On a cold January day in Kingsport, nothing hits the spot and warms the bones better than a cup of hot chocolate. It’s heaven in a cup.
But where to go to get a taste of that chocolatey goodness when you’re out and about with the kids, running errands and going to activities on a wintry January day?
We recruited a working mom and her two school-aged children to stop in at a few establishments that sell hot chocolate as they went about their daily activities. Our working mom has a typical work schedule with two young children in elementary school.
Our mom and her children visited and reviewed the hot chocolate at five different venues while going about their typical day. And they did it in five days!
The restaurants and cafés had no idea that this family was reviewing their hot chocolate. Our anonymous reviewers rated each hot chocolate from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. Criteria included taste, consistency, and kid appeal.
Here are the results.
THE NUTTY JAVA ❺
Located inside the Kingsport Mall at 2101 Fort Henry Dr, E28, The Nutty Java serves hot chocolate made from whole milk and using their very own chocolate that includes a mixture of cocoa and a bit of dark chocolate.
Although you can opt to top a Nutty Java cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle, our mom and kid judges decided to forgo the toppings.
The Nutty Java hot chocolate was the favorite among our kid judges who said that it was good and not too watery or too hot.
The Nutty Java server offered to make the chocolate “kid temperature” which our mom judge appreciated. This made the hot chocolate easier for the kids to drink right away.
Overall, our judges found this cup of hot chocolate smooth with none of the after taste that you can sometimes experience when drinking hot chocolate made from chocolate powder.
Our judges proclaimed this the perfect cup of hot chocolate; creamy, chocolatey and not too sweet with a thick consistency.
Mom: “Best hot chocolate I’ve had in a while.”
Kid 1: “Perfect.”
Kid 2: “Really milky and the right temperature.”
$3.25/ 12 oz
$3.75 / 16 oz
$4.00 / 20 oz
PERKINS RESTAURANT AND BAKERY ❹
Our judges visited Perkins Restaurant and Bakery, located at 4618 Fort Henry Drive, where they were unable to find out exactly how the hot chocolate was made. However, our mom and pint-sized judges said that it tasted like milk chocolate.
Whipped cream is an optional topping for Perkins’ hot chocolate. Our mom chose the whipped cream topping. Her kids decided to have theirs without the topping.
Our mom taster said she felt that the whipped topping made her cup of hot chocolate a bit thicker and gave it added flavor which she liked.
Our kid judges liked that the hot chocolate was served in a mug and was not too hot. (Mom thinks the staff adjusted the temperature for the kids because her cup of hot chocolate was much hotter. She really appreciated the thoughtfulness of this gesture from the staff.)
The overall reviews for this hot chocolate was mixed. Our reviewers said that they would have thought this chocolate was just fine and rated it higher had they not tasted The Nutty Java’s hot chocolate first.
Mom said that it reminded her of Swiss Miss chocolate mix while one of the children thought it was sweet, milky and chocolatey and the other thought it was sweet, but not very chocolatey. The mom also found some undissolved powered chocolate lumps in her cup that she found a bit “off putting.”
Mom: “Seemed like a typical add water to powder mix.”
Kid 1: “Standard. Not very thick.”
Kid 2: “Could have been a bit more chocolatey.”
Cost: $2.59/8 oz.
THE MUSTARD SEED CAFÉ ❸
Located in downtown Kingsport at 118 E Market Street, The Mustard Seed Café said that its hot chocolate was made with Ghirardelli chocolate and milk. Our three judges suspected that this hot chocolate was made from dark chocolate and remarked upon the bitter, dark chocolate taste.
Our judges found the consistency of the chocolate thin, but that may be because they opted out of adding the optional whipped cream topping that would have made the chocolate a bit thicker and sweeter, and may have counteracted the bitter, dark chocolate taste.
The kids said that this was not their favorite cup of hot chocolate because it was not sweet enough. And, they said it didn’t taste like hot chocolate. This is to be expected since dark chocolate is a taste for the adult palate. There also was no “kid temperature” option so the children had to wait until the hot chocolate cooled before drinking it.
Mom: “It was one of the least sweet hot chocolates we’ve tasted; it does seem to have a bit of a bitter taste. I think it would be one of the easiest to drink because it’s not too sweet.”
Kid 1: “I felt like it left a cocoa powder feeling in my mouth when I drank it.”
Kid 2: “Not sweet enough; doesn’t feel like it has a strong taste.”
$3.49/ 12 oz
$3.89 / 20 oz
PANERA BREAD ❸
Our family of hot chocolate connoisseurs next visited Panera Bread on 1880 North Eastman Road, where the server informed them that Panera Bread’s hot chocolate was made with 2% pure dairy milk, chocolate chips, whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and marshmallows. The marshmallows weren’t noticeable so our judges think that they may have been melted into the chocolate or hidden under the copious amounts of whipped cream topping.
Although topped with whipped creamed and a drizzle of chocolate syrup, our mom judge said she found the consistency of the hot chocolate was standard while both children felt the consistency was a bit thin.
Overall, our judges declared this cup of hot chocolate too sweet and said that the whipped cream hid the taste of the chocolate.
One of our pint-sized judges felt that the chocolate was too hot to drink until the whipped cream melted into it, then it was just right.
At the bottom of their cups, our judges found a surprise. “No wonder it’s so sweet! Chocolate chips!” said one of the children. Half-melted chocolate chips were at the bottom of the cup and may have added to the too sweet taste.
The other child noted that there was a “weird flavor change” the closer you got to the bottom of the cup. Perhaps it was because of the chocolate chips.
Mom & Kids: “Too sweet.”
Cost: $3.49 / 16oz
Next for our judges was Weigel’s at 4401 West Stone Drive. Weigel’s hot chocolate is dispensed from a machine so our judges were not sure how it is made. Weigel’s website says that their hot chocolate is made with milk or dark chocolate, comes fresh with Weigel’s Skim, 2% or Vitamin D milk. There was only one machine and no options, so we’re guessing the hot chocolate mixture varies according to location. There are no toppings available for the hot chocolate and our judges found the overall consistency thin, but not watery.
The chocolate dispenses very hot, so the kids didn’t like that they had to wait until it cooled considerably before drinking.
Overall, our tasters found this cup of hot chocolate to be very good, especially for hot chocolate dispensed from a machine.
Mom: “If I hadn’t had the hot chocolate at Nutty Java, I would have probably rated this a 5. It’s surprisingly good.”
Kid 1: “Just right.”
Kid 2: “Chocolatey, sweet, but not too sweet.”
Cost: $1.09/ 12 oz
Our family of reviewers would have liked to visit more restaurants, but they could only visit five in the time allotted. Perhaps in the future, we will review more.
Our mom hot chocolate reviewer noted that going to The Nutty Java early on in their search for the perfect hot chocolate probably spoiled their reviews going forward.
“Their hot chocolate is just REALLY good,” she said. “and their staff was also the most friendly and helpful and actually interacted with us versus just taking our order and giving it to us.”
One of our pint-sized reviewers said, “The best hot chocolate is made at home.” We agree.
Our mom judge gave us her recipe for a perfect cup of homemade hot chocolate:
“I make the kids Swiss Miss hot chocolate with mini marshmallows. I fill the cup halfway with water and halfway with milk (organic, whole milk). I’ve always made my powdered hot chocolate half water and half milk so it’s cool enough to drink right away and not watered down.”
For even more homemade hot chocolate recipes, from old-fashioned to spiced Mexican, check out these recipes from The Spruce Eats.