Is there a difference between drinking chocolate and hot chocolate?

18 Sep 2023

Autumn Food + Drink Hot Chocolate Velvetiser Recipes

Hot chocolate VS drinking chocolate… These two terms are often used interchangeably to describe this delectable beverage, but is there a distinct difference?

If you, like us, have found joy in life’s little luxuries — such as curling up on the sofa with a good book and a steaming mug of cacao — you might have pondered the distinction between drinking chocolate and hot chocolate. After all, both terms are often used interchangeably. So we thought it was time to investigate the origins of our beloved cacao bean.

Today, we’ll be embarking on a delightful journey through the cacao-filled world of these two beverages. We’ll explore every nook and cranny of their rich histories, intricate textures, and exquisite flavours.

Sit tight, hold your mug between your hands, and take a sip. Lovely, isn’t it? Now, it’s time to unravel this delicious enigma to establish their unique differences.

two women pouring hot chocolate from pan to mug

A dive into origins and culture

Before we begin to unravel the flavours, let’s trace back to the roots. After all, the history of chocolate is just as rich as its deep, comforting flavours. Cacao, the foundation of all our chocolate endeavours, has been a key ingredient celebrated in many cultures — from the Mayans all the way to the Spanish. When we think about it, it’s only natural that the taste has adapted over time to suit different palates from across the globe.

In the beginning, there was drinking chocolate

In the opulent courts of the Aztecs, only the elite drank chocolate, and it differed greatly from the milky beverages we associate with hot cacao today. They called this original chocolate drink “xocolātl”, made by mixing roasted and ground cacao beans with water and sometimes seasoning it with spices like chilli and annatto.

The concoction turned out frothy, bitter, and spicy — very different from what we now enjoy.

… And then came hot chocolate

Hot cacao’s transformation from a bitter, spicy drink to the more mellow, creamy beverage we recognize today intertwines with its journey from the Americas to Europe and the evolving tastes of the European culinary world.

Spanish explorers, when they arrived in the Aztec Empire in the early 16th century, encountered the native cacao drink. To make the beverage more palatable to European tastes, the Spaniards began sweetening it with cane sugar and honey, and later on, eliminating any spicy elements. This sweetened version became more popular and spread across Spanish aristocracy and other parts of Europe. But what about the milk element of hot chocolate? Historians believe this addition came from England and France. People wanted ways to further softening the bitter edge of the cacao and enhance its creamy texture.

So, in simple terms: drinking chocolate can be defined as the tasting and making of a beverage steeped in rich history. This drink was traditionally made by patiently folding cacao nibs and flakes into hot water upon a stovetop. On the other hand, hot chocolate refers to the sweetened powder, mixed with warm frothy milk. Or, in our case, real chocolate flakes swirled into hot milk to create a velvety-smooth treat for the tastebuds.

Either way, the result is a wonderfully delectable beverage, and that’s something none of us can deny.

Cacao beans

A difference in flavour

While both drinks champion the divine cacao bean, there’s a nuanced difference in how they communicate with the palate. Drinking chocolate, typically made with high-cacao content, dances boldly on the tastebuds with a robust depth. It’s the closest experience to drinking cacao like the Ancient Mayans once did, with pure, uncensored cacao goodness. To experience this beverage like they did in years gone by, why not try out our 100% Dark Hot Chocolate Sachets?

On the other hand, hot chocolate often harmonises cacao with milk, resulting in a gentler, creamier melody. Our well-versed mantra “more cacao, less sugar” is evident here, as higher quality drinks elevate the pure cacao notes without drowning them in sickly sweetness. Our 50% Milky Hot Chocolate is the perfect fix if you’re after an authentic yet sweet beverage.

Subtle texture distinctions

The beauty of these beverages lies not only in their taste but also in their mouthfeel. Drinking chocolate is usually denser, with a velvety consistency that’s akin to a liquid truffle, while hot chocolate tends to be lighter — more like a fluffy, foamy cloud.

Texture is extremely important to us, and we think it can completely change the way in which you experience your cacao beverage. This is one of the reasons why we invented The Velvetiser — the perfect companion for achieving that silky-smooth texture from the comfort of your own home.

Paired with our single-serve hot chocolate sachets or our hot chocolate pouches, making a hot cacao with The Velvetiser will bring a whole new experience to the table (or mug).

Ingredient variations

The distinction of hot chocolate versus drinking chocolate is also clear when we sneak a peek into what actually goes into your treasured mug.

Drinking chocolate often relies on ground cacao nibs or pure chocolate. Hot chocolate might sometimes — though not always — lean on cacao powder and can incorporate a mix of milk, sugar, and other ingredients and flavourings to capture the perfect taste.

From the crisp saltiness of our Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate to the fiery tang of our Dark Chilli Hot Chocolate, these small but mighty sachets can draw you into a world of flavours, each telling a story, each with their own distinct character. Why not give it a go?

Charcoal Velvetiser and Pod Cup

Geographical diversions

As we’ve briefly touched upon, what you receive when you order one of these beverages can differ depending on where you are in the world. Chocolate has a rich tapestry of history, so it’s only natural that different parts of the world perceive cacao in different ways.

For instance, in parts of South America, asking for hot chocolate might bring you a cup closer to what we know as drinking chocolate — thick, rich and velvety. Meanwhile, in many cafes across Europe and America, hot chocolate could refer to the lighter, sweeter, milk-infused variety (often topped with an abundance of cream and marshmallows).

The method of making

Traditionally, drinking chocolate requires melting chocolate pieces or nibs directly into hot water or milk, while hot chocolate can be crafted by whisking cacao powder with hot milk or water. The latter often allows for a faster preparation, while the former is a ritual, a pause, a moment to cherish.

If you want to make your hot chocolate making experience a mindful one, you can do so with our hot chocolate pouches made with real, grated chocolate. Embrace the decadence, go back to basics, and put a pan on your stovetop. Watch the milk slowly begin to sizzle and simmer, and generously stir in your chosen chocolate flakes.

Take a moment to watch how the two meet and embrace to create a silky smooth, inviting beverage. See our sachets as an invitation to embrace a ritual, to relish the delicate dance of flavours, and to celebrate the cacao’s journey from our St Lucia farm all the way to your cup.

For more inspiration and some of our favourite hot chocolate recipes, don’t forget that we also have a blog to guide you in making the beverage just the way you like it.

Hot chocolate in a white cup beside a vase of dried flowers

A bridge of tradition

At Hotel Chocolat, we’re on a mission. Not to reinvent, but to pay homage to both these glorious traditions. We also directly grow some of our beans on our Saint Lucia plantation, ensuring Roots to Wrapper authenticity.

So, if you’re a devotee of the dense, luxurious drinking chocolate or you lean towards the comforting embrace of milk hot chocolate, we believe we strike the perfect balance. Dive into the world of cacao, explore our selections, and find your personal preference.

Will it be Pumpkin Spiced Hot Chocolate to welcome the autumn, or maybe a rich, warming cup of Black Forest Gateau to satisfy your sweet tooth? Whichever flavour you choose, what matters most is that you make your hot cacao the way you enjoy it most.

In the end, what’s in a name? No matter if you call it drinking chocolate or hot chocolate, make it lovingly with milk or water, add flavourings and sweeteners or not — the joy and history within your cup will always remain the same.

Here’s to cacao, and to drinking it. Find your perfect hot chocolate match with Hotel Chocolat’s hot chocolate and drinking chocolate range today.