Hot chocolate—the drink of choice for second grade Polar Express viewings, holiday party pre–games, and every cold day ever. Essentially the official drink of winter, hot cocoa is synonymous with happiness and holiday tidings. A good cup has enough nostalgia to transport me back to Christmas morning 2007, when I wore a festive onesie, received four new Bratz dolls, and had no idea what on–campus recruiting was. In other words, hot chocolate is light and nostalgia–ridden—perfect for a college student wading through finals season.

So, what makes a cup of hot chocolate transcend from regularly satisfying to transformatively delicious? For starters, high quality chocolate that toes the line between rich and saccharine. Consistency matters, too. A good hot chocolate is silky—it doesn’t have random clumps of hot cocoa mix or a base so diluted it feels like you’re drinking hot, chocolate–flavored La Croix. Finally, ratio matters. A good cup of a hot cocoa doesn’t skimp on the marshmallows or overdo it with the whipped cream. Basically, it should taste like your mug contains about 70% more hot chocolate than toppings.

With this in mind, I set out on a journey for the best hot chocolate on campus. Every day of the work week, I pushed the boundaries of sugar consumption and devoured a cup of hot cocoa for lunch (croissants often included). What did I find? That not all hot chocolates are created equal. 

Pret a Manger: 

Disclaimer: I’m a Pret fiend. Prone to blowing all of my dining dollars at this campus coffeehouse, I thought Pret could do no wrong—that is, until I ordered the hot chocolate. 

Pret’s hot chocolate is the exact opposite of a good one. It had no distinct chocolate flavor and was so watery that it couldn’t retain heat. By the time I finished a singular viewing of the “thank u, next” music video, my hot cocoa was cold. No presumptuous holiday cheer was felt, and the hot chocolate flavors (or lack thereof) did not transport me back to my adolescent Christmases. I was still in Huntsman, procrastinating my research paper, and now regretting the fact that I spent money on what felt like a cup of hot water. 

On the bright side, however, Pret does allow you to customize the hot chocolate. While no toppings are offered, the baristas do ask what kind of steamed milk you prefer and include non–dairy options.

Rating: 2.5/10

Starbucks:

A Starbucks hot chocolate is the embodiment of a 7/10. It’s dependable, consistent, and gets the job done. Hot and definitively chocolate–y, this hot chocolate doesn’t disappoint. However, it doesn’t impress, either. It should be slightly thicker, with more a latte–like consistency. And, if you ask for whipped cream make sure you really want it, because you’re going to get an overpowering amount of it. I’m talking swirls upon swirls of whipped cream. But for the price and the quirky holiday cup it comes in, you can never go wrong.

For an added burst of flavor, sprinkle some cinnamon on top. I began doing this to my Starbucks hot chocolate in high school and it’s life changing. The added seasoning makes it taste like an entirely new and fancier hot chocolate.

Rating: 7/10

Saxby’s:


The best of the campus coffee chain trifecta, Saxby’s hot chocolate reached the illustrious title of good hot chocolate. It was silky, coating my mouth in warmth and pillows of perfectly rationed whipped cream. It was rich yet sweet, and tasted like biting into a slightly melted chocolate bar. By hitting all the right notes, this hot chocolate transported me back to my childhood. On days when adulting seems a little too challenging, order this hot chocolate.

Rating: 9/10

Metropolitan Bakery & Café:

Photo: Beatrice Forman

Yes, Metro serves regular hot chocolate. I’m sure it’s delicious, but right now that’s not the point. After what I’m about to tell you, you’re never ordering regular hot chocolate again. 

Three words: tahini hot chocolate. The heated equivalent of Goldie’s tahini milkshake, Metro uses the sesame–based, creamy, and nutty Middle Eastern sauce to create the immersive hot chocolate experience I never knew I craved. The beverage is thick yet smooth, mirroring the consistency of homemade chocolate milk. It tasted of expensive, hazelnut–infused chocolate, with a welcome nutty aftertaste. Topped with aesthetically–pleasing whipped creamed and two types of festive colored chili powders, this hot cocoa is more complex than a Math 104 midterm. It’s part sweet, part spicy, part savory, and all–around addictive.

Rating: 10/10

HipCityVeg:

Photo: Beatrice Forman Photo courtesy of HipCityVeg.

“Why does there even need to be vegan hot chocolate?” asked my friend when I begged her to go on this whirlwind hot chocolate adventure. Technically, she raises a fair point. You can make hot chocolate without steamed milk, so technically hot chocolate already is vegan. But to answer her question, it exists because it’s  delicious.

HipCityVeg’s hot chocolate verges on being a warm milkshake. Mirroring the batter–like consistency and presentation of City Bakery’s now iconic hot chocolate, this beverage could turn even the staunchest carnivore vegan. HipCityVeg blends Dutch chocolate, coconut milk, cinnamon, and vanilla for this masterpiece, creating a flavor profile that you wouldn’t expect from a fast casual restaurant, no matter how trendy. It tastes like rich milk chocolate with a subtle spicy aftertaste, revitalizing your tastebuds from a coma of dining hall coffee. 

Rating: 8.5/10


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