14 Sweet Ways To Upgrade Hot Chocolate, According To Home Chefs

Looking to upgrade your hot chocolate? If so, we've got your back. It's no secret that hot chocolate is insanely delish despite its fairly simple and mundane ingredients. Still, we must admit that every once in a while, we get an itch for something a bit ... different. In anticipation of this article, we've consulted chefs, food bloggers, and recipe developers to get the lowdown on how to make hot chocolate even better. What we discovered were not only unique and exciting flavor combinations but also mind-blowingly easy techniques that can take a cup of hot chocolate from drab to fab in a matter of minutes.

The following lineup of ingredient upgrades serves to tickle your taste buds, stimulate your mind, and maybe even offer a few benefits to your body. Get ready to envelop your senses in something new for a change with these sweet upgrades for a standard cup of hot chocolate.

1. Cayenne pepper and ancho chile powder

Putting ancho chile powder or cayenne pepper in your hot chocolate is unconventional for sure. Still, while you won't want to add gobs and gobs of powdered pepper to your next chocolatey drink, you may be surprised at how adding just a little of each can boost hot chocolate flavor.

In the case of cayenne pepper, go very light with the amount you add per volume of milk. If making a hot chocolate recipe with standard 2 cups of milk, aim to use only ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper to start; you could always increase the amount later if you're dying for more.

As for ancho chile powder, know that adding this ingredient to your steaming hot mug of chocolate will not only add subtle heat but also a whirlwind of flavor. Unlike cayenne, ancho chile powder has a very pungent flavor profile and is often used to amplify the taste of enchiladas, carne asada, and other Mexican dishes. As such, we recommend sticking to around ⅜ teaspoons per 2 cups of milk to get the best taste without making it too overpowering.

2. Peppermint extract

You know, there's something about peppermint and chocolate that screams Christmas. One taste of this dynamic duo, and we're automatically transported to a time of gently falling snowflakes, warm hugs, and brightly lit trees — even if it is only the middle of July. Thankfully, adding peppermint to hot chocolate can be achieved in multiple ways in an effort to add a bit of flavorful zing to this already decadent treat.

To make your hot chocolate dazzle with peppermint flavor, you can take one of two routes. The first is to use actual peppermint extract. Peppermint extract is quite potent, and thus, you won't need to use a lot of it to achieve full-on peppermint flavor. Using our standard 2 cups of milk example, you'll need to add about ⅛ teaspoon to achieve the right minty balance.

Though adding peppermint extract to your hot chocolate is indeed a worthy addition, you might find it easier to use candy canes, especially if you already have them lying around from ongoing Christmas shenanigans this year. In this case, try crushing the canes and adding them to your heated milk and chocolate while still on the stove. Use a whisk to combine everything and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with additional candies for garnish, and this, friends, is a crave-worthy drink you'll be hesitant to share.

3. White chocolate chips

Mmmm, white chocolate. It's smooth, comforting, and creamy, yet still chocolatey enough to soothe our souls. While most people think of traditional chocolate when whipping up a warm mug of deliciousness, the truth is that the same thing can be accomplished using white chocolate instead.

Though it may seem relatively unorthodox to use white chocolate in lieu of the traditional, it's truly just a delight. Instead of using cocoa powder or semi-sweet chocolate chips to create your hot chocolate, you'll simply use white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate instead. From there, the process is the same as making your usual warm chocolatey drink. Simply melt the white chocolate along with your milk of choice and sweetener, pour into mugs, and enjoy. For an unexpected twist, toss in a few crushed candy cane pieces or use a smidge of peppermint extract to amplify the flavor. Top with mini marshmallows and enjoy a warm hug in a mug. You're welcome.

4. Peanut butter

Peanut butter may seem like an odd addition to your hot chocolate, but admit it — it sounds totally delish, doesn't it? When we first heard this tip, we thought it would be one of those things that sounds good but isn't exactly practical. After all, peanut butter is thick and sticky, and getting it to incorporate smoothly seemed to us like it'd be hard to achieve. What we've found, however, is that as long as you follow specific instructions, you can easily make a peanut butter hot chocolate that's as smooth and decadent as any other you've made.

To begin, make sure you have a whisk handy. The whisk is essential for practically any hot chocolate recipe, but it's especially important when incorporating peanut butter. Put your milk into the saucepan, along with your chocolate, the peanut butter, and your choice of sweetener. Use the whisk to stir this mixture constantly as it warms gently over low heat. Eventually, your mixture will become smooth enough for you to add additional cocoa powder and any extracts you're using. Continue to whisk until creamy and smooth. Pour into mugs and serve it up any way you wish!

5. Caramel sauce

If you've ever sampled the Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha, you likely already know the joy of combining chocolate with caramel in beverage form. Even if you've never tasted a caramel mocha, you've probably experienced the duo in chocolate bar form and know it's pure magic on the tongue. Either way, know that it's equally as enjoyable to combine these flavors in hot chocolate, with the salty sweetness of caramel only accentuating the nuances in the chocolate to drum up something truly scrumptious.

So, how's it made? It's simple, really. Heat your 2 cups of milk in a saucepan, being careful not to scorch it. Once heated, add in your cocoa powder along with 2 tablespoons of rich caramel sauce. Whisk until incorporated and serve with whipped cream and caramel drizzled over the top. Bear in mind that you can adjust the amount of caramel you add to your drink in accordance with how strong you like your caramel flavor. Simply increase or decrease the amount of tablespoons you use to achieve your desired flavor.

6. Coconut milk

This is quite possibly one of our favorite hot chocolate upgrades on the list thus far. Unlike other milk switch-ups, you can actually taste the difference when you use coconut milk. The texture is velvety and rich, and combining chocolate with coconut helps tame the coconut flavor a bit. This makes for a taste that's distinctly and deliciously different, yet hard to describe — guess we'll leave it at that!

Now, we must say that if you aren't a coconut fan, you'll definitely want to steer clear of this upgrade. With that said, we've found that we prefer coconut milk to traditional milk in hot chocolate, making it not only a vegan for a dairy-free option, but rather an option of choice. To whip this up, you'll simply swap your traditional milk in a hot chocolate recipe for coconut milk. You can use boxed or refrigerated versions of the milk, as long as you make sure to get your hands on the creamiest variety for the richest mouthfeel. Yum!

7. Nutella

Making Nutella hot chocolate is similar to making peanut butter hot chocolate; it makes us wonder if doing so is actually a good idea. This isn't because we don't think the flavor will meld well with hot chocolate's already decadent flavor, but rather because the consistency is so thick and sticky. Nevertheless, as it turns out, Nutella is a great addition to hot chocolate and dissolves when heated with milk perfectly.

To pull off a Nutella-flavored hot chocolate, simply add 1 tablespoon of Nutella to every 2 cups of milk, and warm over low to medium heat. To this, add 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder along with your sweetener of choice. Whisk until well combined. Once everything is dissolved, pour into mugs and enjoy. The decadence of Nutella paired with the rich flavors of hot chocolate really helps take the savor of this drink up and over the edge. You'll probably be left wondering why you didn't try this sooner, especially if you're a die-hard Nutella fan!

8. Creamer

To every methodology, there's the "right" way to do things, and then there's the easy way. Can we let you in on a little secret? You don't have to pull out all the stops every time you make hot chocolate. Winter season gets us craving all the tastes and smells associated with holidays, but if we're honest, we don't always feel like busting out all the ingredients it takes to get our hot chocolate just right.

Thus, you'll be glad to know there's still a way to enjoy rich and creamy chocolate flavor without the hassle. Adding good ole coffee creamer to hot chocolate will do the trick when you're too lazy to get creative. All you need to do is add a splash or two (or three) of creamer to 2 cups of milk, along with a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips. Warm over low heat in a saucepan until the chocolate is melted. Alternatively, you could pop this in the microwave at short intervals until the milk is hot and everything is incorporated. Top your way and serve! It's worth noting that, unlike other upgrades on this list, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the kind of creamer you use. Try hazelnut or vanilla for traditional flavors, or experiment with peppermint or caramel ... each will give your hot chocolate its a distinct flavor you're likely to love.

9. Mint extract

We've mentioned using peppermint in hot chocolate already, and at this point, you may wonder if there's any need to explore minty flavors any further. As it turns out, there are some impressive ways you can change the taste of your hot chocolate using mint extract and a few other interesting additions to make a uniquely warm and chocolatey beverage that looks and tastes quite different from any other hot chocolate you've likely had the pleasure to experience.

For starters, although we know traditional chocolate pairs impeccably well with mint (think Andes Chocolate Mints) we also know that white chocolate combined with mint flavor makes for something equally delicious, albeit outside of the norm. For this reason, we recommend you try melting white chocolate pieces into 2 cups of milk along with a teaspoon of mint extract before adding a few splashes of green food coloring for added effect. Of course, you can take liberties with what to add for toppings; anything from marshmallows to crushed Andes Chocolate Mints, starlight spearmint candies, or even a real mint sprig would be stunning ways to garnish your grinchily delicious green mint hot chocolate. We hope you enjoy it!

10. Dates

Dates in hot chocolate? Ew, right? Maybe — maybe not. We realize dates are a rather unexpected addition to hot chocolate that even causes us to lift an eyebrow. Still, you can make one heck of a hot chocolate using dates for added nutrition, and you may just be surprised at the flavor it brings.

So, what benefit is there to consuming dates? According to Healthline, dates pack the potential to boost brain function while simultaneously providing your body with plenty of fiber and antioxidants. This fruit also serves as a replacement for sugar in your hot chocolate, meaning you won't need to worry about the ramifications of drinking too much; the sugars in this drink are all-natural.

One important thing to note is that you'll need to use a blender to make date-sweetened hot chocolate. Because dates are solid, they aren't easily dissolved in milk or water. Even so, we recommend that you first heat your milk along with your dates (4-5 pitted dates per 2 cups of milk) to soften them up a bit. From there, throw your milk and dates into a blender, along with cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Blend away and savor the results. Simple, right?

11. Maple syrup

For those of us who love to use natural sweeteners whenever possible, using maple syrup or honey in hot chocolate isn't exactly earth-shattering news. Still, for those of you who haven't yet been acquainted with this concept, we thought we might inform you on why maple syrup just might end up being your hot chocolate sweetener of choice.

First and foremost, we'd like to preface this by saying that pancake syrup and pure maple syrup aren't the same thing. When it comes to replacing the sugar in your hot chocolate with maple syrup, you are doing so with a natural and healthy substance, not some arbitrary additive-filled liquid. With that said, you'll want to use the same amount of maple syrup as you would sugar (or slightly less if you don't like it very sweet). The robust maple flavor gently infuses the drink while also providing a subtle hint of sweetness that tastes just as good as traditional cocoa — if not better.

One of the best methods we've found for using maple syrup for hot chocolate is to gently heat the maple with the cocoa powder prior to adding your milk. Once your cocoa and maple are well incorporated, add your milk, stirring constantly until fully mixed. Transfer to cups and relish the flavor. You could also totally add a bit of maple flavoring for a stronger maple kick if you'd prefer ... do it up as you please!

12. Turmeric

This is a fun, non-traditional option, but if you tend to like spicier hot chocolate blends (think Mexican hot chocolate), you'll likely love this rendition. In case you aren't aware, turmeric is a spice that is popularly used in Indian cuisine. Here in the states, it is largely hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as several other health benefits, including assistance with kidney health, inflammation, and anxiety (via John Hopkins Medicine). If you've ever tasted turmeric, you may wonder how its earthy flavor could possibly add any worthy flavor dynamic to your hot chocolate. Oh, but you'd be surprised!

Actually, turmeric melds well with chocolate, especially when intertwined with other delightful spices. Remember the cayenne pepper we told you about earlier? It makes the perfect complement to the flavor of turmeric, making for an earthy and spicy hot chocolate you'll likely go ga-ga for. In addition, you may also want to consider sprinkling a bit of black pepper into the mix. Though it sounds odd, it helps your body absorb the turmeric better, making it easier for your body to get all those beneficial qualities turmeric has to provide (via Healthline). For every 2 cups of milk, try 2 teaspoons of turmeric and only a pinch of black pepper. Enjoy!

13. Chai tea

Chai tea and hot chocolate? Say what? We know, we thought the same thing. This duo reminds us a little of a dirty chai, but without the coffee, of course. Instead, you'll combine the exotic flavors of chai with the soothing decadence of chocolate to essentially create one of the most intoxicatingly delicious drinks ever to be consumed.

With that said, you may be wondering what approach to take with this. While there are many ways you could go about it, one of the easiest is simply to get your hands on a good chai concentrate. From there, you'll portion out 1 ½ cups of chai base and mix it with another ½ cup of milk. Add your cocoa powder or melted chocolate along with a bit of vanilla extract (though the extract is optional). Place everything over the stove on low heat until warmed through, and serve topped as you like it. For added flavor, sprinkle with additional cinnamon. You're welcome.

14. Orange zest (and juice)

Don't come for us on this one, but hot chocolate and orange juice can taste good. Honestly, if you've ever had the pleasure of biting into a citrus-infused chocolate bar, you already know exactly what vibe we're going for here. Mmmm!

To pull off this unique combination, you'll want to take your standard 2 cups of milk and heat it with dark chocolate over low or medium heat until warmed through. To this mixture, add sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons of orange juice, and a bit of orange zest. Heat everything for at least 10 minutes before distributing between mugs. Savor the flavor of sweet orange and decadent chocolate rolling across your tongue. Top with miniature marshmallows, whipped cream, or enjoy as is. Also, this is another one of those hot chocolate varieties that might really benefit from a dash of cayenne pepper if you're feeling up to it. Experiment and see what you can come up with!