Did someone bring the marshmallows?: Of the 17 brands we tried, here are the seven we'd want most in our mugs.
Best Fancypants Mix: Jacques Torres: This was like eating a melted chocolate bar, a really good dark one. "Would definitely drink a whole cup of this," agreed tasters. There's a half cup of milk per every 1/4 cup of mix (that's a whole 2-to-1 milk-to-chocolate ratio!), which contains solid chocolate nuggets mixed with the powder. It's definitely indulgent, but also very drinkable. Slightly salty to balance the sweetness. $18 for 18 ounces.
Best Cheap to Mid-Priced: Ghirardelli: This is another pick for the sweet-tooth type. It's chocolaty, with a blast of sweetness lingering in each sip. "Went back for more, and actually finished my whole cup, even with all the tasting samples," said one self-proclaimed sweets enthusiast. It has some depth, but not bitter or dark-tasting; definitely more on the milk chocolate end of the spectrum. This is what you should graduate to after Swiss Miss. $5.95 for 20 ounces.
Most Indulgent (and Priciest): Mariebelle Aztec Hot Chocolate: So thick, this almost reaches pudding levels. "Amazing. Like drinking liquid chocolate sauce!" You could definitely refrigerate this in a pie crust and serve it. There's a whole 2/3 cup of single-origin Colombian cacoa shards per every 1/2 cup of milk. That's more cacoa than milk! Each sip goes down slowly, painting your esophagus. It feels like it should be served over ice cream, a la hot fudge. This is a splurge—it probably works out to a couple quarters per sip. And don't be confused by the "Aztec" part. It's not spicy, cinnamony, or spiked with any other unexpected spices. $19 for 20 ounces.
Runner-up Cheap to Mid-Priced: Lake Champlain: This Vermont chocolate company is big on sourcing all-natural chocolates, and also sells a fair-trade version of the mix. We liked how refreshing and not in-your-face-sweet it was. Tasted like good-quality chocolate, but wasn't too rich. It only calls for one tablespoon of powder per eight ounces of milk, while others do as many as four tablespoons. A little chocolate-skimpy in our opinion; try doubling the mix to thicken it up. $9 for 16 ounces.
Fancy Runner-up: Scharffen-Berger Sweetened Natural Cocoa Powder: Just bitter enough, just sweet enough. This is a satisfying mug of cocoa. It goes down rich and smooth, though a bit grainy. We'd be happy drinking it, especially if there was a cookie nearby for dunking purposes. $9.50 for six ounces.
Creamiest for Just-Add-Water Mix: Land O'Lakes Chocolate Supreme: This one calls for water, but manages to be extremely creamy. Suspiciously creamy. How could something made of hot water get that creamy? All the dry milk powder (the second ingredient listed). It was too overpowering for some tasters... "reminiscent of non-dairy creamer" .. and even "baby formula." But the majority of drinkers liked it best of the hot water category because of that unexpected milky-smoothness compared to the other diluted chocolate waters. $12 for 12-pack.
Tastes Most Like Swiss Miss: Swiss Miss: You can't hide in a blind tasting when you're Swiss Miss. It just tasted so Swiss Missy. The little blue packets set the bar for most of us as cocoa-slurping youngins: the slight chemical aftertaste, the little-kid-pleasing sweetness. We had to give this one an honorable mention, even if we're not as hot on it anymore (too fake-tasting, too thinned out). But it works in a warm-you-up way, especially with that nostalgia factor. $2.49 for a 10-pack.