One of my lingering memories of road tripping around Italy was the quintessentially Italian experience of standing at a coffee bar (or two) and sipping a tipo denso hot chocolate. The Italian hot chocolate will redefine your notion of liquid chocolate enjoyment: it is rich, dark, dense, indulgent, and if you’re lucky you’ll have the enjoyable decision of whether to slurp your drink or eat it with a spoon – it’s that thick and luscious.
Luckily, Italian-style hot chocolate – and its cousin, the French hot chocolate, which is less thick in consistency but still rich – is available here in London. It can be found in some national coffee chains and also more exclusive, upmarket bakeries, but, not surprisingly, the quality varies from place to place, as does the price, and so on. Having tried a number of them at different times, I found myself wondering:
Which one is the best?
Is it fair to assume that the more expensive or upmarket the coffee shop, the better the hot chocolate?
The Ultimate Hot Chocolate Taste Test…
In the pursuit of answers, I decided to do a taste test of three Continental hot chocolates from three well-known, different bakeries/coffee shops, all available on the high street in London. The conditions were:
- I bought all three fresh and tasted them in the same sitting
- I assessed them based on appearance, taste, and value for money
- For additional verification, I got somebody else to blind taste them too, and give me their verdict – and our verdicts matched 🙂
The Hot Chocolates on test…
- The Hot Chocolate Milano from Caffe Nero (£3.25, one size)
The Italian high street coffee chain describe their hot chocolate as ‘sumptuous’, and the Milano (their Italian-style hot chocolate) being the ‘most decadent’. It is summed up as ‘rich, smooth liquid chocolate’
- The Hot Chocolate from Paul (£3.15 for a large size, available in three sizes)
Paul is the upmarket French patisserie and bakery chain, so you would expect them to offer an authentic French hot chocolate. They describe their hot chocolate as ‘thick, dark, rich’ and ‘famous’
- The Chef’s Hot Chocolate from Dominique Ansel (£4 for a large size, takeaway (£4.50 eat-in))
The Rolls Royce of bakeries, it’s no surprise Dominique Ansel also offers a rich hot chocolate which it says is ‘homemade’ – it is also the priciest of the three on test
Three hot chocolates, three different brands – let the taste test begin…
1) Price and value for money
Caffe Nero – £3.25 for 10 fl oz – 32p per 100ml
Despite being an ubiquitous coffee chain, this is quite expensive. It is one of the priciest items on Caffe Nero’s menu, and only available in one size.
Paul – £3.15 for 16 fl oz (£3 for 12 fl oz; £2.90 for 8 fl oz) – 19.6p per 100ml
This was a real surprise. If you scale up and go for the large size (and why wouldn’t you, it’s hot chocolate), then this is great value for money, cheaper than the high street brand.
Dominique Ansel – £4 for 10 fl oz – 40p per 100ml
No surprise here. The bakery which charges £6 for slices of (very good) cake and pastries has the most expensive hot chocolate.
Value for money winner: Paul
The clear winner in terms of value for money, but it’s only real value for money if it looks and tastes good. Let’s see…
Caffe Nero: This hot chocolate had a light froth on top, and was a rich, dark colour. Its consistency was lightly viscose, so no need to decide between spoon or sip – it’s definitely a sipper.
Paul: This was also lusciously dark and rich in appearance, but no froth. It was the darkest of the three on test, and looked like a lake of molten chocolate. Yum.
Dominique Ansel: this was the lightest and least rich looking of the hot chocolates. It looked more like chocolate milk (which it technically is, but we’re after liquid chocolate here), and was the least thick of the three being tested.
Appearance winner: Paul
Deep, dark, and rich, this hot chocolate looked like smooth molten chocolate, and both myself and my blind taste tester thought that this was the most aesthetically appealing of the three. However, ultimately it’s all in the taste, so to the final assessment…
Caffe Nero: what hit me straightaway was the sweetness of this hot chocolate vs the others. I could only have known this tasting them side-by-side. The sweetness was from sugar rather than chocolate, which leads me to think that this hot chocolate has less quality chocolate, and more sugar and thickeners to make it rich and dense. Of the three, this was the lowest quality in flavour and overall taste.
Paul: this was smooth, rich, chocolatey, and reassuringly thick (although still a sipper). I could definitely taste chocolate over sugar, so this was a good balance between sweet, creamy, and bitter from the chocolate.
Dominique Ansel: this was the least sweet of the three, and I’m guessing it’s because it has more chocolate and cream than sugar and thickeners. It was the best quality of the three, but it was not as sweet and decadent as I would have liked in a thick, rich hot chocolate. However, if you are having their Blossoming Hot Chocolate (with the marshmallow which opens up inside it – it’s unique to the bakery), then maybe the mild sweetness of the drink itself will balance out the sweetness from the marshmallow.
Taste winner: Paul
Both myself and my blind taste tester agreed that the Paul hot chocolate edged it over the others. It was smooth and sweet without being cloying, and had the rich quality taste of chocolate.
Overall verdict, and the winner…
None of these hot chocolates were the real deal – all of them were sippers, and none required a spoon. However, they were not all the same, and tasting them proved that the more exclusive and expensive product is not necessarily the best. In fact, the winner is also the one that is easily the best value for money…
The winner: Paul!
The Paul hot chocolate won in all the categories of appearance, all-important taste, and pocket-pleasing value for money. It was almost half the price of the Dominique Ansel one (in terms of price per 100ml), but tasted better (although it was close). If you really love it, you can also buy the 1 litre cartons to make your own hot chocolate at home, for an even more economical £5.95 per litre. The commercial high street version at Caffe Nero came last because of its saccharine taste and relatively poor value for money.
I had been a hot chocolate snob until I did this taste test, assuming that the most expensive would be the best, but I’m pleased to say that this isn’t the case.
If you have a firm favourite amongst these, or another brand, what is it? If you agree or disagree with the taste test results here, let me know your thoughts!