“how to find the best cheap products” — kiplinger

Hot Chocolate Mix Tasting Panel

Supermarket shelves are stocked with packets and canisters of hot chocolate mix bearing a variety of brand labels. To help ward off choice anxiety, we invited seven consumers to compare three perennial favorites in a blind tasting and declare one the top hot chocolate mix.

Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate (starting at 17 cents/serving) cornered the market around our tasting table. Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Premium (starting at 40 cents/serving) finished a distant second and Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate (starting at 10 cents/serving) failed to secure any support in the quest for the best hot cocoa mix title. When we checked online reviews, however, we found that other consumers didn't always agree with our panelists.

Hot chocolate and hot cocoa are not necessarily the same thing even though the terms are used interchangeably. As you might expect, hot chocolate is made from chocolate shavings that melt in milk and hot cocoa is made from powdered cocoa. But that doesn't demean the latter, no, not at all. Powdered cocoa mixed with sugar and hot milk is the cheapest and most convenient way to go -- and many consumers assert this concoction produces the best drink. Indeed, the best hot cocoa mix dissolves into a velvety and smooth liquid that imparts a creamy taste, even if you're adding water, and smells and tastes like chocolate with a balanced sweetness.

At the store and online, frugal consumers have their pick of hot chocolate mixes created by the likes of Swiss Miss, Nestle, Hershey, and Ghirardelli, in addition to low-cost private store brands. There are also mid-price producers, such as Starbucks and Land O'Lakes, and small-scale and pricey gourmet hot cocoa mixes, such as Godiva Dark Chocolate and Bellagio Chocolate Truffle that cost more than six times the starting price of about 15 cents a cup for the best cheap hot cocoa mixes.

Like many other standard products these days, the hot cocoa mix category is sliced and diced into ever more specialty niches: hot cocoa with spices such as cinnamon, mint, ginger, and chili; hot cocoa with add-ins such as chips and marshmallows; hot cocoa with flavors such as dark chocolate, truffle, caramel, mocha, raspberry; hot cocoa for health, such as diet, sugar free, and vitamins and minerals. Still more options come in the form of packaging: canisters, single-serve packets, and K-cups (or close approximations thereof) for single-serve coffeemakers.

But if you really want to go cheap, make your own hot chocolate mix at home. A recipe from Food Network calls for powdered sugar, cocoa, powdered milk, salt, cornstarch, and a pinch of cayenne pepper; mini chips are a luxe add-in. Store the mix in an airtight container and it will keep you going through the winter and beyond.

Cocoa-lovers tip: A seemingly large number of consumers, as evidenced by comments posted online and shared during our tasting session, add a spoonful or so of hot cocoa mix to their morning coffee. This practice has the advantage of reducing the amount of sugar otherwise stirred in and creating what one reviewer dubs the "poor man's mocha."

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In this review:
  1. Hot Chocolate Mix
  2. Best Hot Chocolate Taste Test
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