Froth and Cacao: A Review of Hot Chocolate Around New York City

Over the past couple of weeks, I went to six different cafés in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan to finally answer the question: which has the best hot chocolate?


Krisha Soni

From its signature sweet taste to the nostalgia it brings, there’s no wonder that hot chocolate is considered the ruling winter drink.

It has become an unspoken tradition to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate the moment that winter knocks on your door.

The staple winter drink provides no shortage of comfort, despite no two cups being quite the same. Some spins on the classic have more cacao, while others have more milk. The beauty of the beverage is that it can be served cold, spiced, crowned with marshmallows, or decorated with candy canes, all while maintaining its status as the ruling winter drink. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a journey to find which New York City shop has the best hot chocolate. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to the Bronx or Staten Island to survey their hot chocolate. Still, I managed to go to six shops in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan and rated their taste, café’s aesthetic, and price on a scale of 1-10. 

It is worth noting that my experiences are inevitably just that – my experiences. After all, we don’t share taste buds – what I felt about the drinks will not be felt by everyone else!

Martha’s Country Bakery – 7028 Austin St, Forest Hills, NY 11375-4723
Open from 6 AM until 12 AM, but stays open until 1 AM on Fridays and Saturdays

Martha’s Country Bakery comes to life the moment you enter. The popularity of the shop is not to be underestimated. During rush hour, the line can extend outside of the bakery.

The hot chocolate booth of the Bakery, located in the back of the store, has a variety of impressive options. From Mexican Hot Chocolate to Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate, it is clear that the place takes pride in their unique and varied options.

I ordered a small, regular hot chocolate with no whipped cream, paying $4.30 in total. The wait only lasted a few minutes, and I received a cup that was around 11 fluid ounces. Upon taking my first sip, I noticed that Martha’s hot chocolate is not quite bitter in the sense that it bites, but it’s definitely not as sweet as boxed hot chocolate. The drink tasted exactly like melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, only thinned out with some milk.

But do note: Martha’s hot chocolate is not a soft, cushiony drink. The smooth, nearly-bitter tang of the drink is pleasantly surprising, the perfect drink for those who enjoy the semi-sweet flavor. As the drink cools, the sweetness, previously hiding behind the dark chocolate, comes through more prominently.

Taste: 8/10. The hot chocolate was definitely layered and not too sweet.

Café: 6/10. The shop was crowded and the line long during rush hour, making the store feel a little stuffy at times.

Price: 9/10. The drink was one of the cheapest of all six cafés!

Starbucks – 108-01 Queens Blvd Forest Hills, NY 11375
Open from 5:30 AM to 9:00 PM on Weekdays, 5:30 AM to 8:00 PM on Saturday, and 5:30 AM to 7:30 PM on Sunday 

Starbucks greets visitors with soft background music as the warmth of the shop provides a welcoming contrast to the frigid winter wind outside the shop. The air inside smells of steamed milk, with shafts of light illuminating the shop from its large windows. The quiet yet bustling atmosphere of the shop fills it wonderfully.

I placed my order for a small hot chocolate for $4.63. For the next 10 minutes, I shifted from knee-to-knee as I noticed more people entering the store. Finally, I grabbed the drink from the counter (addressed to “Caresha”) and sat down on the nearest bench. 

The hot chocolate was puzzling. Where there should have been robust chocolate, there was simply nothing to indicate that the cacao was ever there. Not only was the drink void of any hint of chocolate, there was an overpowering taste of steamed milk that shadowed any other flavor present. 

The drink was quite frankly lacking any sense of heart. Starbucks’ drink boiled down to a grab-and-go hot chocolate, not something to sit down and enjoy. 

Taste: 3/10. This hot chocolate somehow lost the “chocolate” and just became “hot.”

Café: 7/10. The casual atmosphere of the franchise was likable, but lacked the charm of the other smaller cafés. 

Price: 7/10. The price may have been fine if the drink had been good, but $5 is way too much for warm milk.

Max Brenner – 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
Open from 10AM – 11PM, and stays open until 12AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday

Max Brenner is a spacious, sleek shop, with pipes and vats of chocolate reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Inside, couples laugh over pizza, parents rock sleeping infants, and waiters walk to and fro collecting orders.

I ordered my “milk hot chocolate” from a small iPad on the counter and paid $6.53. The wait time was 6 minutes, after which I received a small cup around 11 ounces. 

I took my first sip, noting the smooth texture first. The drink, quite frankly, tasted like half-melted chocolate. The richness and sweetness was the strongest aspect, not making the drink too thick but still maintaining a strong flavor. This was well crafted hot cocoa, which was clear in every sip. It did teeter on the edge of being overly sweet, but this was balanced out by its small serving size. Altogether, the hot chocolate at Max Brenner was the perfect drink to top off a winter afternoon.

Taste: 10/10. Max Brenner’s hot chocolate is sweet, rich, creamy, and truly feels like the definition of hot chocolate.

Café: 8/10. The café environment was very cozy, but it would be hard to get a table due to the amount of people inside.

Price: 4/10. It leaned on the expensive side, but it’s an indulgent treat and is priced like one.

La Burdick – 156 Prince St, New York City, NY 10012-5318
Open 8AM – 6PM from Monday to Thursday, 8AM – 8PM from Friday to Saturday, and 10AM – 8PM on Sunday

The small La Burdick, nestled in a corner of SoHo, greets its customers with its dangling lights which cast a white glow on the shop. From the vintage lamps and posters, La Burdick contains a quiet beauty and warmth.

I ordered a regular hot chocolate, paying $6.53. The wait time was five minutes, and I sat at one of the tables once I received the large cup. Like Max Brenner, the richness of the drink was at its forefront. However, unlike the other shop, the drink was on the thicker, frothier side. The cream was balanced with a hint of dark chocolate, overpowering enough to require a drink of water afterwards. 

The hot chocolate at La Burdick was exceptionally creamy and high quality, reminiscent of gourmet chocolate. Overall, La Burdick is a worthwhile go for chocolate lovers.

Taste: 8/10. The potency of the drink was one of the greatest I had ever tasted: slightly darker, creamy, and a bit sweet.

Café: 8/10. La Burdick’s interior was cozy and visually pleasing, cementing its place as a small SoHo gem. 

Price: 4/10. The drink was about $7 for a cup — around 12 fluid ounces. The high-quality drink justified the price, but it was still quite expensive for a hot chocolate.

Devoción Coffee – 69 Grand St. (at Wythe), Brooklyn, NY 11249
Open 8AM – 7PM every day

Devoción Coffee is one of the most intricately decorated of all the hot chocolate shops. Tucked within Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the doors at the front of the shop lead to a cobbled hallway, opening up to a vast, rustic room. A massive wall covered in vines stands in the back, with wooden decor and brown sofas decorating the rest of the café. A large skylight overhead casts the shop in sunlight. 

All of the coffee beans used in Devoción Coffee are imported from Columbia. According to the official website, the beans are dry-milled in Bogotá and sent to the shops in New York to be crushed in about 10 days. While it is unclear if the same practice holds true for cacao beans, it’s a fun fact that only adds to the ambience!

I ordered a regular hot chocolate, receiving it in four minutes and paying $7.08. The first thing I noticed was the way the drink was served: without a cover and foam on the top. I took my first sip of the frothy drink.

The depth of the dark chocolate was a prominent part of the drink. With the slightest hints of tart, the hot chocolate definitely leans more heavily towards the “chocolate” portion of it. It was not, however, very sweet at all. Devoción’s hot chocolate was bitter and frothy, a unique spin on the drink that I had not encountered before.

Taste: 7/10: This is a frothy and cacao-filled drink that could have used more milk. Overall, it is an ideal drink for dark chocolate lovers.

Café: 10/10: The interior of Devoción is breathtaking, from its elegant ivy-covered decor to the peaceful earthy tones. 

Price: 3/10: The exports from Columbia may explain paying over $7 for a regular-sized drink, but it simply isn’t the best choice for everyone. 

The Chocolate Room – 269 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231-4406
Open 12PM – 10PM every day

The warmly-lit Chocolate Room smells of soap and chocolate, lined with vintage posters, giving the shop an old-timey ambiance. The small tables and chairs only add to this, immersing customers in the small bubble this chocolate shop creates.

There was a wide array of options, including Spiced and White Hot Chocolate, similar to Martha’s. I ordered their classic hot chocolate to stay for $6.53. After six minutes, the hot cocoa arrived in a large white mug, carrying the aroma of steamed milk and chocolate with it. After blowing furiously, I took my first sip.

The hot chocolate at The Chocolate Room relied on a classic, all-American taste, similar to cocoa served at a diner from the 1950s. It was a sweet drink, reminiscent of melted Hershey’s chocolate bars. With the white mug and simplistic taste, it felt like something that your grandma could make on a Sunday afternoon. The smooth, sweet, and milky hot chocolate served at The Chocolate Room felt the coziest of them all and was a beautiful way to end the day.

Taste: 8/10. The hot chocolate had a great balance of all the factors that make hot chocolate, yet failed to completely stand out.

Café: 8/10. The vintage, upbeat ambience was charming and it seemed like a great place to study.

Price: 4/10. The drink being nearly $7 may make sense due to the mug size, but the price isn’t the best for everyone.

Concluding Statements

According to Foodly, by 2022, NYC had a whopping 3,389 coffee shops. As this number continues to grow with the city, hot chocolate production will only increase, each drink containing their own individual charm that only adds to the Big Apple’s splendor.

Hot chocolate is ultimately a unifier. It is the staple winter drink: warm, comfy and chocolate-y. NYC has no shortage of shops serving hot cocoa, and each should be admired for their own unique spin. Every interpretation, even ones whipped up in your own kitchen, only serves to enhance the magic of this chocolate drink. 

So the next time the snow starts to fall and you scour Google Maps for the perfect hot chocolate place near you, be sure to check out these cafés. Because who knows? 

You might just find a favorite.

The beauty of the beverage is that it can be served cold, spiced, crowned with marshmallows, or decorated with candy canes, all while maintaining its status as the ruling winter drink.