For much of its history, chocolate has been consumed in liquid form as a drink, rather than eaten as a solid. Ground cocoa, sweetened with sugar and flavoured with aromatic spices, was mixed with water or milk to make drinking chocolate. During the 17th century in Europe chocolate houses, like coffee houses, became popular places in which to meet and talk and sample this exotic new drink, hot chocolate.
Not so long ago, drinking chocolate in Britain was a relatively simple thing – dominated by Cadbury’s, the sweet milky chocolate drink of childhood, signifying a simple comfort. Nowadays, drinking chocolate has become considerably more sophisticated, with high end chocolatiers competing with chocolate manufacturers to create hot chocolate drinks.
The most striking development is that hot chocolate no longer comes simply in chocolate flavour. Nowadays, instead, there are a whole range of flavoured hot chocolates on offer. Some flavours are traditional – long associated with chocolate – while others are wildly novel. Chilli chocolate, enjoying its association with the Aztecs, is particularly in vogue.
Chocolatier.co.uk set out to investigate what was available to people looking to make hot chocolate at home. What were the Chocolatier.co.uk panel of hot chocolate tasters looking for in their uber-hot chocolate? We wanted a distinct chocolate flavour, which was satisfying without being over-rich, a touch of sweetness, but not a drink that was overly sweet, and – simply – the enjoyability and sheer drinkability, which would make you happily drink your cup of hot chocolate down to the last dregs.
To make up the hot chocolate, in each case we used semi-skimmed milk and followed the maker’s recommended quantities of drinking chocolate to milk and the suggested method of making it. The one case where we departed from the recommended method was in Paul A Young’s hot chocolate where he suggests adding hot water and we instead added semi-skimmed milk, as with all the other hot chocolates we sampled, to make it an even playing field.
HOTEL CHOCOLAT CLASSIC MILKY DRINKING CHOCOLATE
This was noticeably fiddly to make as one has to gradually add in the mixture to hot milk, do a lot of stirring to melt the chocolate into the milk, bring to the boil, then simmer. Having brought the milk to the boil in this way, the result is an extremely hot cup of drinking chocolate. A lovely chocolate aroma, but, however, a thin texture to the hot chocolate and a curiously muted chocolate flavour when drunk. Not sweet and with a 'slightly bitter finish'. 6/10
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HOTEL CHOCOLAT AZTEC CHILLI DRINKING CHOCOLATE
As above, it's the same gradual adding of the mixture which is slightly fiddly but does result in a very hot cup of hot chocolate. When it came to flavour, the verdict was ‘Too much burn, not enough chocolate’. The chilli dominates here, giving a long after-burn, but the chocolate flavour was very subdued indeed. 6/10
MONTEZUMA’S CHILLI DRINKING CHOCOLATE
A lot of vigorous stirring needed in order to mix the chocolate mixture and the hot milk together well. In terms of flavour, this got marks for not being over- sweet and had a noticeable chilli burn but the question was ‘where is the chocolate flavour?’ Our verdict: chilli dominated to the detriment of chocolate. 6/10
MONTEZUMA’S MOCHACHINO DRINKING CHOCOLATE
Very thorough mixing needed to blend the chocolate mixture into the milk. This had a pronounced coffee scent. In terms of taste, from start to finish, coffee is the dominant flavour with a slight sweetness from the chocolate, but a definite coffee aftertaste lingering on in the mouth. The overall effect was of drinking sweetened coffee rather than a hot chocolate-based drink. 6/10
PAUL A YOUNG’S ORIGINAL AZTEC HOT CHOCOLATE (UNSPICED)
Using milk rather than Paul A Young’s suggested hot water, this was very quick and easy to mix together. The resulting hot chocolate has a definite, almost savoury aroma, with a slight powderiness to the texture. The flavour was good - characterfully chocolately, not too sweet and ‘well-balanced’. 8/10
SIR HANS SLOANE MILK DRINKING CHOCOLATE BEADS
Very quick and easy to blend together, this made a pleasantly smooth-textured hot chocolate. The aroma was inviting with a vanilla fragrance to it. The flavour of very appealing indeed - chocolate with sweet but not cloying caramel notes. ‘Pleasant aftertaste’. ‘Very drinkable’. 9/10
SIR HANS SLOANE DARK DRINKING CHOCOLATE BEADS
Very easy to make, with the beads dissolving quickly into the hot milk and resulting in a smooth-textured drink. There was a noticeable chocolate aroma. On tasting, here was a hot chocolate that really delivered on its chocolate flavour. The taste was nicely rich without being either too sweet or too bitter. A ‘long dark chocolate finish lingers on in the mouth’. ‘Very easy to drink’. 9/10
THORNTONS CHILLI HOT CHOCOLATE
Taking a lot of stirring to melt the chocolate pieces into the hot milk, this had a appealing chocolate scent. The flavour was noticeably sweet followed, however, by the buzz of a pronounced chilli burn. ‘Good on a cold day’. 7/10
THORNTONS GINGER HOT CHOCOLATE
Needed a lot of stirring to mix thoroughly and allow the chocolate to melt. Sniffing the cup one notices a pronounced, rather unappealing scent of powdered ginger. On tasting, the flavour is sweet and with a very dominant powdered ginger taste and very little chocolate flavour. ‘Odd’. 5/10
THORNTONS MINT HOT CHOCOLATE
In order to mix the chocolate and milk together thoroughly and get the chocolate to melt in, this needed a lot of stirring. There is a pronounced mint scent. On tasting, a sweet chocolate flavour comes through first, finishing with a clean, fresh minty aftertaste. ‘Easy to drink’. ‘This works as a flavour combination’. 7/10
THORNTONS TOFFEE HOT CHOCOLATE
Needed a lot of stirring to mix together properly and get the chocolate to melt into the hot milk. There is a cloying caramel scent; “smells very synthetic”. The taste was very sweet indeed, lacking in any toffee or caramel flavour or chocolate flavour. “It smells of toffee but doesn’t taste of it.” 4/10
Did we miss your favourite hot chocolate? Let us know what you think of the drinking chocolates above or any we haven't featured this time in the comment section below...