On a cold winter's day, there's nothing more comforting than a mug of steaming hot cocoa. Whether you're curled up on the sofa in front of the TV or wrapped up in a soft, thick scarf and cradling your cup in gloved hands as the sweet, chocolatey goodness glides down your throat, a warmth fills your body. Sound familiar?
Drinking chocolate dates back hundreds of thousands of years, with archaeologists finding evidence of the Mayans grinding cocoa seeds into a paste and mixing it with water, among other ingredients, as early as 450 AD. In more recent times—up until the 19th century, in fact—hot chocolate was used medicinally to treat liver and stomach diseases. These days, though, it's just a good old comforting drink and a great "pick me up" when you need a sweet treat.
During the Christmas period, coffee shop chains like Starbucks and Tim Horton's spice up their hot chocos with an array of festive flavors, which give us a great excuse to treat ourselves time and time again throughout the silly season. They're only available for a limited time, so we've gotta get them while they're *literally* hot—not that we really needed an excuse anyway...
Well, what if you had your own homemade hot chocolate that was just as tantalizingly tasty? From sprinkles to salted caramel, marshmallow to mint, we've pulled together the best hot chocolate additions and combinations, so you don't even need to leave the house.
Let's start with a pretty basic topping. Marshmallows, often appearing in hot chocolate gift packs during the winter, are a classic way to spruce up your mug of cocoa.
You can opt for properly chunky ones that melt deliciously in your mouth as you pick them out with a crooked finger in between slurps, or you can choose mini 'mallows that you can nibble on as you take a big gulp. Or if you can't decide which you want, chop up the big marshmallows into cool shapes by using regular scissors. If you're feeling really fancy, toast your marshmallows over the stove (but be careful!), before popping atop your drink. Our favorite 'mallow moment comes courtesy of these adorable snowmen, which are decorated with chocolate syrup for the buttons and face, and pretzels for the arms and legs. We can't imagine a kid (or a kid-at-heart) not squealing with glee at seeing one of these cute little guys in their cuppa.
19 Whipped Cream
So far, so familiar, right? Cream is another topping we're used to seeing on hot chocolate, often squirted in a rather fancy swirl. but, we had to start with the classics - as Picasso said, you need to learn the rules before you can break 'em.
While squirty cream, also known as "whipped cream," "Chantilly cream," and "crème Chantilly," is the easiest of the lot to use—you can literally squirt it from the can onto your drink in seconds, and the vanilla flavor perfectly complements the cocoa tones—you can *whip up* even more indulgence by adding double cream instead. It's thicker, sweeter, and even more decadent! Pop in a pan with milk and your hot chocolate mix, and stir until hot.
18 Peanut Butter
Those who are a fan of Reece's, M&Ms, and Snickers will love this flavor combo: peanut butter and hot chocolate. Yes, it really is as simple as it sounds, and we're wondering why we've never thought to do this before. It goes without saying, but this one works best with smooth peanut butter (unless you're partial to a few chunks floating at your lips as you take a sip from your mug); simply heat milk on the stove as normal, and add a tablespoon of peanut butter along with your regular serving of cocoa. If you've opted for healthier natural peanut butter, use a form of natural sweetener, like honey or coconut sugar, so the final flavor combo isn't too bitter.
That's right folks, florals aren't just for spring - even Miranda Priestly would think this is revolutionary.
Add an elegant and fragrant touch to your cocoa with a pinch of edible lavender - the best way to do this is by reducing a good spoonful of the edible lavender buds into a sugary syrup, and then adding this to your simmering pot of melted chocolate. For a photogenic twist, use white chocolate so that the color of the flowers turns the whole thing into a lovely shade of purple - and don't forget to top with an extra sprinkle of petals! Now that's one to boast about on social media.
16 Salted Caramel
Sweet and salty - the most important of flavor combinations.
This is another flavor combo that has burst onto the scene in the last few years, and boy are we thankful for it. Originally hailing from Brittany, salted caramel combines irresistible sweetness with a satisfying salty edge. To make an equally delectable mug of hot chocolate, melt a few blocks of salted caramel in the pan first with your chocolate and milk, or squirt in a sizable amount of salted caramel sauce. Lift the flavors by adding a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Finish the sweet treat by squirting whipped cream and more sauce once you've poured it into your cup. If you like it super salty, go wild and create a salted rim or sprinkle a few more crystals on the top of your whipped cream.
Get a real bang for your buck by adding ginger to your hot chocolate. Whether you love this spice for its uses in natural healing—including relieving symptoms of nausea which we may or may not experiencing after stuffing our faces full of turkey, potatoes, and gravy —or you just love the Christmassy vibes its flavors bring, it couldn't be simpler to add to your cocoa repertoire. Simply grate some fresh ginger into the pot on medium heat before adding milk and cocoa, thus allowing the flavor to fully permeate throughout. Serve with a gingerbread man for a little extra treat that can be dunked in to your heart's content.
Recall your childhood parties by adding a splash of color to your beverage. Sprinkles are often used to spice up cakes and biscuits, but now, it's time to shake some fun into your hot choco. Whatever you call them, be it sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, or jimmies, this confectionary is a great accompaniment to other toppings, like marshmallows or cream.
Go all out and unicorn-ify your hot choc by using white chocolate instead of milk or dark, and as its cooking add a splash of food coloring. This multi-colored option will add some fun to the proceedings, but you can color coordinate if you wish with plain white, silver, or gold. Alternatively, add a touch of decadence with edible glitter.
Cookie dough lovers will delight in this combination, which unlike the others in this list, comes with an additional flavor twist. Traditional cocoa lovers can add a dollop of Lotus Biscoff spread to the chocolatey mix for a crumbly creation, of course, with a lotus Biscoff on the side for dipping; however, those with a real sweet tooth can take it a step further: white hot chocolate with a biscuity edge is a real winner. Combine milk with half an ounce of white chocolate, vanilla extract, and a tablespoon of Lotus Biscoff spread before heating. Talk about a sugar hit!
Chocolate and orange is a combination as classically Christmassy as eggnog and fighting with your annoying relatives. Rather than the latter meltdown, instead try melting some healing chocolate, with some added orange for zest and cheer.
While fruit in chocolate is loved by some and vehemently hated by others, we think it's pretty great. Unlike questionable fruit and nut bars, orange chocolate has no bits but is backed with plenty of flavor and definitely gives out distinctive cozy winter vibes. It may be tempting to go full force and chuck in a peg or four straight away, but the best way to create this hot choco mix is by gradually stirring in orange juice while the cocoa is on medium heat. Don't forget to top with grated orange zest if you've got any fresh oranges laying around - we promise, it'll heal all wounds.
Get more of those festive feels in throughout the winter season by adding a dash of cinnamon to the cocoa. Not only does it taste like Christmas, but it smells like it, too. Cinnamon is lauded for its health benefits—it's packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties—and it's great for adding depth to a dish or drink when combined with other flavors. But as a classic cinnamon hot chocolate proves, it more than stands on its own in the spices stakes.
Now, this is where the list starts to heat up a little.
Chili chocolate dates back to as early as the Mayans and the Aztecs and, today, pops up in biscuits, in cupcakes, and in regular chocolate bar form, particularly from luxury chocolatiers. Add a little pizzazz to your hot chocolate with a dash of chili powder or a go all out and let a couple of slices of actual chili heat up in the pot first before adding your milk and hot chocolate mix, so a real zingy flavor is released. A little spice is good to kick-start your metabolism and is also rich in antioxidants. So, this cocoa is basically medicinal, right?
We could hardly imagine going through a chilly winter without adding peppermint to everything and anything we can. Yes, candy canes are everywhere at Christmas, but we think the minty fresh cheer deserves to the limelight far beyond the festive season.
Mint and chocolate make a great combination, so much so that there are countless chocolate bars of the stuff and even an ice cream flavor in its honor. Add a refreshing zing to your hot chocolate by simply adding a teaspoon of peppermint extract into your milk and cocoa mix, or for those after some decadence, whip it together with cream for an even sweeter finish.
Hazelnut hot chocolate is a firm favorite of many; the nuttiness perfectly complements the sweetness and harbors a comforting earthy feel as it warms our bodies. Short of sticking your favorite bar of hazelnut chocolate in your cocoa (although this would be totally delicious; just imagine the melted chocolate...), this one can seem a little harder to recreate if you're short of an instant powder mix or without the hazelnut syrup that our favorite coffee shops boast. However, like the peanut butter option, simply head to your local health store for a tub of hazelnut butter. Blend with whipped cream and heat with milk and cocoa as normal. For an even sweeter but still nutty fix, sub in Nutella for hazelnut butter and you've got yourself a party.
7 More Chocolate
Chocolate is one of those things that you can never, ever get enough of... ever. So, it makes complete sense that a quick and easy way to take your cocoa up a level is simply by adding more chocolate! What could be more indulgent?
Here, you can experiment with different types—white chocolate melted into dark chocolate cocoa powder, Nutella stirred in with milk chocolate, dark choco on dark choco... the combinations are endless. There is literally no such thing as too much chocolate, so go wild - we're not judging.
6 Pumpkin Spice
We know, we know, pumpkin spice is as basic as wearing leggings with Ugg boots, but you know what? Some things are popular for a reason, and that reason, in the case of pumpkin spice, is because it's damn delicious.
Thanksgiving and Halloween might seem like a distant memory now, but our love affair with pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and anything pumpkin spiced is far from over. Sprinkle some of those festive feels into your cocoa by adding pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree to the milk and cocoa. The overall effect is a beverage that takes you back to the holidays.
5 Ice Cream
One for those with a sweet tooth—and who don't mind the sensation of both hot and cold on their tongue. Think back to the weekends of your childhood summers when a real treat would be a Coca-Cola or cream soda float; it's the same concept. A steaming hot cup of cocoa works best here (rather than a more lukewarm mugful); just pop a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream on top, and watch as it melts into the cocoa. You'll be left with a cooled-down and indulgently creamy drink. Parents take note: if you're worried about steaming mugs being too hot for little ones to hold, this is a great cool-down tactic (and double up on the treat value)!
Chai tea, a black tea combined with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and peppercorns, originated in India, and while it can be drunk on its own, it's often infused with hot milk as a latte.
For a sweeter alternative, brew half a cup of chai - minus the black tea - before adding it to your regular hot choco. Not only does it taste like Christmas (a theme we clearly love in this list!), but it's a great alternative to the caffeine heavy option above, especially if you're serving it to kids or sipping it after dinner. To replicate your fave takeout from the coffee shop, add a squirt of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
If you love a mocha, adding a teaspoon of coffee granules to your hot cocoa is a no-brainer. This alternative is sweeter and packs less of a punch, and you can even use the instant stuff... don't worry—we won't tell anyone. To change things up, you can switch the milk used; whether almond, soy, or full fat, the choice is yours. You'll still get all the flavorful goodness of the coffee without as much caffeine (but plenty more sugar - hey, you gotta pick your battles). We think it's a win-win situation.
Ok, we know what you're thinking - how could this possibly work? But hear us out, try it for yourself, and thank us later.
The natural subtle sweetness of bananas makes for a great base when creating smoothies, right? So, take that logic, and apply it to your hot chocolate! In order to create the best consistency, it's best to blend your banana first, so it's smoother, before adding it to the milk and cocoa. The overall result is a thicker, creamier serving, with an extra sweet hit (but, you know, from the good sugars).
More of an accompaniment than a topping, many pastries are perfect for dipping into thick hot chocolate—something many western European countries know well. Take inspiration from those in France, and dip warm croissants into your cocoa (even serving in a bowl rather than a mug for a more authentic take) or try crispy, cinnamon churros like in Spain. Be sure to shower those churros with cinnamon, too...