Is There A Difference Between Hot Cocoa And Hot Chocolate?

Sipping a steaming cup of hot, chocolate-y goodness while sitting around a crackling fire on a snowy winter day is a tradition enjoyed by many — but what are you actually drinking? Most people (and even some store-bought powdered products) mistakenly identify hot chocolate and cocoa as the same beverage. We often use the terms hot cocoa and hot chocolate interchangeably, and dismiss the actual differences that exist between the two. Both are thoroughly savored, but differ in the ingredients used and the consistency of the drink — as well as the taste. 

Real hot chocolate dates back 3,000 years ago to the Mayans, who drank it not only for pleasure but believed it provided a remedy for stomach problems and other ailments. In contrast, hot cocoa came about during the industrial era with machines being able to process cocoa powder (via Williams Sonoma). Nowadays, according to Delishably, "most Europeans wouldn't recognize what Americans call 'hot chocolate' as chocolate at all and would likely turn their noses up at it." 

What are the key differences?

Hot cocoa is typically made from cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. According to MasterClass, the cocoa beans are dried and fermented to produce the powder, then artificial sweeteners and spices are added to sweeten the flavor. As a result, the drink tends to be lighter in consistency and sweeter than hot chocolate. On the other hand, hot chocolate is simply what it sounds like: melted chocolate often mixed with hot milk or water. Though not as sweet, hot chocolate is a richer and denser choice.

How each one is prepared is another difference between the two. Hot cocoa, arguably the more popular version, is often made from powder and shows up in grocery stores in packet form (via The Manual). Genuine hot chocolate comprises the more involved process of heating milk along with any preferred chopped chocolate (even leftover Halloween candy) until thoroughly blended and thickened.

Which should you drink? It depends on your personal preference. According to Spoon University, "if you have a major sweet tooth, hot cocoa might be the better option. But if you're someone who enjoys richer flavors, hot chocolate is the better choice." With either one you can create tasty drinks like this recipe for spiced hot chocolate.

Regardless of which version you choose, don't forget the option of spiking either one with a little wine, or even adding whisky as a nightcap — always crowd-pleasing options. And like the Mayans, you can justify these additions as a medicinal aid!