I went to 5 different chains to find the best cup of hot chocolate and the one from McDonald’s was basically warm milk

Panera Bread's signature hot chocolate, which cost $3.39, was the most unique out of the cocoa beverages I tried.

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate, which cost $3.39, was the most unique out of the cocoa beverages I tried.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider
  • There’s nothing quite like warming up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate, but which to-go chain or fast-food restaurant serves the creamiest, most delicious cocoa?
  • I went to five different chains – Starbucks, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Pret, and Panera Bread – to try to find the best cup of hot chocolate, and the winner surprised me.
  • While Starbucks impressed me the most with its rich, creamy recipe, the hot chocolate from McDonald’s tasted like warm milk and not cocoa at all.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the weather gets increasingly colder, warming up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate may tickle your fancy. But, which to-go cup of cocoa reigns supreme?

I set out on a mission to find the best cup of hot chocolate from five major chains – Starbucks, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Pret, and Panera Bread.

Here’s a breakdown of every hot chocolate I tried, and how they ranked from worst to best according to taste and value.


5. McDONALD’S: I’m going to be honest — I didn’t have high hopes for McDonald’s hot chocolate.

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McDonald’s hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The chain isn’t known for being a top-of-the-line coffeehouse, but I wanted to give the fast-food giant a shot.


My assumptions were correct. I thought the hot chocolate was terrible.

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McDonald’s hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

In my opinion, it didn’t taste of chocolate at all, but rather warm milk and water. Even for the low price of $2.89 for a medium hot chocolate, I was immeasurably disappointed.


4. DUNKIN’: As a New Englander, I have a special loyalty to Dunkin’ coffee.

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Dunkin’ hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Dunkin’ definitely didn’t produce a terrible hot chocolate, but it wasn’t great either.


Though the drink was undeniably creamy and had a good amount of sweetness, there was a slightly artificial taste to the hot chocolate.

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Dunkin’ hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

A medium hot chocolate cost $3.04 at the location I went to in New York City, which seemed expensive for what I thought it was – a fake-tasting, scalding hot cup of chocolate milk.


3. PRET: Pret’s medium hot chocolate, which came to $3.80, tasted distinctly different.

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Pret’s hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The drink tasted like dark chocolate, while the others tasted more similar to standard milk chocolate. As a lover of slightly bitter chocolate, I was a fan.


The frothy milk and rich, creamy cocoa flavor earned Pret’s hot chocolate recipe high marks.

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Pret’s hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It tasted like real chocolate, unlike the previous two. I would definitely order hot chocolate from Pret again.


2. PANERA BREAD: Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate was the most unique of the cocoa beverages I tried.

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It cost $3.39 for a medium and was the sweetest hot cocoa I tried. The price was extremely reasonable for the decadent flavor I experienced.


Floating on top of a bed of foamy whipped cream were three chocolate chip marshmallows and a swirl of salted caramel syrup.

Panera Bread's signature hot chocolate, which cost $3.39, was the most unique out of the cocoa beverages I tried.

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Panera Bread’s signature hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Despite being more over-the-top than the other hot chocolates, the flavors weren’t overpowering. This was certainly a treat on a cold winter’s day.


1. STARBUCKS: Starbucks’ hot chocolate, which is arguably an underdog on a menu filled with coffee beverages, came out on top.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

A grande hot chocolate with whipped cream from Starbucks came to $4.30 at the location I went to, but the creamy goodness inside was simply priceless on a rainy winter’s day.


The hot chocolate was perfectly rich and tasted like thick, melted chocolate.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It didn’t taste artificial or like it came from a powder. I was very impressed.


If I could only choose one hot chocolate, it would have to be Starbucks’ cup of creamy chocolate goodness.

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Starbucks’ hot chocolate.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Though it didn’t have the exciting bells and whistles of the Panera cocoa, sometimes simple, seemingly high-quality ingredients come out on top.