Hot Cocoa Vs. Drinking Chocolate

Cup of hot chocolate and pieces of chocolat on dark concrete background


As the air turns crisp and cool, many people delight in warming their hands—and their insides—with a cup of hot cocoa. National Hot Chocolate Day is celebrated on December 13—the perfect time of year to indulge in a cup of warm, chocolatey goodness.

Before you drink your next cup of hot cocoa, you might want to know—what’s the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? And what is drinking chocolate? While “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa” are often used interchangeably, they are actually different things. Have you been missing out by not knowing the difference between hot chocolate and cocoa? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Hot Cocoa?

What is hot cocoa? Hot cocoa is the name of both a commercial drink mix (think Swiss Miss) and a beverage. As the name suggests, it’s made from cocoa powder Commercial hot cocoa mixes contain sugar and other additives and are blended with milk or water. Hot chocolate is  often sweet due to the added sugar, has a light consistency, and is thinner than hot chocolate. Flavorings like vanilla or spices like ground cinnamon or nutmeg can be added.

Is hot cocoa the same as hot chocolate? No, it’s not, even though the two terms are used interchangeably. When considering hot cocoa vs hot chocolate, an important fact to know is that hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, but hot chocolate is made from chocolate bars, shavings or pieces containing cacao, sugar and cocoa butter and then mixed with milk, water or cream.

There are other differences in hot chocolate vs hot cocoa as well. Since hot chocolate is made from chocolate bars, it contains cocoa butter, which adds fat. This gives hot chocolate a smoother, creamier texture and makes a rich, thick drink. Hot cocoa doesn’t have the added fat from cocoa butter. The absence of cocoa butter gives it a deeper, more chocolatey flavor.

What Is Drinking Chocolate?

How is drinking chocolate different from hot cocoa? How do drinking chocolate vs hot chocolate compare? Drinking chocolate differs from hot cocoa but is essentially the same thing as hot chocolate—it’s made using the whole chocolate product, not cocoa powder.

The quality of the ingredients matters when it comes to drinking chocolate. Using high-quality ingredients will result in a better tasting drink. You’ll also want to pay attention to the percentage of cacao in your chocolate. If you use a high-quality dark chocolate that is 75 percent cacao or higher (meaning it has less sugar), you will have a hot drink with a deep, intense dark chocolate flavor. If you want something a little sweeter, use a dark chocolate with a little lower cacao percentage.

Like hot chocolate, drinking chocolate is made with full-fat chocolate that contains cocoa butter. To make drinking chocolate, melt the chocolate bar or shavings, add milk or cream to thin it out, add sugar if you would like it a little sweeter and serve it up piping hot.

Before the French Revolution, drinking chocolate was all the rage in Paris. Drinking chocolate locations outnumbered coffee houses in Paris about a dozen to one. Then French revolutionaries put a stop to drinking chocolate in the mornings by saying it was only for the upper class and the lazy. They suggested drinking coffee instead, and that tradition still exists today.

What Is the Difference Between Drinking Chocolate and Cocoa Powder?

While the most immediately noticeable difference between drinking chocolate and cocoa powder is in price, the quality and concentration of ingredients also differs.

Drinking chocolate and cocoa powder share a common, basic ingredient—cacao. But the two items are processed and blended differently.

Cocoa powder is created when high heat is applied to cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma tree in tropical areas. Cacao beans are harvested, fermented and dried. After drying, they are roasted at a high temperature and then cracked into cacao nibs, which are crumbled pieces of dried cacao beans. Cacao nibs have a strong chocolate flavor and are then ground into a paste called chocolate liquor (solid chocolate). Cocoa butter is pressed out of the chocolate liquor, leaving only cacao solids. Cacao solids are then ground into a fine powder we know as unsweetened cocoa powder.

While pure cocoa powder is unsweetened, drinking chocolate, on the other hand, contains full-fat chocolate in which none of the cocoa butter has been removed. Cocoa powder contains around 11 percent cocoa butter.

Drinking chocolate and cocoa powder have distinct differences in flavor, texture and “mouth feel.” Because cocoa powder contains more cocoa solids than cocoa butter, the chocolate flavor is much stronger than that of drinking chocolate. Drinking chocolate can be consumed directly without any additives. Even though cocoa powder is pure, it isn’t as refined and must be mixed with other items like sugar or milk or water for baking, eating or drinking.

Most commercial hot chocolate kits that you find in US grocery stores are made with cocoa powder and branded as hot chocolate by marketers. That’s one reason it’s confusing when trying to differentiate between the two products—marketers have used the terms interchangeably for years.

At Cococlectic, we feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker each month. These craft chocolate makers are passionate about producing their chocolate from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.

The chocolates at Cococlectic can be used to make hot chocolate or drinking chocolate. They are vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.

We sell only dark chocolate bars in our chocolate shop. One-time (dark bars only or mixed bars) gift boxes or corporate gift boxes are available with the purchase of the Office Box. Each chocolate box comes with 4 full-size dark chocolate bars that are made in the US.


Sign up for our chocolate-of-the-month subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.