Tonight, I was walking into the house, saw my reflection, screamed like a banshee and walked directly into the sliding glass. I thought my reflection was someone standing INSIDE my house. And I walked TOWARD it. Screaming. Now, I know what it feels like to be a horror movie bimbo.

My head hurts.

So, it’s a good night to curl up on the couch and finally get down to the business of drinking chocolate.

I’d never even heard of drinking chocolate until Oprah introduced Mariebelle Aztec Original Hot Chocolate as one of her “Favorite Things” a few years ago. You remember, the one with the mesmerizing, lustworthy brown-and-blue tin. Which I still have.

Most of us use the terms “cocoa” and “hot chocolate” (aka “drinking chocolate”) interchangeably, but the difference is in the cocoa butter. Cocoa is made with cocoa powder, which is produced when most of the cocoa butter is squeezed out of the cocoa nib. Hershey’s, Nestle, Swiss Miss and Carnation – all cocoas. Drinking chocolate contains melted dark chocolate, so it has all of the cocoa-butter richness that cocoa lacks. Cocoa is chocolaty; drinking chocolate is chocolate.

A cup of drinking chocolate is thick, rich and very intense. Some, like MarieBelle, are very full-bodied, fruity and might remind you of drinking liquid pudding. Others give you a bright punch of chocolate with a smooth finish. You can add spices, liqueurs and even whipped cream, but drinking chocolate has plenty of flavor without them.

There are basically two ways to prepare drinking chocolate at home: using a commercially-packaged drinking chocolate or creating your own recipe. Both options have their benefits. Commercial drinking chocolates offer the promise of luxury in a cup, with complex chocolates created by the world’s best, beautiful packaging and exciting flavor combinations, like Schokinag’s Moroccan Spice and Jacques Torres’ Wicked Hot Chocolate with ancho and chipotle chili peppers. Now, Allegro Coffee is pushing the idea of travel-via-taste with its series of “cups by country,” including drinking chocolates from Ecuador, Ghana and the Dominican Republic.

However, there’s something to be said for (and money to be saved by) making your own drinking chocolate. You choose the chocolate (bittersweet, semisweet, unsweetened or any combination), liquid and any flavorings. Need a place to start? Why not play around with John Scharffenberger’s recipe? During the holidays, he adds rum or brandy and serves it instead of eggnog. My kind of guy.

John’s Classic Drinking Chocolate

Adapted from John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg’s “Essence of Chocolate”

Serves 6 to 12

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until it is hot to the touch.
  2. Whisk in the chocolate and sugar, and continue whisking for 1 to 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Whisk in the vanilla (and the cinnamon and cayenne, if using).
  3. Reduce the heat to low. Serve immediately, or remove from heat and mix with a hand blender for a lighter consistency.