares and baking chocolate. There are a few different hot cocoa mixes available from Ghiradelli, including a classic mix that live up to its name.


Like several other brands, the Ghiradelli mix offers two sets of instructions for preparation, and, unlike most of the others on this list, recommends using 6 ounces of hot water rather than 8 ounces. Additionally, it recommends using milk instead of water for a more decadent hot cocoa. Once the packet is mixed with the milk or hot cocoa, the powder dissolves quickly and creates a deep, chocolatey drink.

Ghirardelli certainly lives up to its reputation with this hot cocoa mix. The drink is chocolatey and rich but not too rich, gorgeous and creamy, not overly sweet, like Land O'Lakes; nor does it have too much of a dark chocolate taste, like Trader Joe's. Despite being made with semisweet chocolate, like Williams Sonoma, it's more of a milk chocolate drink. Ghirardelli's hot chocolate is so utterly decadent we may never go back to another brand of hot cocoa again.


How we ranked the hot chocolate mixes

As someone who lives where the cold air blasts my face for a good part of the year, I've had my share of hot chocolate. To determine which ones were the best, I started by grabbing what I could find on store shelves as well as what other big brands were available. I focused on milk chocolate options, as this tends to be the "classic" flavor, but if milk chocolate wasn't available, I chose the closest option.


Next, I made the hot chocolate exactly as the packages instructed, using measuring cups and spoons to get a precise ratio of powder to liquid. Many packages specified using either water or milk, and I used the latter in cases were milk was highly suggested. After the drinks had cooled enough that I wouldn't burn my tongue (again), I tested each one, going back and forth to determine rankings. I assessed things like how well the powder dissolved, what the overall texture was, how strong the taste was, and what the overall chocolate flavor was like. Saltine crackers were on hand for a palette cleanser when needed, but generally, each had a distinctive taste, making them easy to rate.