Instant reactions: sweet to sandy
Cocoa evokes memories of childhood. For many, that meant bitter unsweetened cocoa spooned into a mug filled with steaming milk and as much sugar as you could beg. A real marshmallow floated about, melting into a creamy circle.
Fast forward to busy schedules, less time for the kitchen, and instant hot cocoa mixes. The basics are whey, sugar, and cocoa, with plenty more if you glance at the ingredient lists. Like making a cup of tea, you can zap hot water in a microwave and add the mix. It’s quick, hot, and chocolaty. Well, sort of.
We tasted hot cocoa mix brands without dehydrated marshmallows, so nothing would interfere with the taste. Alas, several entries had sugar as the first ingredient, even before you got to the cocoa. One mix listed sugar, dairy solids, corn syrup, and vegetable oil – all before the cocoa.
There was no clear winner, but Hershey’s Goodnight Kisses got three out of eight votes. One tester suggested we were choosing the “best among a mediocre bunch.” One brand elicited both enthusiasm and dissing. Best Friends Cocoa received comments ranging from “the most cocoa-like initial odor” to “has the texture of dirt.” At $4.49 for 8 ounces, it is also the priciest. Best Friends is the only brand that doesn’t list sugar first; nonfat dry milk tops the list.
When the tasting was over, one person took all her half-finished cups and poured them together. “Now that tastes chocolaty,” she exclaimed.
Best Friends Cocoa, Traditional
$4.49 for 8 ounces
There are no single serving envelopes. You stir 4 tablespoons of the mix into a 6-ounce cup of boiling water. “Serious chocolate, slightly bitter in a good way. Very satisfying,” said one. Others: “Less sweet than others, more cocoa-ish.” “Coats the tongue, not smooth.” “Not sweet enough.” “Sandy.” “Flavor is light.” “Texture a little like dirt, great taste but not worth the texture.”
Hershey’s Goodnight Kisses, Milk Chocolate Flavor Winner
$1.59 for 4 1.25-ounce envelopes
When it was revealed this got three best votes, one person said, “They do know their chocolate.” “Smooth, more milk-flavor than others.” “Very good.” “Nice and simple, mild flavor.” “Flat and bland.” “Smells like the other ones. Is my nose broken? My mouth must be too, tastes about the same as others.”
Nestle, Milk Chocolate Flavor
$1.89 for 10 0.71-ounce envelopes
The words milk chocolate are in bold white on a light brown banner on the box. The word flavor is visible, but is in a smaller font and a tan color, neither easy to see nor easy to read. “Aroma good, taste is thin.” “Sweet. Tastes OK, but not very strong.” “Velvety smooth, almost to the point of slimy rich. Very sweet.” “Cloyingly sweet, aftertaste, thin.” “Smells like hot chocolate but the taste is overpowered by the sweetness.” “Watery! Too sweet.”
Shaw’s Hot Cocoa Mix, Rich Chocolate Flavor
$1.29 for 10 1-ounce envelopes
This entry had the dubious honor of getting no votes for best or worst, prompting one taster to say, “In a universe of faint praise, I guess it is the winner.” “Tastes flat,” says another. “Some aftertaste.” Two people said, “Nice vanilla smell.” “Smells like vanilla, not chocolate.” One commented, “Doesn’t taste like chocolate, but still good.” Yet, another: “No cocoa taste.”
Swiss Miss, Milk Chocolate Flavor
$1.99 for 10 1-ounce packages
This package has a red banner and bold white letters reading milk chocolate. But the word flavor is in a small, narrow, light brown. Get out your strongest lenses. “Good aroma, not too sweet, good cocoa flavor,” said one. “Sweet and slimy, mild flavor,” said another. “Odd taste.” “Right taste.” “Pure chemicals.” “Color is the darkest; not enough cocoa and no smell of cocoa.” “Light chocolate flavor. Aroma fair.”