I went to 5 different chains to find the best cup of hot chocolate and Starbucks’ cup of creamy chocolate goodness won me over

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate, which cost $US3.39, was the most unique out of the cocoa beverages I tried. Erin McDowell/Business Insider
  • There’s nothing quite like warming up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate, but which to-go chain or fast-food restaurant serves the creamiest, most delicious cocoa?
  • I went to five different chains – Starbucks, Dunkin’,McDonald’s, Pret, and Panera Bread – to try to find the best cup of hot chocolate.
  • While Starbucks impressed me the most with its rich, creamy recipe, the hot chocolate from McDonald’s tasted like warm milk and not cocoa at all.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories .

As the weather gets increasingly colder, warming up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate may tickle your fancy. But which to-go cup of cocoa reigns supreme?

Earlier this year, I set out on a mission to find the best cup of hot chocolate from five major chains — Starbucks, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Pret, and Panera Bread. Though I tasted them back in January, the recipes have remained the same.

Here’s a breakdown of every hot chocolate I tried, and how they ranked from worst to best according to taste and value.


I didn’t have high hopes for McDonald’s hot chocolate.

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McDonald’s hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The chain isn’t known for being a top-of-the-line coffeehouse, but I wanted to give their hot cocoa a shot.


Unfortunately my assumptions were correct — I thought the hot chocolate was slightly disappointing.

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McDonald’s hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

In my opinion, it didn’t taste strongly of chocolate at all, but rather warm milk and water. Even for the low price of $US2.89 for a medium hot chocolate, I was let down by the drink.


As a New Englander, I have a special loyalty to Dunkin’ coffee.

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Dunkin’ hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Dunkin’ definitely didn’t produce a terrible hot chocolate, but it wasn’t great either.


Though the drink was undeniably creamy and had a good amount of sweetness, I thought there was a slightly artificial taste to the hot chocolate.

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Dunkin’ hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

A medium hot chocolate cost $US3.04 at the location I went to in New York City, which seemed expensive for what I got.


Pret’s medium hot chocolate, which came to $US3.80, tasted distinctly different.

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Pret’s hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The drink tasted like dark chocolate, while the others tasted more similar to standard milk chocolate. As a lover of slightly bitter chocolate, I was a fan.


The frothy milk and rich, creamy cocoa flavour earned Pret’s hot chocolate recipe high marks.

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Pret’s hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It tasted like real chocolate, unlike the previous two. I would definitely order hot chocolate from Pret again.


Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate was the most unique of the cocoa beverages I tried.

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It cost $US3.39 for a medium and was the sweetest hot cocoa I tried. The price was extremely reasonable for the decadent flavour I experienced.


Floating on top of a bed of foamy whipped cream were three chocolate chip marshmallows and a swirl of salted caramel syrup.

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Despite being more over-the-top than the other hot chocolates, the flavours weren’t overpowering. This was certainly a treat on a cold winter’s day.


Starbucks’ hot chocolate, which is arguably an underdog on a menu filled with coffee beverages, came out on top.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

A grande hot chocolate with whipped cream from Starbucks came to $US4.30 at the location I went to, but the creamy goodness inside was simply priceless on a rainy winter’s day.


The hot chocolate was perfectly rich and tasted like thick, melted chocolate.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It didn’t taste artificial or like it came from a powder. I was very impressed.


If I could only choose one hot chocolate, it would have to be Starbucks’ cup of creamy chocolate goodness.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate. Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Though it didn’t have the exciting bells and whistles of the Panera cocoa, sometimes simple, seemingly high-quality ingredients come out on top.