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How to Make the World’s Best Gosh Darned Mug of Hot Cocoa

Steaming cup of hot cocoa

Though I live in Seattle now, I grew up in the Northern climes of the Midwest. That meant winters were cold. Real cold. Like freezing water in midair cold. Which means a couple of things: 1. I know what it feels like to have your hair freeze to your ears when you don’t have time to dry it and are waiting for the school bus on a chilly winter’s morning and 2. I’m a whiz at making hot cocoa.

It’s true. All Midwesterners are pros at making hot cocoa.* And I’m not talking about ripping open a packet of Swiss Miss, pouring in hot water, and then sipping it as the sad little reconstituted marshmallows bob around in the mug, either. Nope, there’s no way my parents would have forked out the cash for that; they were budget-minded. Instead, I learned how to make it myself from scratch. I’ve been perfecting my technique ever since. And now I’m going to pass the recipe on to you for the low, low price of FREE!

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. Hot chocolate is also sometimes referred to as “drinking chocolate”. It is essentially exactly what it sounds like, that is, chocolate that has been melted down, mixed with milk, and is served warm in a mug. Hot cocoa is a bit different. It’s made from cocoa beans that are pressed to remove the cocoa butter and then are ground up. Alone, cocoa tastes very bitter, so it’s generally mixed with something sweeter.

Secondly, for the best mug of hot cocoa you’ve ever had, it’s important that you choose an unsweetened cocoa powder that you like. I’ve had a soft spot for Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa ever since I lived in San Francisco. When I was a kid, I always used Hershey’s Baking Cocoa. I’ve also had a lot of luck with buying Dutch processed cocoa powder in bulk, but it’s a little bit pricier. Just find the one that suits your taste buds.

Okay, now that we have that straight, let’s get to the recipe. It makes two servings in large mugs, but you can adjust according to your needs.


The World’s Best Gosh Darned Mug of Hot Cocoa

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 mugs


  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 oz half and half, whipping cream, or heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • Pinch of salt
  • Marshmallows


  1. Combine your milk, cream, cinnamon, and cardamom in a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Keep stirring to prevent your milk from scorching.
  2. Portion the cocoa powder, pepper, and salt between the two mugs.
  3. When the milk begins to slowly bubble, pour it into your mugs over the hot cocoa.
  4. Top with marshmallows.
  5. Now sip it. And sip it again. And one more time. Best gosh darned mug of hot cocoa you've ever had, right?

Anything you’d like to add? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

*This claim has not been verified by the Midwestern Council of Midwestern Stereotypes, and likely will not receive approval.

9 thoughts on “How to Make the World’s Best Gosh Darned Mug of Hot Cocoa

  • Anna

    That could NOT sound better on a day like today. I love the addition of cardamom! I have some at home I’ve been waiting to use. If you’re sharing this with a friend, I’d make sure they like cardamom first though. Some people can’t stand it.

  • R.J.

    I have no idea what cardamom is, but I look forward to mispronouncing it to an employee at PCC because I must try this.

  • Recovering Chocoholic Post author

    Funny, RJ, that’s not what your cardaMAMA said! I kid! It’s an Indian spice, also used in Nepalese and Bhutanese cuisines, that has a sort of warmness to it, sort of like cinnamon, but with a whole different and delicious flavor. It’s pronounced exactly like, “Why did your mother hand her ID over to the nightclub bouncer?” “Oh, because he had to card a mom.”

  • Recovering Chocoholic Post author

    That’s a very good point, Anna. I like to think of this recipe as a starting point that can be edited to one’s individual tastes. A little more cocoa powder? Sure, why not! Get rid of the pepper? Go right on ahead.

  • Jess

    I actually have all of those things, though it never would have occurred to me to put cayenne pepper in my hot cocoa. I’ll have to try this!

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