WARM UP WITH HOT COCOA
When the weather outside is frightful, a soothing cup of hot cocoa is so delightful. Using a powdered mix, it's also easy to make. From varieties with marshmallow bits to confections with a minty kick to dietetic options, hot cocoa mixes abound. Cheapism.com narrowed the field to classic chocolate-flavored mixes, made with milk or water, and assembled a tasting panel to compare three of the most popular and inexpensive brands. In a blind taste test, the panelists sought hot cocoa that wasn't too sweet -- more chocolaty than sugary -- with a nice, creamy texture. Here are the results.
THIRD PLACE: NESTLE RICH MILK CHOCOLATE
Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate hot cocoa mix (starting at 8 cents per serving) is the cheapest of the group, yet judging by online reviews, many consumers still enjoy it. In Cheapism's taste test, however, panelists found this hot cocoa too sweet and lacking in chocolate flavor compared with the other contenders. Despite its name, Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate didn't have the richness the tasters craved, although the aroma was appealing and chocolaty.
RUNNER-UP: GHIRARDELLI DOUBLE CHOCOLATE
Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Premium Hot Cocoa (starting at 42 cents per serving) stands out for its ingredients, which include chocolate (not just cocoa), vanilla, and sugar, rather than artificial sweeteners. The result is a dark, dense drink with a rich chocolate flavor and a higher price than the other options -- but still cheaper than artisanal products and even mid-price brands such as Land O'Lakes. While Ghirardelli's approach appealed to the tasting panel, it's unlikely to find favor with children and others with sweeter palates.
WINNER: SWISS MISS CLASSICS MILK CHOCOLATE
The milk chocolate flavor in the Swiss Miss Classics line (starting at 12 cents per serving) emerged at the top of the heap in this tasting. The aroma filled several panelists with nostalgia, and the flavor was luscious and chocolaty without being overbearing. Consumers reviewing the mix online generally draw similar conclusions, although some take issue with the use of artificial sweeteners.
EVEN BETTER: HOMEMADE HOT COCOA
By far the cheapest cocoa mix is the stuff you make yourself. For mere pennies a serving, combine a can of cocoa powder with a cup of sugar (more or less to taste) and a bit of salt and store in an airtight container. When you're ready to make hot cocoa, add 2 tablespoons of the mix to a cup of hot milk and enjoy.