It’s that time of year again. Short, chilly days prone to bracing (or freezing, depending on your perspective) winds. Frosty mornings, days which turn quickly to night. Winter is to hot chocolate, as summer is to cider – eliciting a kind of pavlovian response involving pulling on a pair of PJs, snuggling into the sofa and wrapping your hands around a steaming, chocolaty mug.
When I was growing up, hot chocolate was a huge treat, and choice was limited to Bournville Cocoa (for the posh people) or good old Cadbury’s Drinking chocolate for the rest of us. It was cloyingly sweet and there was always a skin on top of it. These days, we are utterly spoilt when it comes to our cocoa choice. The supermarket shelves are literally groaning with different varieties of hot chocolate, from the bog standard to the fancy, from super indulgent to lo cal, with all kinds of added flavours (salted caramel and chilli are currently trending), crazily indulgent liquid chocolate bars such as Cadbury Wispa, Aero and Maltesers, and, of course, the ubiquitious Fairtrade labels.
I was asked by the Pyjama Store to taste a load of different hot chocolate brands, in exchange for a review. 8 nights of snuggling on the sofa in fluffy PJs with a cup of for 500 words! Deal.
1. Hans Sloane Pure Milk chocolate beads
The kids grabbed this one first. Not surprising given that it is nothing more than shiny globules of milk chocolate. It was a bit tricky to make for little ones, as you have to get the milk really really hot in order to get the beads to melt. I had no idea how to get the correct bead to milk ratio – who is going to bother to weigh out 35g? Once melted, the beads created an insanely rich and thick beverage. “It sets your teeth on edge” said my sister. “Like drinking melted chocolate buttons” said my Mum. “Would be good in a tiny espresso cup, but that’s about it” commented a visiting friend. The kids’ reaction? “too sweet”!. 7/10
2. Hasslachers Solid Bar Columbian drinking chocolate
This looked as though it was trying the hardest. Earnest packaging covered with worthy claims. The kids immediately shoved a handful into their mouths, and were utterly disgusted. Half chewed chocolate gloop all over my sofa as they spat it out. It has no added sugar and a horribly bitter taste, but then I’m no chocolate connoisseur. These big round chocolate discs posed way more of a problem than the beads – they were literally impossible to melt into the milk (I read later that you are supposed to melt them in a pan before adding milk – doh!). The addition of hot milk created a waxy, grainy drink which looked and tasted vile. This “purest solid drinking chocolate” was denounced as “bitty”. “Tastes like cooking chocolate, but worse” said my Mum. This hot chocolate royalty may have been “cultivated under the shade of native canopy trees” but that didn’t help the end result. 2/10
3. Charbonnel et Walker Drinking Chocolate
This was another posh one. “Raw” it passed the kids’ taste test, And mine, as it was essentially little chocolate shavings. It didn’t require any extra sugar, was rich without being cloying but had a rather pungent and unappealing aftertaste. I added VERY hot milk (for fear it wouldn’t dissolve properly like earlier efforts) it still didn’t melt properly, and was quite bitty. This one was a hit with the kids though, who liked the chocolatey residue left all over the cup. 6/10
4. Waitrose Luxuriously rich, intense and velvety drinking chocolate
The kids eagerly dipped their fingers into the raw mixture. “Yuck” was the reaction. Not sweet enough. When made up with milk, it had a somewhat artificial flavour with a slight chemical undertone. None of us enjoyed this one much. 4/10
5. Twinings Swiss Chocolate drink
This wasn’t overly chocolatey, and comments hovered around the “pleasant” and “nothing outstanding” spectrum. “Like something you’d get in a café” murmured a visiting friend. “Alright” said my kids. Verdict – distinctly average. 5/10
6. café Direct Rich hot chocolate THE WINNER!
This was described on the packaging as being “luxuriously chocolatey, sublimely creamy with the added bonus of being sourced direct from growers”. We all found this one rich but not too sweet, particularly as compared to some of the others we’d tasted. The flavour was excellent, rich and lingering in a good way. And yes, it was creamy. 9/10
7. Sainsbury’s drinking choc made with fairtrade cocoa and sugar
Bland and over sweet, this one lacked depth of flavor and had an unpleasantly powdery consistency. 3/10
8. Green & Black’s Organic
I tried this solo, when everyone was in bed and I needed a little chocolate pic me up. I liked it. Not too sweet and fairly smooth. A “grown up” hot chocolate, not too flashy, with a sensible taste. 7/10