While it's technically still a few days away, let's face it: winter's here (no offense, solstice). And what better way is there to warm up than hot chocolate? Sure, you can get a gourmet cup at some coffee shop... for $10 a mug?!?! Yeah, better to just make a cup at home. But which one is the best?
Because American people seem to trust the Swiss with all things chocolate-related, Swiss Miss has been the untouchable front-runner in the hot chocolate mix scene for many years. But is it actually the cream of the crop? We scored five powdered brands and got our guinea pigs to blind taste them. (Note to PETA: relax... they're not real guinea pigs.) Here’s how they stacked up:
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The deal: Whole Foods does some great stuff. Their salad bars are top-notch. They’ve got the most non-dairy milks out of any major retailer, and they’re a great place to pick up the ladies. But they didn’t do so well with hot chocolate, unfortunately. Most tasters described their mix as bitter and gray, which might have something to do with the fact that it uses “organic cane syrup solids” instead of sugar. It might be good if you’ve got a developed chocolate mix palate, but most peeps couldn’t quite get into it. Most telling quote: “It tries to act like chocolate but I don’t believe it that much.”
4. Super A Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
The deal: This is one of those generic store brands, and it ended up being better than major chain Whole Foods’ attempt, but not by much. For the most part, it was called bland and watered-down, but even that was preferable over the bitterness of 365 Organic. Both, however, were in dire need of some whipped cream or marshmallows on top. Most telling quote: “This tastes like someone reheated old hot chocolate.”
3. Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate
The deal: For a company that deals in some of the most heavily eaten chocolate products in the world, Nestle’s hot chocolate mix was decidedly middle of the road. Creamy and mellow, it didn’t necessarily wow our tasters in the flavor department (it was described as being kind of chocolate pudding-y), but it certainly looked the part of hot chocolate. It was praised for its decidedly authentic-looking creaminess, even if the taste didn’t quite match up. Most telling quote: “It’s thicker than the others, but not in a creamy way. Heavy, but not viscous.”
2. Key Food Hot Cocoa Mix
The deal: Surprisingly, a lot of people who tried this generic store brand confused it for Swiss Miss -- some even liked it better than (obvious spoiler alert!!) the ultimate champ. Classic, rich, and possessing that “chewy” mouthfeel that leaves your teeth kinda sticky, the Key Food Hot Cocoa Mix is an adequate replica of Swiss Miss. Its aggregate score was actually only one point lower than, well, you know... Most telling quote: “Yeah, this is the chocolate powdery stuff that I drank when I was younger. I would not be surprised if this was, in fact, Swiss Miss.”
The deal: So it’s true. Swiss Miss does make the best powdered hot chocolate mix out there, or at least as chosen by our panel of blind taste-testers. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t thoroughly challenged -- Nestle and Key Food put up a damn good fight, and came within swinging distance of everyone’s favorite politically neutral chocolatier. It was called the creamiest of the bunch, with proper “chocolate lacing” and a natural-tasting nuttiness... and all of this despite the fact that they were all made with hot water rather than milk. Good on you, Swiss Miss! Most telling quote: “There’s a bit more of an aftertaste to this, but it’s a damn good one! It’s sweeter and creamier, and lasts longer on the palate.”
Swiss Miss is doing it right after all. Something about their formula juuuuust pushed them above the others (maybe the coconut oil?) -- but Key Food is right on their heels. Which goes to show that sometimes there can be legitimate alternatives to the brand-name stuff. Major props to the generic brands out there that do it right. Now if only we'd bought a bunch of different marshmallow brands...
Adam Lapetina is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and wonders if there’s a Swiss Mister. Read his musings at @adamlapetina.