The Semantics of Heated Chocolate Beverages

Categories: Beverages

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Two paths, one destination.
Or, "Does Differentiating Between Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa Make You An Inveterate Douchebag?"

I hope not, because now I feel compelled to. Up until a year ago, I used the terms "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa" interchangeably. Then, one day while reading my friend Carolyn's ridiculously cute blog about her married life with husband "Mr. O," I stumbled upon a post titled "A Controversy."

Mr. O, who nearly nightly makes me a delightful chocolate beverage, informs me what I have been calling hot chocolate for years is not, in fact, hot chocolate. Apparently, it is hot cocoa....Anyway, after alerting me to my years-old misapprehension, Mr. O explained that hot chocolate is made with actual chocolate -- as in, shavings -- while cocoa is made with cocoa powder. Hrmph.

Who knew? Not Carolyn, and certainly not me.

At college in Boston (certainly one of the chilliest periods of my life), I referred to L.A. Burdick's decadent beverage made with melted chocolate bars and imported cocoa as "hot cocoa," but called a freeze-dried packet of brown powder from the dining hall mixed with hot water "hot chocolate."

And though my "foodie" sensibilities sharpened in my post-undergraduate years, I continued to mix the terms with no thought of ingredient specificity. Perhaps I would have been shamed into learning the difference between the two beverages had I referred to my mug o' discount Swiss Miss as "hot chocolate" in front of a fellow food snob ("Ahem. Don't you mean, 'hot cocoa?'")

I also should mention that that Mr. O, though food-savvy and accomplished in the kitchen, is not an incorrigible epicure. And he is not on his own in his assertions -- others also seem to mark a difference. If it is the case that a sizable percentage of the population understands "hot chocolate" to be a richer beverage generally more time consuming and expensive in its preparation and "hot cocoa" to be the stuff of convenience and low-grade cacao, then I definitely need to watch what I'm saying and serving.

True, this chocolate/cocoa controversy matters a bit less than our national debt crisis. I am curious, however, as to whether you, dear readers, also recognize hot chocolate and hot cocoa as two separate libations? And which one does Santa deserve to drink with his cookies?



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7 comments
tee-wee
tee-wee

Cocoa (chocolate liquor - just ground cacao beans) is the origin of the "hot chocolate" that we drink today, period, and is also likely the origin of the word chocolate as well.

Maureen
Maureen

Burdick's is an amazing discovery in Cambridge!  After experiencing a small mug of true "hot chocolate," it's hard to revert back to the powdered cocoa....

trisch
trisch

I never knew or paid attention to the difference.  But I do have to say that the best cup of hot chocolate/cocoa/whatever you want to call it I've ever had was early one morning at a hostel in Antibes -- breakfast was served outside in the chilly air around a picnic table overlooking the Mediterranean; we broke chunks of chocolate into our cups and poured steaming hot milk over it, stirring it to combine as the chocolate melted; the hot chocolate was paired with big hunks of hot, toasty baguette whose soft and airy insides we slathered with big slabs of freshly churned butter.  Best breakfast I've ever had.

Maggie
Maggie

I now believe I have never had hot chocolate ever. And that makes me very sad. If I had money to invest in hot chocolate-y beverages, I would get one of those awesome Williams-Sonoma or Crate & Barrell hot chocolate pots but alas, I have about $5 for the Swiss Miss Extra Marshmallows mix. But at least I use milk and not hot water. Yesh.

mollusk
mollusk

Santa needs a nice hot buttered rum.

Maggie
Maggie

Aaaand I spelled both Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel wrong. Oops.

Megan
Megan

You had Williams-Sonoma correct the first time.  The hyphen is supposed to be there.  :)  Don't doubt yourself!

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