I was a first time judge this year for the International Chocolate Salon’s 10th Annual Hot Chocolate Awards, sponsored by TasteTV, but I was prepared. Cacaopod has a Velvetiser — a dedicated gadget for making hot chocolate — and I have my vintage Nescafe globe mugs so I was ready to make and sample multiple cups of cocoa.
This is not an ad for the Velvetiser — there are other similar hot chocolate makers, I just haven’t tried them. This is what we use at home and have found it really convenient. It heats the milk/water to an optimal temperature, blends the ingredients thoroughly, and is easy to clean. The other ones probably do the same.
For the competition, the Velvetiser took a lot of the hassle out of the setup for me — this is the first competition where I had to prepare the entries. (In all the other competitions I sampled chocolate or candies straight out of the package, no cooking required.) I followed the instructions on each entry carefully using the specified liquid in the amount listed, but then the Velvetiser did all the work of heating, stirring, even clean-up. Another plus for a non-cook like me was that because it’s all automated I didn’t have to worry about my human error affecting the outcome.
But it was a recommendation from one of the competitors for an additional step in the preparation that made the tasting experience even better. It does require some serious self discipline though so I am not sure I will be able to apply it consistently in the future 😅
There were no SFBA competitors this year so I will start with the entries I thought were outstanding. These are entries I rated 4 or 5 on a 5-star ranking system. In addition to the one competitor’s radical suggestion, there were some other surprises for me at this level.
Panache Chocolatier Colombian Drinking Chocolate
One top tier choice that was no surprise based on their entries in other competitions was the Colombian Drinking Chocolate from Panache Chocolatier, Leawood, KS. Panache makes delicious chocolate using quality ingredients in interesting ways.
This time they opted for a simple ingredients list: Columbian chocolate that they chopped into small chunks and shaved into slivers. It smelled good, very chocolatey. And the instructions were simple: Mix with 1/2 cup warmed milk.
It was a lot of chocolate to mix into just 4 ounces of liquid and unfortunately this was the one time the Velvetiser failed me: The chunks of chocolate were too big and too many — the Velvetiser started screaming as it attempted to blend the chocolate into the milk. I had to switch to the microwave to finish melting the chocolate.
The end result was worth it — and the Velvetiser recovered just fine. The drink was a dark chocolate color and while we only used 4 ounces of milk the entry ended up with the same volume of hot chocolate as powdered entries using double the liquid — all that melted chocolate!
It had an appetizing aroma and was thick, creamy, and delicious. It tasted a little fudgey and wasn’t too sweet. It had more oomph than the powdered hot chocolates. A true sipping chocolate, it made me think of Angelina’s hot chocolate in Paris. It was so satisfying Cacaopod and I both drank our entire samples and I rated it a 5 overall — my highest rating.
In the competition Panache Chocolatier Colombian Drinking Chocolate received 5 stars for Best Richness; 4.5 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste; 4 stars for Best Texture; 3.5 stars for Most Unique, and won Silver for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate Hot Chocolate
New competitor Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate, Traverse City, MI, aspires to provide that Parisian sipping chocolate experience to anyone anywhere — and they are the ones who clued me into how to make any cup of hot chocolate better.
The instructions on the back of their packages of sipping chocolate specified amounts — 1/3 cup of chocolate in 2/3 cup of piping hot milk. The next instruction was key: “For a more intense chocolate flavor and improved viscosity, refrigerate mixture overnight and reheat.”
That sounded like a hassle — who thinks a day ahead to make hot chocolate? So I decided to try the hot chocolate immediately after I finished preparing it and then also refrigerate some to try the next day per their recommendation. I did not believe it would make a difference but in the pursuit of a fair judging experience I thought I should comply.
The chocolate was a combination of powder and shavings — thankfully smaller and more consistent in size than Panache’s Columbian sipping chocolate. It smelled like chocolate and something else — maybe coconut? No coconut in the ingredients list but there was a generic “spices” listed.
The first sip was sweet — and it tasted like apple pie spices in chocolate. It wasn’t bad, just unexpected and the spices cut the chocolate flavor that I had been anticipating.
The first day version had a good consistency — not too thin but not sipping chocolate thick. It had some grit at the end which I attribute to the spices. Not bad, but I would’ve rated it a 3 — worthy of a mention but not top tier.
The next day I reheated the refrigerated version in the Velvetiser and it was noticeably thicker. It had a richer chocolate flavor and better flavor integration: Not as apple pie spicy, more chocolatey. It also didn’t have any grit, it was smooth.
Like soup is better the second day, Ambrosia’s recommendation did make for a better cup of hot chocolate, and I rated it a 5. It also made me do the refrigerator trick for the rest of the entries and most of the time it made them better. It never made them taste worse — but I don’t know how realistic it is to expect people to make hot chocolate then wait a day before drinking it.
In the competition Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate Ambrosia Hot Chocolate received 4.5 Stars for Best Texture, Best Taste, and Best Richness; 4 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique; and won Gold for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Panache Chocolatier Aztec Gold
While it was too late for Panache’s Columbian, I was ready to try the refrigerator trick with their Aztec Gold Hot Chocolate. This time the entry was powder with some small chunks so the Velvetiser had no problem mixing up the chocolate.
Described as dark chocolate with caramel and spices it had a spicy chocolate aroma. The instructions called for making it with half water/half milk and it came out thin with no foam. I’d recommend making it with milk only for a richer mouthfeel.
The warm spices were not a flavor so much as a feeling of warmth at the back of my throat. It was mostly chocolate but I could taste caramel in the not too sweet drink. Refrigerated overnight the re-Velvetised drink was still too thin with no foam but spicier. I rated it a 4 but it would’ve been a 5 if it had better mouthfeel.
In the competition Panache Chocolatier Aztec Gold received 4.5 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Richness; 4 stars for Best Texture, Best Taste, and Most Unique; and won Bronze for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate Salted Caramel Chocolate
Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate’s other entry in the competition was Salted Caramel Chocolate. The powder and shavings mix smelled like brown sugar. The finished drink had a decent layer of foam and good mouthfeel. It was tasty with flavors of caramel and coffee in the chocolate.
Refrigerating overnight made it more complex. I could smell the caramel in the reheated drink. And the caramel overtone tasted more like butterscotch. It wasn’t salty but sweeter than I would’ve liked. Otherwise it was a satisfying hot chocolate with good chocolate flavor and mouthfeel. I rated it a 4.
In the competition Ambrosia Sipping Chocolate Salted Caramel Chocolate received 4.5 Stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best Richness; 4 stars for Most Unique; and earned an Honorable Mention for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Delysia Chocolatier Lavender Drinking Chocolate
While Ambrosia gave me an invaluable tip, it was a veteran competitor who gave me the biggest surprises. I have sampled numerous entries from Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX, and while I appreciate their adventurousness I rarely love their entries. In their complexity the entries can often seem like intellectual exercises to me that I don’t connect with. This competition was totally different — I was impressed with all 3 of their entries rating them all top tier.
It started with the Lavender Drinking Chocolate. The entry was described as a combination of milk chocolate and lavender. The mix smelled strongly of lavender but it was a good herbal lavender scent not the soapy kind.
I was concerned about how the Velvetiser would handle this entry — It was almost a full cup of powder, sugar crystals, and chocolate chips. Instructions were to mix all of it with 8 ounces of milk. Cacaopod and I laughed that the last line on the label said, “Serving size: 1.”
Maybe in Texas, but that 8 ounces of milk became 16 when the Velvetiser was done with it. The chips mostly all melted — there was a little sludge left over at the end — and there was a thin layer of foam but it was mostly a thick hot chocolate drink and more than enough for 2 servings.
The finished drink looked like dark milk chocolate and was initially very lavender tasting. It had a good chocolate taste underneath but it was too much lavender for me. It was sweet, floral, and a little grainy. On the plus side it had that good chocolate flavor and good mouthfeel — it was thick enough, rich enough.
After setting overnight in the fridge, the drink still had that initial hit of lavender and lavender throughout but it was more pleasant with a savory aftertaste. I could tell Delysia used good ingredients and the ratio was right — if you like lavender. I’m not a fan of floral inclusions but I had to say it was a successful implementation. I rated it a 4 because of its sweetness and graininess.
In the competition Delysia Chocolatier Lavender Drinking Chocolate received 4.5 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Richness, and Most Unique; 4 stars for Best Texture and Best Taste; and earned an Honorable Mention for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Delysia Chocolatier Gilded Brewing Drinking Chocolate with Espresso
Delysia’s Gilded Brewing Drinking Chocolate with Espresso was a similar chip and powder mix — this time adding gold chocolate and espresso to the dark chocolate. The dry mix had a raisiny dried fruit aroma which I assume came from the chocolate used.
The chips didn’t melt away the first time so I had to hit the mix button again. The finished drink was almost black and not foamy. It smelled strongly of coffee and caramel. It was a sweet and strong chocolate drink with a good mouthfeel — tasty but too sweet for me.
The second day version was better. It had a pronounced foam head and was more delicious if a little sweet. It tasted of chocolate and caramel — no coffee taste, it seemed the espresso was there to add depth to the chocolate. I’d prefer more espresso less sugar but it was delicious as is and I rated it a 5.
In the competition Delysia Chocolatier Gilded Brewing Drinking Chocolate with Espresso received 5 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best Richness; 4.5 stars for Most Unique, and won Gold for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Delysia Chocolatier Pumpkin Spice Drinking Chocolate
Delysia’s 3rd entry, Pumpkin Spice Drinking Chocolate, surprised me the most. I never got the appeal of pumpkin spice drinks — the spiced coffee drinks are too sharp so people tend to add a lot of sweetener to tone it down and they end up sickening sweet to me.
The mix was like Delysia’s others — dark milk chocolate powder and chips — plus some mystery white chunks. It smelled like pumpkin spice and so did the finished drink.
This time the ingredients melted completely the first time, but the drink wasn’t very foamy. My initial impression was ‘not bad’ and ‘not too spicy.’ Second sip: “This is good, a little grainy but not unpleasant.”
Third sip: “Is this dark chocolate? It’s really chocolatey and not too sweet. I like it.”
Overnight made a big difference: It was foamy and the flavors were balanced. The overnight marination mellowed the spices and melded them with the milk chocolate.
I declared it excellent! The only minus was the graininess at the end. I surprised myself and rated it a 5.
In the competition Delysia Chocolatier Pumpkin Spice Drinking Chocolate received 5 stars for Best Richness, 4.5 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste; and 4 stars for Best Texture and Most Unique.
Worth a mention
There were almost as many really good entries this time as top tier entries. While these didn’t meet my cutoff for the best hot chocolate this time, they are not slackers either and worth a mention. I rated all of these a 3.
Panache Chocolatier Berry Bramble
Panache Chocolatier’s 3rd entry was the interesting Berry Bramble. Described as dark chocolate flavored with blackberry, raspberry, and ruby chocolate, it was a not very aromatic powder. I followed the instructions to add the powder to half milk and half water, but even when thoroughly mixed and heated it wasn’t very aromatic.
It tasted chocolatey with a little raspberry and an artificial strawberry flavor that Cacaopod surmised was from the ruby chocolate. It was smooth with a thin mouthfeel but not bad. Overnight it had more chocolate aroma and a thicker mouthfeel. It was less berry tasting with a caramel overtone and a slight tang at end.
In the competition Panache Chocolatier Berry Bramble received 4 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Richness, and Most Unique; and 3.5 stars for Best Taste.
LOCOCO Hot Cocoa – Original Spice
New competitor LOCOCO, Park City, UT, makes “adaptogenic cocoa” — they add mushrooms and spices believed to have health benefits to traditional hot cocoa ingredients. They submitted their Hot Cocoa – Original Spice to the competition.
A label on the package recommended using oat milk and only 1 tablespoon of cocoa mix per 4 ounces of milk. It was interesting to me how wildly different specified ratios were in the different entries — from Delysia’s almost full cup of mix to 8 ounces of milk down to this almost a whisper of cocoa in half the milk.
The mix smelled spicy and earthy, which makes sense: There were 4 types of mushrooms plus cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne. When I mixed it all up it had a decent layer of foam but was thin with a slightly gritty texture. It tasted earthy and gingery with a little warmth from the cayenne but not very chocolatey.
It reminded me of SFBA’s The Chaga Company’s hot chocolate. I thought it was interesting but too healthy to be a satisfying hot chocolate drink. If you are trying to up your daily dose of super nutrients and adaptogens, this would be one to try.
The overnight was very foamy and smelled like Mexican Hot Chocolate. It was still gritty and spicy but now it was hot ginger hot. Not as earthy tasting and a little more chocolatey, it was better than the first try.
Finally I tried it with regular whole milk. It was less foamy than the oat milk version and smelled like spiced hot chocolate with a medicinal herb/savory overtone. It still had a thin mouthfeel and tasted healthy, not chocolatey. The overnight version was very foamy and had the same aroma. It was a little thicker and tasted like spicy Christmas cookies, It wasn’t very chocolatey and ended with a little burn. The oat milk version — either the overnight or fresh version — is better.
In the competition LOCOCO Hot Cocoa – Original Spice received 4 stars for Best Richness and Most Unique; and 3.5 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, and Best Taste.
MOCO Mexican Hot Chocolate
New to me competitor MOCO (My Original Coco), Burlington, VT, is another health oriented hot chocolate maker. In their case they add energy boosting maca powder to their mixes and use less sugar than traditional mixes. I liked a couple of their submissions.
MOCO’s Mexican Hot Chocolate was a powder that smelled like a spicy hot cocoa mix. The spiciness was good with a warm burn from chipotle chili powder but the drink was not very chocolatey. And maca added its own savory flavor which made me think of pork sausage seasoning. Cacaopod described it as a mix of floral and root. The drink ended with some grit and a floral aftertaste.
In the competition MOCO Mexican Hot Chocolate received 3.5 stars for Most Unique; and 3 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best Richness.
MOCO Peppermint Hot Chocolate
I liked MOCO’s Peppermint Hot Chocolate more. The powdered mix smelled lightly of peppermint and chocolate. I mixed it as instructed into 6 ounces of whole milk but next time I would try it with less milk to get a stronger flavor.
As it was it had a good light peppermint chocolate flavor and less grit than their Mexican Hot Chocolate. I think the peppermint did a better job hiding the maca flavor but it wasn’t chocolatey enough to be a top tier hot chocolate in my opinion. This is another healthy drink option not a decadent drink.
In the competition MOCO Peppermint Hot Chocolate received 3.5 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, and Best Taste; and 3 stars for Best Richness and Most Unique.
Bee10 Cocoa Original Hot Chocolate
The last 2 entries that I think deserve mention are probably the most unusual. Both of them are by new competitor Bee10 Coffee, West Palm Beach, FL. Their Bee10 Cocoa series features hot chocolate and honey concentrates. They submitted a couple that I thought were interesting and if you love honey and chocolate you will probably want to try these.
The use of honey instead of processed sugars is another one of those healthier iterations of hot chocolate but also made for a solid paste that was too hard to get out of the jar. I couldn’t even stick a knife into it. I had to microwave it to get it to melt so I could pour it out of the jar.
Once sufficiently melted, their original Hot Chocolate & Honey Concentrate had the texture of honey and a sour honey/ light chocolate aroma. Once it was mixed in milk it still had that sour note plus an anise/licorice aroma.
That aroma translated into an unusual sour floral taste with a savory licorice aftertaste — it wasn’t very chocolatey. It had a smooth mouthfeel with a slightly astringent effect.
The reheated overnight version came out super foamy — like twice as much foam as liquid. It didn’t taste sour anymore but still had an anise overtone. It was more chocolatey tasting but the honey was still more predominant. This was definitely a chocolate mix that benefited from the overnight refrigeration.
In the competition Bee10 Cocoa Original Hot Chocolate received 4 stars for Best Texture, Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Richness, and Most Unique; and 3.5 stars for Best Taste.
Bee10 Cocoa Chocolate Malt Hot Chocolate
The other Bee10 Cocoa entry I liked was their Chocolate Malt Hot Chocolate. The single serving size jar was filled to the brim and still required nuking to get it out of the jar and into the Velvetiser. The consistency of Hershey’s Syrup, it had a strong honey aroma over chocolate plus something savory.
The finished drink was thin, slightly malty, and sweet with a strong honey flavor. The overnight version foamed up like crazy like the other Bee10 Cocoa and still had that funky smell but the taste was more of an anise honey taste. I wonder if their drinks would taste different if they sourced their honey from different places. I’d also like to see them use different cacao sources to get a more chocolatey drink. As they are currently I think you have to love the flavor of honey to truly enjoy these.
In the competition Bee10 Cocoa Chocolate Malt Hot Chocolate received 4 stars for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Richness, and Most Unique; 3.5 stars for Best Texture and Best Taste, and earned an Honorable Mention for Best Overall Hot Chocolate.
Hot Chocolate Competition 2024
It was fun to judge a competition where I had to do some prep work beyond opening the packaging. And the fact that there were so many good or better entries made it even more enjoyable. Of course my taste and that of the other judges never line up exactly so if you want to see what they thought you can read the full list of this year’s winners.