I'm not the biggest fan of winter (aka being cold), but one thing I do look forward to each year is consuming an excessive amount of hot chocolate. I don't drink coffee and tea is nice at times, but a good cup of hot chocolate can warm up any frigid day.
Of course, no two kinds of hot chocolate are ever the same. And thus we have: Hot Chocolate Wars. How would you judge all the options out there? Here are my thoughts on the four brands I've had recently:
Starbucks. Sometime in 1998, Starbucks appeared on the corner of Main Street and Diamond Spring Road in Denville, NJ, and it changed my life. I wasn't into the high school party scene and the diner was starting to get old. Starbucks became my haven. It was my second date with my first boyfriend (first date was Titanic and Taco Bell. Oh yeah.), the setting for many nights of girl talk, and the perfect spot for catching up with old friends during college breaks.
Since I don't drink coffee, hot chocolate was my go-to drink during all seasons, so I developed quite an affinity for the Starbucks brand over the years. Eventually I added the caramel syrup, which was a nice touch, and then moved on to mint. But then I discovered the peppermint syrup one Christmas. Now, every year I yearn for that first cup of Starbucks Peppermint Hot Chocolate and usually hold out until my first day of Christmas shopping in the city. Even today I still think Starbucks hot chocolate is the best of the gourmet options, and surprisingly at $2.85 for a "tall" its not the most expensive. Some of the shops themselves have expanded a little too much, but at many you can still find a cozy corner to snuggle up and read a book or catch up with a friend.
Seattle's Best. A new Seattle's Best was put up across the street from my office this summer, but as a non-iced coffee drinker I haven't made it over there many times yet. Finally, just this week I stopped in to try their peppermint hot chocolate, curious how it compares to Starbucks. For a hefty $3.25 I got a medium (they don't use fancy names for sizes).
On its own, I suppose the hot chocolate is decent, but their peppermint syrup was far too sweet for my taste. It also wasn't very hot (a common problem with coffee shops) and the people at this Seattle's Best always seem a little confused. I wouldn't go back for the hot chocolate, especially at that price.
Good ol' Swiss Miss. I grew up drinking Nesquik (which I swear I used to call it Nestle's Quik, did they change the name?) - you know, the kind you make with milk? So I was never really exposed to Swiss Miss until college, or perhaps even the workplace kitchen. I vaguely remember my mother saying she despised water-based hot chocolate so it was banned from the house. One thing about Swiss Miss is that every cup is pretty much the same. I've never had a bad packet. It's a solid option for daily consumption of hot chocolate, as long as you discover your preferred ratio of water to Swiss Miss mix.
My only beef with Swiss Miss concerns the marshmallow version. It's a fun alternative in theory, but the miniscule marshmallows melt as soon as they hit the hot water so you never really get to enjoy them. Best part? At most places you find Swiss Miss (the office, hotel continental breakfast bars, etc.), it's free!
Pods. We also have one of those Keurig coffee machines at home that takes pods. I got a box of the "Chocolat Chaud" pods from Green Mountain ($30 on Amazon for 24 pods, so its works out to be cheap) and they are alright, but my advice for Keurig users is to use a regular size mug, but hit the button for extra tall mug, otherwise the result will be too thick. At least it's super hot - much hotter than any coffee shop.
I'm sure I'll try more options over this winter, but these are the four at my greatest convenience. Cheers to a long and absurdly freezing winter.