The simplest and most delicious way to make a true cup of hot cocoa is from a mix of cocoa powder, sweetener and milk. Every mellow and sweetly rounded sip of this classic drink imparts a magical feeling of comfort during the cold winter months. Why not share this magical treat with friends during your next winter get-together via a festive homemade hot cocoa bar?
Hot cocoa bar essentials
Craft interesting hot cocoa libations from just a few essential elements — hot cocoa, flavorful add-ins, spirits and garnishes. You can set out thermoses of pre-mixed cocoa along with an array of add-ins and toppings, or opt to tend the bar and brew the cocoa one mug at a time.
Don't mistake instant hot cocoa for the real deal, made with cocoa powder. Only unrefined cocoa powder, with all of the cocoa bean solids intact, produces the deepest, fullest flavored cup of hot cocoa. The beneficial cocoa solids in cocoa powder tend to settle to the bottom of your mug, so always serve it with a spoon for stirring as you drink it.
Cocoa production is fraught with social justice, labor and environmental problems in many of the third world areas that it is produced. To brew a better cup of hot cocoa, be sure you select certified organic, fairly traded cocoa powder which helps assure sustainable, socially responsible production at the source.
For your hot cocoa bar, start with our Classic Hot Cocoa recipe.
Add-ins: The complex flavor of cocoa pairs well with a variety of things, especially spices and fruit. Try simmering spices, orange peel and even chai tea in the milk along with the cocoa powder, or allow guests to add a sprinkle of spice or a dash of flavor (like peppermint flavor or vanilla extract) to their mugs. Boost the chocolate flavor and silky texture with crushed cacao nibs. Granulated sugar is the classic sweetener but alternatives such as honey and agave syrup could be used as well.
Alcohol: Give adults at your party the option to spike their cocoa with spirits such as peppermint schnapps, brandy and fine fruit liqueurs such as orange, cherry and raspberry.
Garnish: Sophisticated garnishes go way beyond mini marshmallows and peppermint candy. Try a variety of whipped creams with spices and fruit folded in to compliment the add-ins you've used in the brew. Use a small grater to grate whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and chocolate bars into the cups, or use cinnamon sticks as festive stirrers.
Modifications: Nothing replicates the silky texture of whole organic cow's milk, but substitutes such as soy, almond and rice milk can be used to brew your hot cocoa. Alter the sweetener if need be and watch that you don't overheat and break the milk into a curdled appearance.
The next level: Three cocoa powders, three flavors
Frontier Co-op carries three organic, Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa powders — Dutch-processed (alkalized), natural (non-alkalized) and black. The differences in pH among these cocoa powders results in three different flavor profiles. Take your hot cocoa experience to a gourmand level with recipes specifically crafted to complement each cocoa powder below.
Dutch cocoa powder is made by treating the cocoa bean paste with an alkalizing agent, creating a less tart, more rounded and familiar cocoa flavor. In hot cocoa, its flavor pairs well with nutty add-ins such as almond and hazelnut as well as spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It has a darker brown color and dissolves more readily with less whisking.
Natural cocoa powder is made by pressing the cocoa bean paste with no additional processing after the cocoa butter is removed. Natural cocoa powder retains some of the tart, raw flavors and slightly more of the unaltered antioxidants found in the cocoa bean. In hot cocoa, its flavor pairs well with fruity add-ins such as orange, raspberry and cherry. It has a lighter brown color and is slightly less soluble in liquids than the other cocoa powders.
Recipe: Orange Peel-infused Hot Cocoa
Black cocoa powder is a more heavily alkalized version of Dutch cocoa powder that creates a dark black-colored powder. Black cocoa powder has a deep, one-note yet intense chocolate flavor that pairs well in hot cocoa with bold add-ins such as peppermint and coffee.