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Here's a look at 10 widely available brands of plain, milk chocolate hot cocoa powder — sans marshmallows.
Tied for last place, O Organics lost out because one taster gave it a lower score than the other brand. Tasters complained that O Organics was "aggressively off-putting, bitter, astringent and muddy." It smelled of compost and had an odd fruit flavor. "Yikes! Just awful," said another. However, one taster had only positive comments, saying it had a pure cocoa flavor with great bitter notes and was more akin to coffee than hot chocolate. $2.99/can, 12 servings; 25 cents/serving.
This tied with the O Organics brand and only won because one taster gave it a higher score. From the aroma to the taste, participants had harsh words for this brand, saying that it smelled and tasted like cow manure or a hamster cage. The consistency was thin, and the flavor was neither sweet nor chocolatey. Some tasters dismissed it as chalky and lacking body, calling it "bitter water." $7.99/can, 20 servings; 40 cents/serving.
Tasters complained that Nestle tasted almost devoid of flavor except for the slight chocolate note at the end and smelled of powdered milk. One participant described it as "the cheap stuff you'd buy at high school football games." 99 cents/box, 6 servings; 17 cents/serving.
"Is there something here sucking away all the flavor?" one participant asked. "Fake milk and no chocolate. Boo!" said another. This pick was decidedly average, thin and bland. $1.79/ box, 10 servings; 18 cents/serving.
While this cup looked promising, tasters were disappointed by the absence of chocolate flavor and aroma. Swiss Miss was a letdown, stale and diluted. The flavor reminded one taster of hollow chocolate Easter bunnies you get at a drugstore. $1.59/box, eight servings; 20 cents/serving.
365 won compliments for its consistency, with one taster saying it was a "classic cup." However, other tasters complained that it had an odd aroma, like baby formula, plastic or cheese. "Did someone mix this with mac and cheese powder?" asked one participant. "Industrial accident?" $3.99/box, 10 servings; 40 cents/serving.
Jewel Osco's hot cocoa tied with the third-place winner, but lost out because one taster gave it a lower score. This hot chocolate was sweet, above all else, but still maintained the richness of cocoa with a good level of viscosity. It is "indulgent but not super rich" and leans more heavily on its milk flavors, one taster said. Another deemed it to have the best mouthfeel of all the brands that were tried. $1.99/box, 10 servings; 20 cents/serving.
Stephen's tied with Jewel Osco's store brand, but won out because one taster gave it a higher score. Participants noted that this brand had a great chocolate finish with a touch of saltiness "like a little seawater got mixed in, but in a good way." Another commenter said it tasted like cheap chocolate coating on a candy bar, but also not in a bad way. $5.49/can, 13 servings; 42 cents/serving.
"I wouldn't mind a nice big mug of this by the fire," said one taster. Hershey's had a rich mahogany color and felt velvety on the tongue. It felt more adult, like drinking liquid chocolate. However, one taster said it smelled like chemicals, and another detected a sourness to the flavor. $2.79/box, six servings; 47 cents/serving.
Though one taster called Land O' Lakes a classic hot chocolate, others noted it had a salty component — but in a good way. Still others found it tasted as if someone had dissolved marshmallows in it. Most loved Land O' Lakes for its rich and milky flavor, hearty crema and buttery texture, although one taster wished it had more dark chocolate flavor. 49 cents/serving, bag.
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