Hot chocolate and I go way back.
I remember coming home from school and making it myself with Marshmallow Lovers Swiss Miss powder mix packets and milk. I’d splash some milk into a mug, slide it into the microwave and be sipping the hot concoction a few minutes later.
Now that I’m a bit older, curling up with a mug of hot chocolate is an integral part of my wintertime experience. And I want the best of the best.
So, recently I climbed into my car and set off on a taste test of the hot chocolate varieties available at Gainesville eateries to find a favorite. And through my extensive and very unscientific research, I discovered the one that appealed to my taste buds above all others.
When I decided to attempt this feat, I determined I was looking for a few key requirements in my hot chocolate experience. Therefore, I devised a method by which to judge the hot chocolate beverages.
First was the chocolate factor.
Does it taste like powder and water? Or does it taste like the melted chocolate and milk that it should? And is it too chocolatey and/or rich?
Second was the cost of the chocolate.
Is the price worth it compared to what I could pay for the powdered or homemade version?
And third was the temperature of the drink.
Is my tongue too singed to take another sip after the first or is it just the right amount of warmth?
Keeping these factors in mind, I found a favorite.
I started my journey at the Starbucks near the food court at the Mall of Georgia in Buford.
Full disclosure: I’ve had the hot chocolate at Starbucks before, shockingly enough. I’m not the biggest fan, but I had not tried their hot chocolate in a few years and wanted to give it another go.
I ordered whipped cream on top of my tall hot chocolate, hoping it would add a creaminess to the watery hot chocolate I remembered.
Unfortunately, the whipped cream didn’t pull through for me.
When I first got the drink — which I paid $3.13 for — I could tell it was too hot to drink immediately. The price wasn’t too shabby, but I would rather spend my money on something else.
I waited a few minutes, maybe three or four, before I tried to drink it. By that point, all of the whipped cream had melted, along with my faith.
The hot chocolate itself tasted like a chalky powder and was too watery for my liking.
I have never set foot into a Godiva’s until this hot chocolate taste test. Mostly because I knew I would leave with my life’s earnings in chocolate goodness, and I didn’t want to do that to my bank account.
Somehow, I made it out of there alive with only my tiny cup of $4.24 hot chocolate.
While I (a University of North Georgia Gainesville student) think the price is a bit steep for such a small cup, it was almost worth it. According to the sign in the shop, the hot chocolate I was drinking was made from Godiva’s own dark chocolate. In three words, it was amazing.
It didn’t have a whipped cream top, but the frothiness at the top made up for it in spades as it cooled the beverage before it made it past my lips.
The hot chocolate itself was thicker than Starbucks' and tasted like real chocolate.
I also learned why it was served in a small cup. I could not drink a bigger cup without being overwhelmed by the richness.
Therefore, it definitely set the bar high for the hot chocolate drinks to follow on my trek.
I don’t know anybody who goes to Cinnabon and asks for a hot chocolate. Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for its version that only cost me $1.90.
While the price was great, the hot chocolate was not. Not only did the drink scald my tongue, the actual hot chocolate wasn’t even good after waiting 5 minutes for it to cool.
It tasted like someone had maybe sprinkled a bit of chocolate powder into boiling lava water as an afterthought.
The only bright side to singeing my taste buds off my tongue was the whipped cream and chocolate syrup drizzle on top, which was very tasty. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the rest of it.
2 DOG RESTAURANT
I’m not going to beat around the bush, I had high expectations for 2 Dog’s hot chocolate.
I’ve been to the cafe before and always liked everything I’ve tried.
However, I wasn’t over the moon for their hot chocolate, which consisted of hot water and a Nestle packet. Not to say there’s anything wrong with a good packet of hot chocolate, but I expected something more for $2.50.
IHOP’s hot chocolate was one of the best out of the chain brands I tried.
It was thicker than most of the others I tried and came in a huge cup I appreciated.
The size of the cup didn’t necessarily make up for the lack of chocolate flavor in the beverage. It tasted mostly like a thick version of a chocolate milk, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I love chocolate milk.
It has a bit of a strange aftertaste, which could be accredited to the Styrofoam cup I drank it out of.
There is definitely something to be said for Dunkin’ Donuts’ hot chocolate.
While I normally prefer the national chain’s coffee over any other, I hadn’t tried their hot chocolate before.
The beverage was warm but not too hot, and thick but not too thick.
It was easily my second favorite out of the hot chocolates I had put to the test so far.
But my favorite part about the Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate had to be the frothy upper layer and the almost gingerbread-like taste.
The last hot chocolate I tried was from Inman Perk on the Gainesville downtown square.
I was saving this one for last, expecting the best from the baristas there.
I opted out of the whipped cream choice, thinking back to my time at Cinnabon and how the whip cream affected my hot chocolate judging skills.
My strategy proved right.
The hot chocolate at Inman Perk was just the right amount of richness without being overwhelming.
However, after tasting them all, Godiva was the clear favorite for me.
Hailey Van Parys is a part-time reporter for The Times. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: On the day of the taste test, the reporter visited Annastasia’s Tea Room to sample their hot chocolate concoction. However, the restaurant had run out.