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Must. Drink. Now: Real Hot Cocoa, 5 Ways

hot cocoa purple mittens
Photo by Josh Laverty / iStock

Nothing puts the exclamation point on a cozy night in like a cup of hot cocoa. It’s the perfect sipper for reading stories by the fire or cuddling up with your little cutie on the couch. Sure, the packaged mixes are easy (just dump it in a cup and voilà!). But the made-from-scratch versions of this special treat are far tastier and—it turns out—super simple, too: You only need five ingredients, most of which you likely have on hand. Get little ones in on the measuring and mixing action, as well as any marshmallow-plopping.


Easy Homemade Hot Cocoa

*Makes a single serving


  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons white sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 8 ounces milk (regular, almond, soy, coconut, etc.)


  1. Put the cocoa powder, sugar, salt, water, and vanilla in a cup and mix it together until it forms a thick paste.
  2. Heat the milk on the stove over medium-low heat until warm. Do not let it boil. Add the milk to the cocoa mixture and stir until mixture is completely dissolved.

5 Fun Ways to Mix It Up

  1. Go for a classic finish with mini-marshmallows or whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder or a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
  2. Traditional Mexican hot cocoa merely calls for milk and a Mexican chocolate, like Ibarra. But for the spiced version many of us know and love, simply add dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg (and cayenne if that’s your groove) to the paste in our recipe above. Use a cinnamon stick as a straw.
  3. For festive flair, substitute peppermint extract for the vanilla and add a candy cane for stirring. We’re also crushing on this white chocolate take from Gimme Some Oven.
  4. Give your mug a trendy twist by adding 1-2 tablespoons of salted caramel sauce (plain caramel sauce will do, too) to your cocoa paste. Top it all off with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce and a sprinkle of sea salt.
  5. Orange and chocolate are two flavors that really like to party together! Use a vegetable peeler to take 2-4 strips of peel from an orange and put them in the milk before you begin to heat it. Pull them out just before you mix the warm milk into the paste, and then garnish with a fresh peel.
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