By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jan 31, 2024 at 10:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

When the wind gets whippy and the snow begins to flutter, there’s nothing quite like a cup of creamy, velvety hot cocoa to warm the soul. So we set out on a hunt for the best of the best.

But before we share some of the best spots to grab a nostalgic mug of chocolate bliss, did you know that the terms hot cocoa and hot chocolate are two different drinks?

It’s true. Despite the fact that most people use the names interchangeably, they’re actually pretty different. And since this list includes both hot cocoa and hot chocolate, along with European drinking chocolate, we thought it would be interesting to clarify.

Hot cocoa is a term for what most of us grew up drinking: a hot drink made from sugar, dry milk powder and cocoa powder that can be prepared simply by mixing it with water (though using hot milk is always worth the extra effort).

Hot chocolateX

Hot chocolate, on the other hand, is actually made from melted or grated chocolate which is mixed with hot milk. Depending on the quality of chocolate that’s used, hot chocolate almost always has a creamier texture and a richer mouthfeel than hot cocoa.

And then there’s drinking chocolate, which takes things to an entirely new level. Most commonly, you’ll find it made with equal parts high-quality melted or grated chocolate and frothed heavy cream. But a slightly less rich version can be achieved by mixing a higher ratio of grated or melted chocolate with a lesser amount of hot milk.

You’ll find a little bit of everything on this alphabetical list, including a number of venues where you can take your hot cocoa to the next level with a shot (or two) of alcohol. 

Straight up

1. Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea

916 E. State St., (414) 395-3003
13320 Watertown Plank Rd., Elm Grove, (262) 289-9312
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Fairgrounds Vosges hot chocolate

If you haven’t paid a visit to this county fair-themed coffee shop, it’s worth a trip to enjoy the bright, quirky space, multi-roaster coffee offerings and satisfying menu of housemade breakfast offerings, salads and sandwiches.

On the hot chocolate side, they offer a nod to their home city of Chicago with Vosges fair trade drinking chocolate, which is steamed with whole milk and served with a Vosges black salt coconut caramel marshmallow truffle.

If you’re expecting a bracingly rich cup of hot chocolate, this won’t fulfill your expectations. But the drink is creamy and smooth with a delicate chocolate flavor that – when sipped in between bites of truffle – comprises a lovely afternoon treat. 

Prefer it with a jolt of caffeine? Order up the Vosges chocolate truffle mocha, which offers up the best of both worlds.

2. Goddess & the Baker

340 High St., Brookfield, (262) 505-6560

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Hot chocolate at Goddess & the BakerX

When in Brookfield, Goddess and the Baker is a beautifully appointed stop for uniquely delicious lattes, well-executed treats and satisfying meals that run the gamut from downright healthy to indulgent.

On the indulgent side you’ll find their selection of “Liquid Chocolate,” European style drinking chocolate that truly delivers on the promise of rich, decadent chocolate flavor. Like a shot of deep chocolate truffle in a glass, this silky chocolate goes down like creamy velvet.  It's the perfect dessert; but I wouldn't blame you for drinking it... well, anytime.

It’s available by the glass in four versions: Straight Up ($5.49); Buzzed (with a double shot of espresso, $5.99); Salted Caramel (mixed with house-made salted caramel sauce. $5.99); or Chai (mixed with masala chai, $5.99).

Goddess Liquid Chocolate flight

If you’d prefer something lighter, their standard hot chocolate – made with steamed milk – is smooth and creamy with just enough chocolate flavor. 

3. Kilwins Milwaukee

5758 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale, (414) 967-4803

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Kilwin's Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Kilwins is a one-stop shop for treats of all sorts, from Makinac Island fudge and handmade chocolates to copper-kettle made brittle, chewy caramels, housemade ice cream (and ice cream cakes) and caramel apples.

Their fantastic hot chocolate is made with steamed milk and their signature shredded dark chocolate. Each indulgent cup is topped with whipped cream and even more shredded chocolate. Guests can also purchase Kilwins chocolate shreds to make drinks at home.

As good as their regular hot chocolate is, I’d highly recommend going for their salted caramel hot chocolate, which incorporates house caramel sauce, signature shredded dark chocolate and a topping of whipped cream, chocolate and caramel drizzle and a sprinkling of sea salt. It’s decadence at its finest.

Prefer an indulgent version of hot chocolate that’s more like European drinking chocolate? Kilwins also offers their own version of drinking chocolate, featuring a higher ratio of chocolate shreds to steamed milk. The 4-ounce cup is meant to be savored; it’s thick, ultra-chocolatey and delicious.

4. La Finca Coffeehouse

3558 E Sivyer Ave., Saint Francis, (414) 394-0722

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La Finca Mexican Hot ChocolateX

There’s so much to love about La Finca Coffeehouse, from its welcoming vibe and menu of fantastic Mexican fare (try the breakfast tacos) to its coffee drinks, which are made with coffee from their family farm in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Another delight is their Mexican hot chocolate, which is made with Abuelita chocolate, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and steamed milk. It’s smooth, creamy and just sweet enough with a touch of warming cinnamon and a slight kick from the capsaicin. 

If you could use a bit of caffeine, order the Mexican Mocha. It’s a similar build with two shots of espresso to boot. If you arrive before it runs out, I’d highly recommend their housemade champurrado made with Ibarra chocolate, cinnamon, star anise, piloncillo, oat milk and masa. It’s traditional, delicious and dairy-free.

5. Le Reve Patisserie & Cafe

7610 Harwood Ave., (414) 778-3333
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Le Reve hot chocolateX

If the thought of a trip to France isn't in the cards, you can always choose the next best thing:  a trip to Wauwatosa's Le Reve Patisserie & Cafe, where buttery housemade croissants taste perfectly decadent enjoyed alongside an indulgent cup of house hot chocolate. 

That's because Le Reve knows the secret to excellent hot chocolate: high-quality chocolate paired with rich, high-fat milk.  In their case, Valrhona chocolate is grated into warmed whole milk creating a rich, chocolate drink that's worth lingering over.

6. Rochambo Coffee & Tea House

1317 E. Brady St., (414) 291-0095

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Rochambo Bhakti Chai Chocolate

Rochambo has been a classic stop on Brady Street since 1995, not only for a cup of exceptional, thoughtfully sourced coffee or tea, but also a liberal dose of community. And there’s good reason behind its longevity. Not only do they whip up a delicious cortado and the best(!) Irish coffee in the city, they also keep folks’ interest with uniquely delicious offerings.

Their Bhakti chai chocolate is no exception. Made with exceptional ingredients, this mash-up of chai and Indulgence Chocolatiers dark chocolate hot cocoa is a stellar example of how top-notch elements can come together to create an exceptional beverage experience.

Chai and chocolate are natural companions. You get all the richness of the cocoa, plus warming spices from the chai. In Rochambo’s case, you also get the exceptional pop of freshly pressed ginger, which takes this otherwise average looking cup of hot cocoa to another level altogether. Oh – did I mention it’s topped with fresh whipped cream and a bit more cocoa and sea salt on top? Truly exceptional.

7. Tabal Chocolate

7515 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 585-9996

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Tabal hot chocolate and sipping chocolate

A trip to Tabal’s Wauwatosa shop is always a treat. Not only will you find their retail chocolate bars, but also shelves filled with new creations, a full case of handmade chocolates and ingredients like cocoa nibs and chocolate hazelnut spread (better than Nutella) to enhance your cooking and beverage making. There’s gelato and coffee. They also have a lovely selection of gift-worthy items as well.

Among their offerings is housemade drinking chocolate, which – like all of their products – is a bean-to-bar product, offers the intensely complex flavor of single origin cacao beans, which possess not only a base of classic chocolate flavor, but a strong fruitiness as well.

Even better, you can stop in and sample their house hot chocolate or sipping chocolate (smaller cup, but more intense flavor). Both are delicious when made with full-fat dairy, as I’d make them at home. 

But you can order up cups made with coconut milk at the shop, and that’s a completely different experience. You still get the rich flavor of the chocolate, first and foremost; but the mouthfeel is slightly different. It’s creamy, but slightly thinner and the coconut milk seems to underscore the innate fruitiness of the chocolate even more.


8. County Clare

1234 N. Astor St., (414) 272-5273

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Terry's Hot Chocolate at County Clare

There aren’t many places more cozy than the “snug” at County Clare Pub, where the atmosphere is as congenial as you’d expect from an Irish bar. I’ve consumed a number of Irish whiskeys and Guinnesses there. But, it wasn’t until recently that I tried their truly delicious spiked hot cocoa.

Terry’s Hot Chocolate is the name of the drink, which is flavored with orange vodka, Irish cream, and hot chocolate. Topped with fresh whipped cream, the drink comes together nicely with a flavor that’s reminiscent of the chocolate oranges that ruled the 1990s. I’m guessing the drink is named after that nostalgic treat, and – although you don’t get to experience the fun of “whacking and unwrapping it” – it’s a delicious indulgence just the same.

9. Nomad Coffee Bar

1668 N. Warren Ave., (414) 224-8111

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Nomad spiked Omanhene hot cocoa

Nomad Coffee Bar is a relative newcomer to the scene, but it’s an apt sister-venue to the soccer-themed Nomad World Pub, which pays homage to the pub’s early days in the 1990s when it was a full-on coffeehouse during the daytime and a soccer bar in the evening.

The covered, heated deck makes it a pleasant spot to grab breakfast or lunch, even during the colder months. And, well, it’s a downright scene during special events, particularly World Cup festivities during which cups of coffee are essential to get even the hardcore football fans through the sometimes very early morning games.

But I’m here to talk about their hot cocoa, which stands up against many others in the city thanks to its thoughtful construction with Omanhene hot cocoa, a brand that was birthed in Milwaukee and which pioneered the first, single-bean, processed-at-origin, all-natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder featured in a powdered hot cocoa drink mix.

It’s delicious on its own, with a  rich, full body and a lovely fruity aftertaste that’s reminiscent of raspberries; the whipped cream on top helps to pull everything together and enhance its mouthfeel. At Nomad Coffee, you can order “Bend it Hot Cocoa” to which you can add a shot of any number of liqueurs or spirits for $5. In this case, I might opt for Chambord to underscore those raspberry notes. But the butterscotch schnapps I tried with my cup last week was pretty darned amazing as well.

Your choices for shots include: Absolut, Aperol, Aquavit, Baileys, Bulleit bourbon or rye, butterscotch schnapps, Calico Jack, Campari, Cazadores, Chambord, Disaronno Amaretto, Dr Mcgillicuddy’s Menthol, Espolon, Fernet Branca, Frangelico, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Goslings Rum, Jameson,  Kahlua, Malort, Rumchata, white Sambuca, Sqrrl, Tuaca, Mezcal

10. Vintage Grounds Coffeehouse 

S74 W16825 Janesville Rd., Muskego, (414) 422-0556

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Vintage Grounds spiked hot cocoaX

Vintage Grounds is one of those spots you’d never guess was in a strip mall. It’s cozy and quaint with a cute little lounge area and fireplace and lots of (surprise) vintage tables and decor.  It’s a great spot to grab a cup of coffee or something to eat from their menu which features all-day breakfast, sandwiches and salads.

The coffee shop also has a liquor license, so you can add a shot of liqueur or spirits to any drink, resulting in the potential for Irish Cream lattes and… bourbon spiked hot cocoa, which is what I chose to order on my most recent trip.

I don’t think I’ve ever added bourbon to hot cocoa before, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of cabin coffee, this little dandy has a similar impact. Sweet caramel notes mix with creamy chocolate and cream and about two sips in, you’ll feel that deep warming sensation that makes you forget how cold it is outside.

Hot chocolate comes in a 16-ounce pour. Meanwhile, your options for adding a shot include: Full spectrum CBD ($2); spirits (whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, brandy, $3); liqueur (schnapps, Kahlúa, Irish cream, $2).

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.