One of the ongoing subplots of my adulthood is the daily realization that I am simply the product of my parents. Despite living on the opposite coast and not seeing them nearly enough, they are very present in the daily mundanities of my life. My mom used to drive me insane when insisting the dishwasher be loaded a specific way, and now I rearrange the dishes after my roommate puts them in wrong. I had to be trained out of putting fake maple syrup in the fridge—corn syrup does not need to be refrigerated—which is what we did growing up.
As a kid, everybody ate some shitty processed food—Cup O’ Noodles, American cheese, Chef Boyardee—that they still retain nostalgia for. And these products reached ubiquity because they are cheap, easy, and taste reasonably good. At least one of you is going to show up in the comments to tell me I’m and an idiot and that, actually, American cheese is the best kind of cheese. I get it: I’ll still eat a Betty Crocker box cake over anything from a fancy bakery.
Early adulthood, however long that may last, is about defining who you are, and accepting or discarding each of the habits of your parents. When it comes to food, that means refining your palate, and realizing most of the styrofoam-and-plastic packaged foods of your youth are garbage. Better stuff—for the same or not very much more money—is out there, and you should be eating it.
All that to say, though I don’t have a particular affinity for hot chocolate, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Swiss Miss while camping or on just a cold night. But is a gritty, mostly sugar product dispensed from a small pouch really the best we can do?
When it comes to food, words don’t really mean anything. Basically all chocolate drinking mixes are made up primarily of sugar and cocoa powder, which is usually processed with alkali to make it less bitter. Some mixes use milk powder, as well as salt, preservatives, and anti-caking agents. But the point being, the back of the box isn’t really useful in drawing a bright line between low-and high-quality chocolate drinking mixes.
And so sipping chocolate, or drinking chocolate, is advertising itself in opposition to traditional hot chocolate. Sipping chocolate has a rich flavor that focuses on the chocolate, not the sugar. It’s a chocolate drink, not chocolate-flavored milk or water. But as I learned, this is just as much a product of different cooking instructions than a different makeup of the powder.
With a typical Swiss Miss packet you dump into a 10 or 12 ounce mug of steaming water, but not with sipping chocolate. The recipe for mine called for 1/3 cups of hot whole milk, and three tablespoons of mix, for a four ounce drink. As the preparation instructions make clear—just four ounces, over a third of it powder, and whole milk instead of skim or water—this is an incredibly rich beverage.
Here is what my mug looked like after dumping the powder in:
You aren’t incorporating powder into liquid so much as forcing the liquid to absorb so much powder. It took a few minutes of stirring to reach an adequate consistency, and that consistency was incredibly thick. It’s not quite the thickness of chocolate syrup, but for some reason I kept thinking of motor oil.
As somebody who likes but doesn’t love most chocolate products, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the taste. It is deeply, deeply chocolatey, but not overpowering. It wasn’t too bitter or dark like some chocolate bars are, which seem to exist only for chocolate-lover to crow about how more intelligent of a chocolate consumer they are than you. But goddamn, was it rich. Way, way, way too rich, which is why the serving size is just four ounces. It’s not a drink as much as it is a dessert.
My sipping chocolate tin came with a card of recipes for things to make with the powder, like a Kahlua-like beverage or a glaze for desserts. And that’s really what the sipping chocolate tasted like: something to be drizzled on top of a cake or ice cream at a fancy restaurant, not something to drink straight-up.
On the back of the tin there is also a recipe for “decadent hot chocolate,” which uses the same amount of powder but more than doubles the milk. It’s still a rich beverage, but this was something I could drink in the morning if I wanted something really sweet. I was surprised by how perfectly balanced the ratio of chocolate to sugar was: the drink didn’t taste particularly sugary (though it obviously was), but I didn’t have an urge to add any of my own.
This powder is clearly higher quality, and better, than whatever hot chocolate I had growing up. And there is no need to make a relatively simple drink the way the manufacturer instructs. If you’re a chocolate lover and can handle drinking four ounces of chocolate slurry, by all means. But for the rest of you, find the amount of milk—it’s probably 10 ounces for me, but maybe its eight or 12 ounces for you—that results in a gilded but recognizably liquid beverage.
Welcome to Bougie Food Reviews, an irregular series where we review the most highfalutin products available in the grocery store. If you’ve got an idea for a future review, email the author here.