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Hot Chocolate Tasting - Round I, tasted on January 15, 2005 — The last three weeks have been among the coldest I have ever seen in Seattle. The east coast was warm and we were sitting here freezing our asses off. I'm not a big coffee drinker so one of the only hot drinks that's an option for me is hot chocolate. Needless to say when my friends came up with the idea of a hot chocolate tasting, I immediately signed up. (Both Alex and DebDu made the suggestion, but I think credit should ultimately go to DebDu since she actually made it happen.) I was pretty excited to say the least.

A few days before the event DebDu told us the rules:

  • Our goal is to find the best hot chocolate – that means tasting both mixes and cocoas. It means not making any cakes.
  • We’ll use the recipe on the package for each.
  • Where the type of milk is not specified (it’s usually not) or where the recipe specifies either water or milk, I will use 2% milk. Why 2% milk? That’s what we typically have in the house & I want to the hot cocoa we select to taste GREAT as an everyday cocoa.
  • I’ll have some palate cleansers – banana bread & angel food cake [and Sophie's doughnuts].
  • I will have fresh marshmallows.

As it turns out, it's hard to try ten different hot chocolates. That said, our palates didn't get too tired as our favorite came near the end and it was very easy to recognize. The palate cleansers helped too. There wasn't a spit bucket though it was required for only the worst one of all - the Washington Huskies Dawg Gone Good Gourmet Cocoa. Horrible and completely without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Before we get into what happened, I should say that we came to some conclusions in our quest for perfect hot cocoa. First, there were many more cocoas we wanted to try (including and especially Jacques Torres). So we need to do another round of tasting. Second, a lot of the variables we judged: texture, sweet/bitter balance, flavor, etc. were partly a function of the recipe. With an adjusted recipe (other than what they recommended) some cocoas might have fared better.

Finally, it's important to note that there was some disagreement when the categories were unveiled. Back when we did PizzaGanza in March of 2003, there was a category called "Foldability". This caused significant uproar as nobody really knew what it meant and some people decided to use that column to game the system. In the end we had to make sure that the winner won with and without that column counted. And sure enough they did. And as if we were transported back to the center of that controversy, there was "Dipability" staring at us from the scorecard. Again, nobody knew what it meant so we had to calculate the results with and without that column. We also at the last second revised "Richness of Flavor" to be "Quality of Flavor" so that everyone was in agreement. Our eventual ratings were on:

  • Aroma
  • Texture and Consistency
  • Sweet Bitter Balance
  • Quality of Flavor
  • Dipability™
  • Finish

All cocoas were tasted and rated blind (though the Hersey's shaped container was kind of hard not to recognize - though DebDu pointed out that we didn't know whether cocoas were in their original containers) with the packages only revealed after all ratings were handed off to our accounting firm for tabulation.

And interestingly enough it was kind of an odd contest. A lot of the hot cocoas were just mediocre. Some were interesting as was the Dilettante Ephemere which had a flowery aroma and tasted a little like almonds to me. And while nothing really blew us away, two cocoas really stood out above the rest: Scharffen Berger, and the eventual dark horse winner - McNess. I had more of a disparity in my scores between the two, but the group overall felt it was pretty close (one point to be exact). The McNess was the only cocoa I had that had an absolute firm base of chocolate flavor - essential in any hot chocolate in my opinion. The Scharffen Berger wasn't too bad in this category either.

Here are the scores:



w/o Dipability


Dilettante Ephemere



Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa



Hershey's European Style Dutch Process Cocoa



Hershey's Cocoa



Lake Champlain Trad. Hot Chocolate w/ Dutch Cocoa



McNess Hot Cocoa (WINNER)



Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder



Schokinag Triple Chocolate



Washington Huskies Dawg Gone Good Gourmet Cocoa



WonderSlim Fat Free WonderCocoa




Get all the data from the hot cocoa tasting.

In the end, not only did we have fun, but we discovered this retro (packaged) and tasty hot cocoa - McNess. In addition, many felt vindicated that Scharffen Berger did well after Cook's lllustrated panned it in their Hot Cocoa-Off. As I mentioned before, we will need to do a second round including some brands we missed, and then eventually hold the Hot Cocoa World Championship where we take our favorite brands and apply them to our favorite recipes. My quest of course will be to replicate the best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had. Wish me luck.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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