What is the Difference? Hot Cocoa vs. Hot Chocolate

What is the difference between hot cocoa vs. hot chocolate? It’s not a title fight. They are both tremendous winners! It’s a largely historically and technologically grown difference. Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder. Hot chocolate is a liquid made from cocoa beans. Even though the terms are used interchangeably by many chocoholics, the two hot beverages are not the same. While you can still get hot chocolate, at home even the most prestigious chocolate gourmet is likely sipping hot cocoa.

Hot cocoa vs. hot chocolate? Chocolate history

The Historical Difference Between Hot Cocoa vs. Hot Chocolate

When chocolate came to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, it became available over the next century in liquid form.

Hot chocolate has the fat of cocoa butter. By the 17th century, it became wildly popular in the wealthy classes.  They purchased and sipped it in chocolate parlors, chocolatiers, and gentlemen’s clubs. Many finer homes had a chocolate pot, which was designed strictly for the preparation of hot chocolate. If the chocolate and cocoa butter separated while making chocolate, it could make an unpleasant, waxy skin on the hot chocolate. So, the chocolate pot was designed to have a sort of knobbed swizzle stick, called a molinet, in the lid to keep the chocolate blended.

hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa. chocolate pot.

While hot chocolate is exactly what it claims—hot, melted chocolate—it has been common to add cream or milk.hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa - real chocolate

Dutch chemist, Coenraad Johannes van Houten, discovered a method to separate the cocoa butter from the raw liquor in 1828. The dry cake that was leftover could be ground into fine powder—or cocoa powder. This is natural cocoa. Treating the chocolate nibs with alkaline salts mellows the flavor, lowers acidity, and helps it to dissolve more evenly in hot liquids. This is called the “Dutching process”. The product is Dutch cocoa. 

Modern Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa

Over the years, chocolate and cocoa have evolved. Gourmet hot cocoa can contain fine, pure chocolate solids. There are also many benefits of gourmet hot cocoa, including several health benefits. The shelf life and portability also make it an easy indulgence to quickly prepare. Hot cocoa can be heated with water or milk. It is less creamy than hot chocolate, but the powder is more concentrated than hot cocoa and has a more concentrated chocolatey taste. Cocoa butter, a vegetable fat, in hot chocolate coats the palate and minimizes the flavor.

hot cocoa vs. hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate is still available, often seasonally, at some chocolatiers in the United States and remains popular in Europe. It has a creamier, thicker texture than hot cocoa. The signature French style hot chocolate blends chocolate with milk, cream, sugar, and shavings or chips of bittersweet chocolate. Some versions of it are so thick they require a spoon.

Versions of hot chocolate and hot cocoa can incorporate spices, candies, fruit slices, and other flavors. Drop in a truffle for a rich hit of creamy decadence. (Keep a mini truffle box in a secret drawer!) Or, add a gourmet marshmallow.hot chocolate recipe

Varieties of gourmet hot cocoa from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory include European Dark Chocolate Cocoa, Cocoa Loco (spiced up like Aztec hot chocolate), Belgian White Cocoa, Raspberry Truffle Cocoa, and our classic Chocolate Cocoa. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also try making your own hot chocolate with the recipe below!

Easy Hot Chocolate Recipe


4 tbsp creameasy hot chocolate recipe

6 oz whole milk

2 tsp sugar

2 oz chopped sweetened dark chocolate, bittersweet (mix dark and milk!), or kid-friendly milk chocolate

1/4 tsp vanilla or other fun extract (Go bananas! Literally.)


Warm ingredients together, sparing the extract.

Heat on low to simmer, stirring constantly until well-blended.

Add the extract for the last few seconds of heating.

Garnish as desired and serve.