CHOICE’s Home Testers rated 18 widely available brands of hot chocolate. We included both diet and regular brands, but not white chocolate, flavoured chocolate drinks or energy drinks. This is why some old favourites, such as Milo and Akta-Vite, didn’t make the list.
The Home Testers found three brands especially delicious (see What to buy). These products are:
- Indulge Your Senses Milk Drinking Chocolate
- Vittoria Original Chocochino Italian Style
- Nestlé Heaven Milk Chocolate
Our testers described them as 'milky', 'creamy' and tasting of 'real chocolate'.
Not surprisingly, the top-scoring hot chocolate drinks were those you make up with milk, not water, and they were sweetened with plenty of sugar rather than artificial sweeteners.
Weightwatchers and Jarrah Chocolatte Extreme Choc Flavour were the least liked — you make up both with water and they’re artificially sweetened. The trialists described the Jarrah Chocolatte Extreme Choc Flavour as ‘artificial’ and ‘sickly’, and the Weightwatchers Drinking Chocolate was ‘bland’, ‘weak’, ‘thin’ and ‘watery’.
So, the tastiest hot chocolate drinks are a wonderful treat, but they’re not a great regular bedtime drink if you want to lose weight. The best-liked of the lower-kilojoule hot chocolates was Jarrah Milk Belgian Chocolatte, with 275 kilojoules per serve (compared with 1077 kilojoules for Nestlé Heaven).
But a cup of instant coffee with a little milk gives you only 140 kilojoules — less than any brand except Weightwatchers — or you could have a cup of herb tea, such as chamomile, with almost no kilojoules at all.
Easy to make?
Despite its overall popularity with our Home Testers, Nestlé Heaven stood out as the most difficult of the drinking chocolates to make. With other brands you only have to zap your mug of milk in the microwave and stir in the chocolate powder.
But Nestlé Heaven consists of chocolate drops that you melt in a small amount of hot milk (which takes some vigorous stirring), then top up with more hot milk.
Abundant Earth must think your kitchen is a science lab with precision measuring devices. The instructions are to mix 14g with "170mL of hot (not boiling) milk".
At the other extreme, some brands come with each serving in an individual sachet, which you tip into a mug of hot water or milk. While this is easy to do, it’s wasteful packaging and makes it awkward to adjust the quantity to suit your taste.
Some of our Home Testers said they drink hot chocolate to avoid caffeine or because it helps them sleep. Chocolate contains some caffeine but not as much as coffee, tea and energy drinks. A cup of hot chocolate gives you no more than about 10mg of caffeine, compared with up to 90mg in a shot of espresso coffee, 80mg in a can of energy drink or up to 50mg in a cup of tea.
Unless you’re especially sensitive to caffeine, the small amount in hot chocolate is unlikely to keep you awake. And a mug of hot chocolate also gives you about 50mg of theobromine, a chemical compound that’s first cousin to caffeine. It’s not as powerful a stimulant, but it’s a mood-enhancing drug that may contribute to our liking for chocolate.
No Fairtrade hot chocolate
Roughly two thirds of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, mostly produced by small farmers. But manufacturing and distribution are dominated by a small number of big corporations. The farmers get only a small proportion of the price you pay for hot chocolate in the supermarket, and the price they’re paid fluctuates wildly. When the price falls farmers are forced to cut costs, often employing children for strenuous and dangerous work, sometimes as slave labour.
The Fairtrade movement tries to get a better deal for farmers, and Fairtrade certification on the label means the cocoa hasn’t been produced using slave labour, and growers and producers are paid a fair wage. See our report on Fairtrade products for more information
Unfortunately there weren't any widely available brands of fairtrade drinking chocolate when we were testing. You can, however, buy it from Oxfam shops or via its website. Alternatively, you can stir some grated Fairtrade chocolate into hot milk. Delicious!
How we tested
We asked 221 of our Home Testers (who regularly drink hot chocolate) to try four brands each. We thank them very much for their help and hope they enjoyed the trial!
The hot chocolate was repacked in small containers (pictured, right) identified only by code, so the trialists wouldn’t be influenced by brand, price or packaging.
They made the hot chocolate drinks with milk or water according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then rated them for taste, consistency and ease of use, and gave them an overall score. Each brand was tried by about 45 people.