Hot Cocoa Mix
We wish that everybody had time to make homemade hot cocoa. It’s easy enough to stir together cocoa, sugar, hot milk, and maybe a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt. But we admit that instant mixes are unbeatably convenient. To find out which are best, we rounded up leading supermarket brands as well as mixes from a few upscale chocolatiers.
Following the instructions on the package, we used water to make the cocoas from most brands. Two of our contenders can be reconstituted with either hot water or milk; we preferred them with 2 percent milk, which we then used to make the mixes that called for milk. Across the board, tasters valued creaminess, which can come from either the added milk or from dry milk in the mix (all mixes that can be reconstituted with water contain some form of dried milk). In the end, however, what separated winners from losers was big chocolate flavor.
One cocoa mix won in a landslide. The mix includes both Dutch-processed cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. Our runner-up also has two sources of chocolate: cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate. A milder, milkier cocoa captured third place. Tasters rated this kid-friendly cocoa the creamiest of the lot, thanks not only to the “dairy product solids” on the ingredient list, but also to hydrogenated oils and stabilizers like guar gum. The last on our list of recommended brands has notes of coffee and cinnamon, and is aimed squarely at grown-up palates.
What was wrong with the others? The losing mixes were all reconstituted with hot water, and they tasted watery. One cocoa was disgustingly sweet—on the ingredient list, sugar, corn syrup, and modified whey all precede cocoa powder.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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