Is There Really a Difference Between Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate?

Christmas, Cook, Drink, Entertain, Holiday Gift Guide, Holidays, Holidays

Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa seem to be the holiday versions of “tomayto” vs. “tomahto.” Is there really a difference? We reached out to Gloria Tai, our Senior Sourcing Manager, here at Williams Sonoma to give us the full scoop.


Photo Credit: Jennifer Tyler Lee.


Hot chocolate and holidays go hand in hand. Together, they hold a certain nostalgia for many, whether it’s cozying up in a thick sweater, furry slippers, sitting by a crackling fire, or after a few fun lively laps around the ice rink, with rosy cheeks and noses. Nothing quite compares to the warmth of holding a steaming mug of hot cocoa and the emanating sweet aroma.

But wait. Is it hot chocolate, or is it hot cocoa? Are they the same?

The answer is no, even though the two terms are often used interchangeably and many assume they are one and the same. So let’s set the record straight. A classic hot cocoa contains cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. Think Swiss Miss and a sweeter, thinner, milder flavored drink. Hot chocolate on the other hand is made with real chocolate, usually chopped or shaved and added to either cream, milk, or water, resulting in a fuller bodied beverage that’s less sweet and also goes by the name “drinking chocolate”, a term often used with European counterparts. The famous Café Angelina in Paris prides themselves on their version of chocolat chaud, super rich in flavor and very thick in texture, almost pudding-like.

How to Host a Hot Chocolate Party

The original hot chocolate dates back at least 2,500-3,000 years ago in Mesoamerica. Cocoa beans were ground and consumed primarily as a beverage named by the Mayans, xocolātl, possessing medicinal properties with a more bitter and spicy flavor profile as chiles were infused into the drink. When explorers brought cocoa beans back to Europe, hot chocolate grew in widespread popularity, with new variations on the flavor and texture. In the mid-1800’s, steam powered machines began processing cocoa powder, a faster and less expensive method of cocoa production.


These days, both hot chocolate and hot cocoa are savored everywhere and are blended with every flavor under the rainbow, pumpkin spice to peppermint, red velvet to Mexican (a much sweeter take for modern palates), or even spiked.

This season, Williams Sonoma brought back our favorite flavors from the classic to salted caramel, but the newest addition to our hot chocolate family is the Vanilla Hot Chocolate with marshmallows, a fun medley of shaved semi-sweet chocolate with tiny marshmallows that melt right into the drink, a hot chocolate party in a mug!

Check out our Hot Chocolate Shop to check out all our varieties of hot chocolate!

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