How to Make the Best Hot Chocolate, According to the Experts

January  6, 2016

With January comes the excitement of a new year, resolutions, layers, and the inevitable moment the temperature reads, “Feels like -4° F." For those freezing mornings and cozy winter nights, there's warming, filling, silky, chocolate-y hot chocolate to make us feel better and help us thaw out.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

To discover the secret to the perfect cup, we spoke with chocolatiers and the owners of some of New York City's best hot chocolate. Here, Dominque Ansel, Jacques Torres, Maury Rubin (founder of The City Bakery), and Michael Klug (chocolatier at L.A. Burdick) share their tips for making the best hot chocolate, from start to finish:

Start with High-Quality Chocolate

When Jacques Torres answered the phone, his Brooklyn-based chocolate factory cranking away in the background, he got straight to the point: “In order to make the best hot chocolate, you have to start with chocolate. Just like you cannot make a beautiful strawberry tart with winter strawberries that have no flavor, you cannot make good hot chocolate if you don’t start with good chocolate.”

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While it may go without saying, this tenet—that good chocolate yields good hot chocolate—is not to be overlooked. Michael Klug, chocolatier at L.A. Burdick Chocolate, told me that rather than get diluted, the chocolate's unique flavors will actually come through more with the addition of warm milk or water: "Even if there’s a little variation in the chocolate you’ll still taste it in the hot chocolate.” As Dominque Ansel puts it, "So much about making hot chocolate has to do with using really good quality ingredients." The high quality stuff is worth the splurge.

If You Use Powder, Make Sure to Use Chocolate Powder

Many hot chocolate mixes are made from cocoa powder, which is what remains of the cacao bean once the cocoa butter is extracted. “When you roast cacao beans," Jacques Torres explained, "you remove the shells and put them in equipment that crunches them and extracts the fat, or cocoa butter, used to make chocolate.”

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Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is a byproduct of making chocolate and is the primary ingredient in many powdered hot chocolate mixes. Swiss Miss, for example, uses alkalized cocoa powder, which is cocoa powder that’s been neutralized to make it less acidic and give it a mellower flavor. It’s also less flavorful than real chocolate. As Maury Rubin, founder of City Bakery, put it, “The only reason anyone uses cocoa powder is because we haven’t evolved enough as a hot chocolate civilization to make hot chocolate from real chocolate.”

Not all powdered hot chocolate is made alike. Photo by Izy Hossack

That being said, not all powdered hot chocolate mixes are made from cocoa powder. Some are made from real chocolate that's been mashed into a powder. And while many chocolate aficionados prefer to use solid chocolate, Jacques prefers the powdered chocolate as it dissolves more quickly than solid chocolate. So if you prefer powdered chocolate, read the back of the box carefully—make sure it’s the real thing.

Decide How Strong or Sweet Your Want Your Hot Chocolate

Some of the best hot chocolates tend to fall within a range, and adding a higher percentage chocolate at the start will make a richer cup. “For hot chocolate, you shouldn’t go under 60% to 63% cocoa or over 75% to 80%,” Jacques Torres said. Maury said that he uses a wide range of chocolates, as low as the fifty-percent cocoa range, but most of his hot chocolates fall in the 60% range. Dominque said, "For our hot chocolate that we serve at our Soho and West Village shops, it’s a combination of two different Valrhona chocolates (a 62% and a 70%) which gives it a really balanced, rich flavor." Still, it all comes down to personal preference.

Maury compares choosing chocolate for hot chocolate to deciding on cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich—there isn’t one right answer. He said, “You can say that cheddar makes the best base for grilled cheese, but Gruyère, havarti, and queso fresco all make a fabulous grilled cheese as well. It’s in the eye of the beholder.” It’s possible to make hot chocolate from dark, milk, and white depending on how sweet you prefer your drink to be. If you like hot chocolate but want something a little sweeter, instead of adding sugar, just swap out some of the dark chocolate for a milk chocolate.

But Remember, Chocolate Percentage Isn’t Everything

When considering which chocolate to use, don’t only look at the percentages. While cocoa percentages indicate the cocoa to sugar ratio, they don’t indicate quality.” Michael explained, “High percentages on chocolate has become an advertising tool, but it should not be the shopping criteria. The criteria should be the quality of the beans used.”

“It’s like going to a liquor store and asking for a wine with 14% alcohol content—it’s too generalized and simplified and doesn’t hold justice to what good chocolate can be.” The best way to find a high-quality chocolate? Eat a lot of it until you find a bar you like—regardless of the number printed on it.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Consider the Thickness and Feel of It

The thickness of hot chocolate is almost important as the chocolate used—especially since it can range from nearly brownie-batter consistency to water.

Because the cocoa butter in high-quality chocolate is already so rich, it isn’t always necessary to use milk with a higher fat content. Jacques uses 2% milk with a chocolate powder mixture that contains some milk powder and a very small percentage of cornstarch in it to provide a velvety sensation. Michael told me he also uses 2% milk to make the hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick, but that this also comes down to personal preference. He said, “If I take my own family, my father finds my hot chocolate too rich, while my mother doesn’t find it too rich at all.”

And then there’s incredibly rich hot chocolate—like that made at City Bakery, which contains cream. Maury explained that a thick hot chocolate will “warm you up and fill you up. It’s a whole experience.”

It’s just as important, Maury explained, to use high-quality milk as it is to use high-quality chocolate: “If you’re drinking milk from small regional farms, there’s a gigantic difference from it you’re drinking milk from an institutional dairy farm that uses stabilizers in its milk. The hot chocolate adds up to the sum of its parts.

Hot Chocolates We Love:

Make Your Hot Chocolate

Once you’ve found your perfect chocolate—powdered or whole—all that’s left to do is turn it into hot chocolate. But there are some tips to follow if you’re looking for a little more direction.


When making hot chocolate, it’s hard to go wrong if you add “too much” chocolate.

Michael said that the hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick is roughly 2.8 to 3.3 chocolate ounces to 3/4 cup of milk for a very rich cup. At Jacques Torres, they add 1 pound of powder to 1 quart of milk, then adjust the ratio of milk to hot chocolate depending on individual preference. Maury said that he would guess most hot chocolate recipes are made up of 20% chocolate, but for something special, he said, “You have to go north of that.”


Fortunately, the perfect hot chocolate doesn’t require any special equipment; as long as you have a stove, a whisk, and a sauce pot, you’re on your way.

To make hot chocolate, bring milk to high heat in a saucepan, but don’t let it boil as this will scald the milk and change its consistency. Once it’s at high heat, add in room temperature chocolate and bring to high heat again, whisking in the chocolate until it’s completely melted and being careful not to let it burn. To avoid burnt chocolate, Michael recommends bringing milk to high heat, then pouring it over chocolate.

If you prefer a frothy hot chocolate, place your chocolate in a blender, then pour the hot milk over it and immediately pulse until the milk is frothed.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Add Your Mix-Ins and Toppings


There are countless ways to serve and flavor hot chocolate—from spicy-hot chocolate to a liquor-spiked version. Maury said that he’ll add anything from “citrus to spices to nuts to beer to liquor—there are so many ways to go to town creatively with it.” At L.A. Burdick, Michael supplies a cocoa powder mixed with nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon to add on top. Dominque added, "If you want to elevate your hot chocolate even more, a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt or a splash of dark rum just before serving add a really nice extra level of depth." Take a look at your spice cabinet and play around.


Just as there are countless possibilities of things to add into hot chocolate, there are countless additions that work well on top of hot chocolate—from marshmallows, as Maury uses at City Bakery, to whipped cream. Dominque serves a cooled hot chocolate that he whips into a cream at the hot chocolate he serves at his bakeries. Jacques said, “I love to serve hot chocolate with a little bit of unsweetened whipped cream so that the cold cream mixes in with the hot chocolate. Now that’s a delicious hot chocolate.”

What's your favorite way to enjoy hot chocolate? Do you have any secrets to making the perfect cup? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • judy
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  • Mary Jean Ling
    Mary Jean Ling
I eat everything.


judy November 29, 2022
Well, I guess I am not a purist. I have tried several of the "best" chocolates to make cocoa and not really enjoyed them. I like cocoa powder. Good quality whole milk and whipping cream about 80-20. I make a thick paste of the cocoa powder in a small amount of the milk, then let it sit and hydrate. About 10 minutes or so. Or whenever I get back to it! I generally use a dark natural cocoa powder. Small farm organic one if I can find it. When the cocoa has hydrated, I add in the rest of the milk, and put on the stove to heat very slowly. Medium low to start. Add a pinch of salt, and bring to just a simmer, stir in vanilla and brown sugar. Kicking it up a notch, I'll add a bit of Irish cream. Dollop of whipped cream if I have any. Not a fan of marshmallows. Enjoy. this is thick dark rich and decadent chocolate. Sometimes we will flavor with spice like cardamom or nutmeg or anise.
jpriddy November 28, 2022
I use the best organic chocolate bar—dark chocolate from Theo is my preference. Add a small amount of powdered coffee or espresso, a tiny amount of ground chipotle, or good cinnamon just to complicate the flavor. Whole milk, with or without added cream. A bit of cornstarch added to the milk? Whipped cream on top?
lucie November 9, 2020
Sounds delicious.
I googled and Amazoned chocolate powder. Came up with Ghirardelli and Nestle (which I’m positive you’re not recommending). Everything else was cocoa powder. I was hoping for a recommendation. Thanks in advance.
jpriddy November 28, 2022
Chop up a really good chocolate bar. That is the best.
dddfff November 9, 2020
"Many hot chocolate mixes are made from cocoa powder, which is [...] Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is ... "

What, which?
Mary J. September 29, 2018
I still think no one can beat my grandmother hot chocolate..make storyshort she used a clay jug to warm the coconut milk and add shaved chocolate gradually stirr it in 8 motions till the chocolate milk gravy was serve in demi tasse cup with sugar cookie..
Jane M. October 22, 2017
Any way!
Lee G. February 3, 2016
Love this - my favourite is from a brand called NOMU: and
So rich and delicious, and amazing quality!
Michael T. January 21, 2016
Organic ingredients! I enjoy Rapunzel brand chocolate powder, maple syrup, soy milk, "half & half" cream---sometimes adding powdered cinnamon---sometimes cayenne pepper. Everything is ORGANIC-:)
Al T. January 17, 2016
Anyone here uses spanish tablea chocolate? In our country, we produced such chocolate, the smell, aroma is very very intense, and the taste is quite bitter. Of course when you brew it, you can see oil floating on top. And best of all its all natural.
Peggy L. January 16, 2016
Maury says, "“If you’re drinking milk from small regional farms, there’s a gigantic difference from it you’re drinking milk from an institutional dairy farm that uses stabilizers in its milk." Maury has been misled about fluid milk that comes from "institutional" farms. It is illegal to add stabilizers to milk. That is called adulteration.
Laura415 January 15, 2016
Ok heresy but I use several ounces of Trader Joe's huge bar of dark chocolate chopped into bits and melted in whole milk + a dollop of heavy whipping cream with a little sugar. It comes out pretty thick like a melted chocolate bar. For a special treat I'll add a splash of whiskey or leftover coffee. I like the idea of sprinkling on various peppers, spices and salt. Perhaps if I ever get bored of my version... The Bf can't have dairy milk so just saved the article on making your own non dairy milks. Will have to try them in hot chocolate.
Stacy S. January 14, 2016
My favorite is Woodblock Chocolate in Portland.
Stuart January 13, 2016
Where can one buy chocolate powder as opposed to cocoa powder? I'm only finding cocoa powder at many stores.
Jirina January 14, 2016
Check out the pictures of my procedure to know how to get the chocolate powder: Good news is that you can buy your favourite chocolate bar! :-)
Emily S. January 13, 2016
I love the comment about hot cocoa from City Bakery. Too funny. I grew up on Ovaltine because my mom viewed it as the healthiest option, so I'm still a fan of that (only I like to add a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk-the trick my dad used for his Ovaltine). My other go-to staple is Abuelita--but I'm going to have to try the recipe you have on here from Alice Medrich.
K January 13, 2016
Best indulgent add on? A nip of sherry.
judy November 14, 2020
My favorite add in is Bailey's Irish cream. Large dollop on the bottom of th cup, add my hot chocolate, and stir. Mmmmm. my cocoa recipe: 1 tbsp cocoa powder per cp of milk, 2% milk. make a past out of the cocoa and a little ilk first, until all the powder is wet. Then add rest of milk. Heat VERY slowly over low heat. This allows the cocoa powder to get really saturated and bloom. When reaches desired temp, Stir in 2 tsp brown sugar per cup of milk, or to taste, 1/2 tsp vanilla per cup, and a sprinkle of salt. Stir until all sugar is melted through. Pour into cup with Bailey's and stir. Enjoy. This is a slightly thickened liquid, due to full blooming of the cocoa powder. And I have found that I can use just about any kind of cocoa powder, from basic Nestle dark to organic that I get at Grocery Outlet, and it is ALWAY delicious. I have bought a variety of Premium cocoa powders recommended by various famous chefs, does' seem to make any difference. I do think my favorite is Grocery outlets organic cocoa. I don't know what brand, but it is off brand. And works beautifully. I will have to try using coconut milk some time. When I cn find unadulterated, unsweetened. That is difficult.
Yvonne C. January 13, 2016
I am lactose intolerant. Can you get the same results using lactose-free milk or a milk alternative like soy or almond milk?
JoAnne L. January 13, 2016
Yvonne, I make hot chocolate with my homemade vanilla almond milk (a wonderful recipe by Antonia James found on food52) or coconut milk which is truly decadent. Add some whipped coconut cream on top, delish!
Stacy S. January 14, 2016
I make a great hot chocolate using lactose free milk.
Bob P. January 13, 2016

Above is what I found when I Googled "chocolate powder." It appears there are a variety of sources.
Lilismom January 14, 2016
Lilismom January 13, 2016
Where does one purchase chocolate powder?
Leslie S. January 13, 2016
You can make it by processing chocolate in a food processor as in this article:
Lilismom January 14, 2016
Stacy S. January 14, 2016
Jean January 13, 2016
this is the link to the book that shows the Hell's kitchen recipe -'s+kitchen&source=bl&ots=Eo93iJ62Rp&sig=jYZ9N-fJkow1NTHWLZhjSASOJN0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi_2PeQlafKAhWLbz4KHUzpDTsQ6AEIITAB#v=onepage&q=Hot Damn Cocoa recipe hell's kitchen&f=false
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Jean, I don't think this link works.
Jean January 13, 2016
Darn it. Might be because it's part of the search results? I googled "Hot Damn Cocoa recipe hell's kitchen" and it was the first result.
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Ah, the joys of the love/hate relationship with technology! When I clicked on the link above, I was directed to a page with information on thyroid issues. As I was checking my email a few minutes ago, Food 52 gave me a (much longer) link that actually worked:'s+kitchen&source=bl&ots=Eo93iJ62Rp&sig=jYZ9N-fJkow1NTHWLZhjSASOJN0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi_2PeQlafKAhWLbz4KHUzpDTsQ6AEIITAB#v=onepage&q=Hot Damn Cocoa recipe hell's kitchen&f=false

Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Well, darn. I tried to cut and paste the longer address, but it doesn't show up!
Relationship with technology currently tending toward the hate side. . .
Sierra D. January 13, 2016

"this is the link to the book that shows the Hell's kitchen recipe -'s+kitchen&source=bl&ots=Eo93iJ62Rp&sig=jYZ9N-fJkow1NTHWLZhjSASOJN0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi_2PeQlafKAhWLbz4KHUzpDTsQ6AEIITAB#v=onepage&q=Hot Damn Cocoa recipe hell's kitchen&f=false "

Maybe it'll work this time if I just copy the whole email?

Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
I give up!
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Still won't give the whole address. *Gives up on making Hot Damn Cocoa mix in this lifetime*
Leslie S. January 13, 2016
Hi Sierra, here's the recipe you're looking for:
Sierra D. January 13, 2016
Thanks, Leslie!
jpoertner January 13, 2016
I want to put in a plug for Christopher Elbow's Artisanal Chocolate. I currently have his Mocha that includes coffee and vanilla bean.