The Semantics of Heated Chocolate Beverages

Or, "Does Differentiating Between Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa Make You An Inveterate Douchebag?"

I hope not, because now I feel compelled to. Up until a year ago, I used the terms "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa" interchangeably. Then, one day while reading my friend Carolyn's ridiculously cute blog about her married life with husband "Mr. O," I stumbled upon a post titled "A Controversy."

Mr. O, who nearly nightly makes me a delightful chocolate beverage, informs me what I have been calling hot chocolate for years is not, in fact, hot chocolate. Apparently, it is hot cocoa....Anyway, after alerting me to my years-old misapprehension, Mr. O explained that hot chocolate is made with actual chocolate -- as in, shavings -- while cocoa is made with cocoa powder. Hrmph.

Who knew? Not Carolyn, and certainly not me.

At college in Boston (certainly one of the chilliest periods of my life), I referred to L.A. Burdick's decadent beverage made with melted chocolate bars and imported cocoa as "hot cocoa," but called a freeze-dried packet of brown powder from the dining hall mixed with hot water "hot chocolate."

And though my "foodie" sensibilities sharpened in my post-undergraduate years, I continued to mix the terms with no thought of ingredient specificity. Perhaps I would have been shamed into learning the difference between the two beverages had I referred to my mug o' discount Swiss Miss as "hot chocolate" in front of a fellow food snob ("Ahem. Don't you mean, 'hot cocoa?'")

I also should mention that that Mr. O, though food-savvy and accomplished in the kitchen, is not an incorrigible epicure. And he is not on his own in his assertions -- others also seem to mark a difference. If it is the case that a sizable percentage of the population understands "hot chocolate" to be a richer beverage generally more time consuming and expensive in its preparation and "hot cocoa" to be the stuff of convenience and low-grade cacao, then I definitely need to watch what I'm saying and serving.

True, this chocolate/cocoa controversy matters a bit less than our national debt crisis. I am curious, however, as to whether you, dear readers, also recognize hot chocolate and hot cocoa as two separate libations? And which one does Santa deserve to drink with his cookies?

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