When I say “hot chocolate” those little packets of powder in the coffee and tea aisle of the grocery store come to mind for most people. “Hot cocoa” is another term that conjures up tearing open that packet, pouring it into a mug and then dousing it all with boiling water. If there are little hard marshmallows popping up to the surface, softening up and expanding a bit, well, that’s a nice bonus.

Step away from that hot cocoa powder. Just put it out of your mind. Now that single origin cacao bars, nips and bon-bons are easily available, even in the candy aisle at your local supermarket, hot chocolate is exactly as it’s “billed.” Whole those familiar powder packets of hot cocoa mix are usually just cocoa powder, milk powder and sugar, real hot chocolate, also called “drinking chocolate,” is actual chocolate made from roasted cacao into which you’ll add milk or cream and maybe a touch of sugar to allow all that chocolate to melt into a rich, creamy liquid.

Drinking chocolate is thought to have been first used widely by the Maya as many as 3,000 years ago and in modern Maya families, they do still drink it. Back then xocōlātl was a cold drink made from ground cacao paste which they mixed with cornmeal, chili peppers and water. They agitated it until if got all foamy. The chocolate drink eventually made its way to Europe where it morphed into a drink for the elite with sugar and heat.

Now that we’re in this wonderful world where we can get single origin chocolate from places like Ivory Coast, Peru and Belize, we can make our drinking chocolate from scratch. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than those packets, but it actually has flavor and it’s so rich it goes a long way.

Here are a few recipes for drinking chocolate I’ve been experimenting with. It gives me a nice afternoon pick me up and ia a lovely treat I reward myself with when I finish a project. Use any kind of chocolate you like, or pick up a bag of “drinking chocolate” or “hot chocolate.” They have just the right amount of sugar and the chocolate is already ground for easy melting. It’s also interesting to experiment with different chocolate/cacao origins to see how it changes the flavor. And do stroll the hot beverage aisle at the supermarket. We’re starting to find the real deal there, too. Add interesting elements like orange zest, cardamom, peppermint and spirits if you like, too.

Simple drinking chocolate

Makes 5 servings

I adapted this recipe from Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, but I’ve been mixing it up with milk and fresh cream instead of just milk and sometimes use pure cane sugar rather than brown. From Making Chocolate by Dandelion Chocolate, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2017

2 cups whole milk or 1 cup milk, 1 cup cream

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1.5 cups chopped chocolate, 72%

Combine 1 cup of milk and the brown sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat the milk mixture until steaming, whisking occasionally.

Whisk the chocolate into the hot milk, keeping the bowl over the double boiler to continue heating it. Whisk for an additional 3 minutes, until shiny and emulsified. It may seem quite thick.

Whisk in the rest of the milk, adding it in a slow stream, and heat for another 4 to 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is steaming.

Remove the bowl from the pot of water and pour the hot chocolate into mugs. Serve immediately.

Parisian hot chocolate

This cup of chocolate has a hint of vanilla and the addition of espresso powder which really doesn’t give it a coffee flavor, rather adds a depth to the overall flavor experience.

Makes one cup

¾ cup whole milk

4 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, at least 72% cacao, chopped

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

⅛ teaspoon instant espresso powder, dissolved in ½ teaspoon hot water

1 pinch sea salt

Directions

Heat the milk in a small pot over medium heat until steaming.

Whisk in the chocolate until smooth and creamy, then add the vanilla, dissolved espresso powder, and sea salt.

Return to the heat and cook until steaming again. Serve in a mug

Vegan Mayan-style drinking chocolate

A touch of cayenne or chili powder hearkens back to that original Mayan drink, xocōlātl, and this recipe is all vegan.

Makes 4 servings

2 cups non-dairy milk like coconut or almond. I prefer coconut

5 ounces dairy-free dark chocolate, at least 72% cacao.

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp cayenne or chili powder

1 pinch nutmeg

1/4 tsp sea salt

1-2 Tbsp raw cane or coconut sugar

Coconut Whipped Cream (see recipe below)

Add coconut or almond milk to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add dark chocolate and whisk to combine. Add spices and whisk vigorously to combine.

Once the chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat, and add vanilla extract. Whisk to combine, then taste and adjust flavors as needed. Add sugar or sweetener of choice if not sweet enough. Add more cayenne if you like, too.

Top with coconut whipped cream and a sprinkle of cayenne.

Coconut Whipped Cream

1 14-ounce can coconut cream or full fat coconut milk

1/4 - 3/4 cup organic icing/powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Chill the coconut cream or coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight to harden the cream part of the coconut milk and allow you to separate it easily. The next day, chill a large mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Remove the coconut cream or milk from the fridge without jostling and take off the lid. Scrape out the thick cream at the top and leave the liquid for another use.

Place the hardened cream in your chilled mixing bowt and beat for 30 seconds with a mixer until creamy. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute.

Taste and adjust sweetness as needed. Use immediately or refrigerate up to two weeks.