Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate (Photo by AnikonaAnn on Shutterstock)

Stepping inside from the cold, nothing beats the quick, satisfying warmth of a good hot chocolate. The beloved beverage is more than just a warm drink. Consider it a hug in a mug! What makes the best hot cocoa? Is it the creamy richness of milk versus the lightness of water? Or the decadent swirl of whipped cream on top? Whether you’re seeking a quick fix or a comforting treat, StudyFinds has you covered with the best fast food hot chocolates you can experience.

There’s more to hot chocolate than just taste and comfort. Drinking warm hot cocoa can be beneficial, especially if you’re stressed, like before a big exam or an important work presentation. A recent study from the University of Birmingham in England reveals hot chocolate’s effectiveness in relieving stress and promoting heart health. Additionally, the flavanols present in hot chocolate are known to improve brain health. They can help you think faster and increase efficiency in performing complex tasks. With benefits like these, it’s hard to argue against frequently enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate enthusiasts often find themselves at a crossroads with two key debates: marshmallows or no marshmallows — and milk versus water. These choices can significantly influence the flavor, texture, and overall hot chocolate experience. Marshmallows add a sweet, creamy element that slowly melts into the drink, offering a contrast in textures. On the other hand, purists might argue that marshmallows can overshadow the rich chocolate flavor. The milk versus water debate is equally pivotal. Milk creates a creamier, richer drink, often preferred for its smooth texture and enhanced taste. Using water results in a lighter beverage, often preferred by those with a milk allergy.

Whichever way you enjoy your hot chocolate, the joy lies in finding that perfect blend you can pick up on the run. Which fast food restaurants offer the best hot chocolate choices? StudyFinds has compiled a list thanks to the recommendations of eight food critics. Did we miss one you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments below!

Hot chocolate on saucer with teaspoon on tray.
Hot chocolate on saucer with teaspoon on tray. (Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash)

The List: Best Fast Food Hot Chocolate, According to Critics

1. Caribou Coffee

For a truly customizable hot chocolate, Caribou Coffee is the place to go! Taste of Home writes, “Of all the fast food hot chocolates I tried, Caribou Coffee was the only one that gave me options: white, milk or dark. I was pretty impressed with that! I ordered the milk chocolate option and I found it to be a really excellent treat. It was a nice balance of chocolate, sweetness, and milk.”

Mashed notes Caribou Coffee “employs one of the best methods” for making its delicious hot chocolate.  “Along with its divine melted chocolate, the drink is made with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips, making for a totally scrumptious gulp that’ll satisfy even the pickiest hot chocolate connoisseur.”

Delishably calls Caribou Coffee’s hot chocolate an absolute treat. “Each whipped cream-coated sip is heaven, but at over four hundred calories and twenty-six grams of fat per cup, this cup is more of a treat than a regular drink. Caribou’s version is certainly one of the best I’ve ever had and will most certainly be going back to order another cup and soak up the heat next to the fire on a cool winter day.”

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is much more than a popular coffee spot — it’s also home to some of the best hot chocolate around. “There’s a lot to love about the hot chocolate at Starbucks, but one of our favorite things is the customization options,” writes Mashed. “Like with all other Starbucks coffee drinks, you can have your hot chocolate made with your choice of milk, toppings, flavors, and sweeteners. You can even have the inside of your cup lined with caramel or mocha sauce. How great is that? Starbucks has won the hot chocolate game.”

Taste of Home compares Starbucks’ hot chocolate to ganache. “The chocolate used in this drink reminds me a lot of Dutch process cocoa — very dark, decadent, and not overly sweet. The slightly bitter flavor pairs really well with a generous swirl of whipped cream (fresh is better).”

Insider admits, “The drink had some back-end bitter notes that I could see making my opinion controversial, but having layers of flavor made Starbucks’ hot cocoa more enjoyable than the others.”

3. Corner Bakery Cafe

Coming in third on the list of the best fast food hot chocolate is Corner Bakery Cafe. Taste of Home writes, “This hot cocoa had more of a sweet, milk chocolate flavor, which I really enjoyed. It wasn’t overly rich, so I could see myself finishing every last drop. It’s definitely worth trying!”

Mashed reveals that Corner Bakery Cafe makes its hot cocoa with truffle chocolate. “As one reviewer said on Tripadvisor, ‘If you wanna taste a great hot chocolate this is the place, the beverage is amazing!!! It’s not just a hot chocolate it’s a truffle chocolate, it actually has lots of flavor! This is a whole experience.'”

UPROXX loves the flavor that sprouts from this hot chocolate: “The chocolate flavor here is really well balanced, I’m getting a lot of natural earthy notes with cinnamon, clove, and coffee bean lingering in there with this slightest hint of vanilla at the finish. It tastes almost exactly like melted-down semi-sweet chocolate chips. It’s sweet but with the best balance of natural cocoa flavors.”

4. In-N-Out

The fast food chain uses Ghirardelli chocolate in its hot cocoa, which In-N-Out added to the menu in 2018. You certainly can’t go wrong with that. Mashed writes, “Served in a darling brown-and-white cup with In-N-Out tiny palm trees, the restaurant’s hot chocolate is made with hot water and Ghirardelli chocolate, per Insider, which we’re certain is the secret to its magic. Customers can top their cup with marshmallows if they so choose, and employees will bestow upon them a lovely 8-ounce serving.”

UPROXX notes that In-N-Out uses Ghirardelli chocolate, hot water, and freeze-dried marshmallows for its hot chocolate. “In-N-Out has a long tradition of giving away free hot chocolate to children but a few years back they actually went ahead and officially added Hot Cocoa to the menu.”

Brit + Co gives In-N-Out’s hot chocolate a very enthusiastic two-thumbs up. “It’s not too sweet, it’s pleasantly chocolatey, and it lets you indulge a little without completely ruining your appetite.”

5. McDonald’s

Want something different to go along with your Egg McMuffin while at McDonald’s? Pair it with a hot chocolate! Mashed writes, “Made from hot chocolate syrup and steamed milk, McDonald’s hot chocolate is topped with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle, and the result is a delightful cup that’s worth the money.”

Mcdonald's McCafe and Oatmeal
Mcdonald’s hot chocolate and Oatmeal (Photo by Deutschlandreform on Shutterstock)

Upthirst called McDonald’s hot chocolate the “winning beverage” among all the major fast-food chains. “Its rich, creamy flavor is sure to please your taste buds; plus, it’s affordable and easily accessible. With its perfect balance of sweetness and chocolatey goodness, it’s no wonder why McDonald’s leads the pack.”

Aside from chocolatey goodness, hot chocolate wouldn’t be hot chocolate without being piping hot. Delishably adds, “Made with whole milk and chocolate syrup, the drink itself was really creamy and chocolatey. One thing I really liked about it was that it was hotter than the others I had tried.”

6. Dunkin’

Eat This, Not That! was a big fan of Dunkin’s hot chocolate. “Dunkin’ kept it simple and somehow unlocked that memory of drinking cocoa as a kid.”

A cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee
A cup of Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate (Photo by Aldrin Rachman Pradana on Unsplash)

While it looked a little plain, Taste of Home writes, “Inside that simple paper cup was a pretty darn good hot chocolate. It had a nice milk chocolate flavor that really made it easy to sip. Sure, it was a bit sweet, but it was quite satisfying. I’d say it’s a worthy accompaniment to your donut or breakfast sandwich order.”

UPROXX admits, “It tastes just like homemade hot chocolate! Which is to say it tastes just like Swiss Miss.”

7. Panera Bread

Rounding out our list is Panera Bread‘s hot chocolate. UPROXX states, “The chocolate flavor here is really well balanced, I’m getting a lot of natural earthy notes with cinnamon, clove, and coffee bean lingering in there with this slightest hint of vanilla at the finish. It tastes almost exactly like melted-down semi-sweet chocolate chips. It’s sweet but with the best balance of natural cocoa flavors.”

Panera Bread sign
Panera Bread sign (Photo by Ken Wolter on Shutterstock)

Mashed says Panera Bread’s hot chocolate is good if you’re looking for something in a pinch. “The hot chocolate from Panera Bread probably won’t become your favorite hot chocolate, but it’ll satisfy you enough if you’re desperate for the drink, and we certainly understand desperation for hot chocolate. Panera’s hot chocolate isn’t bad — it’s just okay. And that’s okay.”

However, Eat This, Not That! has mixed reviews. “Panera’s hot chocolate wins the award for most unnecessary extras. It is made with a mixture of ‘bittersweet’ chocolate syrup, reduced-fat milk, whipped cream, and a caramel drizzle. The caramel syrup, while probably pretty in the restaurant, had melted along with the whipped cream into a syrupy, milky mess. It did, however, have an inviting color and was dark and chocolatey.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Amy Chodroff

Amy Chodroff is a recovering Morning Radio Show Host and award-winning broadcaster who recently retired from DFW’s Morning News on KLIF in Dallas. Fondly known as the “Chief Googler” by her friends, it was a seamless transition for StudyFinds to enlist her expertise for their “Best of the Best” franchise. Amy has an innate curiosity and a penchant for thorough research before any purchase and she’s constantly on the hunt for top-notch products. Outside of her digital explorations, Amy loves to explore the world with her husband and is the proud mother of two adult daughters. You can also find Amy on the pickleball court, perfecting her dink and drop shots.

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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  1. Harry says:

    All dogs operate under a Pack mentality. Understanding this is crucial to having a great human dog relationship.
    Training and socialization are keys to owning a well behaved dog.
    A tired dog is a happy dog. The more exercise and mental stimulation they get the happier they are.
    Most K9 bad behavior can be attributed to lack of a Alpha in its pack.

  2. Jessi says:

    It surprised me that dachshunds weren’t on the list. They are as independent as they are stubborn at times. I wouldn’t trade my Duke for anything but he was the hardest pet I ever trained and I’ve had a few dogs over the years.

  3. April Lynn says:

    This is wrong I’ve had multiple border collie s they are wonderful, loving dog’s who wrote this?

  4. Steve says:

    Animals are for those with property to care for them. Cattle, horses, etc require 100 acres or more. Border Collies require 10+ acres… Cages for dogs- Cruel. Put urself in the cage now imagine having 100x the energy. Yeah. Try a cat or fish. Maybe a turtle. Get out and get some exercise! Border Collie played with the horses and kept and protected a family of rabbits outside all day until I returned from school. As kids, we couldn’t understand why our dog wasn’t at the bus stop after school… She wouldn’t leave the baby rabbits and mother. Today I wonder the thought process of our Collie to remain with the rabbits instead of meating us at the bus stop… hmmm.

  5. Steve says:

    meeting us…