How To Level Up Your Next Hot Chocolate

There's nothing so comforting as hot chocolate. Whether you're settling in for an evening on the couch, or are just trying to keep warm on a cold day, hot chocolate is the perfect drink to keep the winter blues at bay. But despite its comforting qualities and undeniable tastiness, hot chocolate is sometimes relegated to being a drink of convenience.

For many, preparing hot chocolate is as simple as tearing open an envelope of sweet cocoa mix and pouring it into a mug with hot water or milk. And while instant hot chocolate mix is certainly a nostalgic treat, there's so much more to making hot chocolate than pouring and stirring. One way of leveling up your hot chocolate game is by steaming your milk, as you would with a latte, to give your drink a sophisticated and foamy twist. Additionally, your milk steamer can act as the perfect mixing device for your powder mix. But if you're feeling really creative, you can make yourself a chocolate latte of sorts by making a chocolate syrup base and layering steamed milk on top. You can even try your hand at making latte art to polish off your drink with a flourish. 

Of course, adding steamed milk does more than give your hocho a sophisticated twist, it also enhances its flavor. Steaming milk gives it a creamier, thicker texture, due to air released in the steaming process. Additionally, steaming your milk enhances its sweetness, making it the perfect complement to your chocolate base. This small addition can add a sense of luxury to your cup. Of course, there are infinite ways to enhance the chocolatey staple, and steamed milk is just the start.

Hot chocolate around the world

So maybe using a milk steamer seems intimidating, or perhaps you're simply not a fan of lattes. This doesn't mean that you can't benefit from changing up your hot chocolate game. After all, there is a whole world of hot chocolate out there for you to explore. From Colombia to the Netherlands, many countries put their own unique twist on the drink.

Mexican hot chocolate, for example, uses a solid chocolate base called chocolate de mesa, or table chocolate, that's mixed with hot water to make hot chocolate. Traditionally, the table chocolate base contains cacao paste along with sugar and cinnamon. The addition of cinnamon adds warmth and a small level of spice. More intense spices like chili can add even more heat to hot chocolate. But beyond adding heat to your cup, spices can help to bring out the often overlooked nuances of chocolate's flavor profile.

Another take on hot chocolate is French hot chocolate. Unlike Mexican hot chocolate, which uses spice to bring out the complexities of the cacao bean, French hot chocolate embraces decadence (and dairy). The key to making French hot chocolate is combining high-quality chocolate — you'll want a bar that contains at least 70% cacao — with milk and cream. French hot chocolate is thick, with a consistency closer to a dipping sauce than a beverage. The confection is often served with a heaping side of whipped cream, making the indulgent drink even more delicious. These varying approaches to making hot chocolate highlight the possibilities of the beverage outside of the usual, mass-produced envelope.

Simple twists and toppings

Of course, if finding a whole new approach to making hot chocolate is too much, you can always embrace some smaller, simpler enhancements: Try your hand at the toppings. Making homemade marshmallows can add an impressive twist to even the most basic cup of hot chocolate. Home-making your marshmallows also allows you to add unique flavors like peppermint, which go beyond the possibilities of your usual bag of Jet-Puffed. Whipped mascarpone topping is another way to go. Mascarpone, the smooth Italian cream cheese best known for its use in the espresso-based dessert tiramisu, can take your hot chocolate beyond the usual whipped cream and marshmallows. Putting whipped mascarpone on your hot chocolate can lend a sense of luxury.

If you're looking for a more adult add-on, you can always add a shot of espresso to your cup. The rich flavor of espresso can help to highlight the chocolate flavors of your drink while also kicking up the caffeine content. Then again, you might want to take your drink in a more leisurely direction. Coffee liqueur is a great hot chocolate addition for coffee lovers and cocktail enjoyers alike. But if you're not a coffee fan, bourbon is also a great boozy addition for hot chocolate lovers seeking an adult version. Regardless of what you choose to add to your cup, when it comes to making hot chocolate, there really are no limits, except your imagination.