Spring has arrived, but in between the warmer temperatures there can still be some cold and rainy days.  In weather like this, what better thing is there to do than visit a coffee shop and enjoy a hot chocolate?  Independent spots are great, and we support them when we can, but sometimes the closest or most convenient thing is a chain. 

But which chain does the best hot chocolate? I will be reviewing Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero.  In each shop I ordered the smallest size of hot chocolate, and only got whipped cream if it was offered for free. 

Starbucks (£2.95)

Starbucks hot chocolate.

Starbucks gave whipped cream for free, and the drink was served in a take-away cup as the dishwasher was broken when I visited.  Still, the presentation is decent and it looks appealing.  The flavour is very, very sweet.  The milky sugary tastes seem more prominent than any actual flavour of chocolate.  You can taste some chocolate in there, but compared to the other two chains, this is not very chocolatey at all. Towards the bottom of the cup the flavour is stronger but the texture gets a little powdery. The whipped cream is a nice addition, it has a vanilla taste which adds more complexity to the flavour but it is also sweetened. Overall, if you don’t have a sweet tooth this isn’t the hot chocolate for you. If you’re looking for something that tastes more like milk chocolate than dark chocolate, you will enjoy this.
Rating: 3/5

Costa (£2.60)

Costa hot chocolate.

Costa was the only chain that did not give cream for free – it costs a whopping 45p extra.  Presentation is still appealing without it, with a head of milk foam and a dusting of chocolate powder.  The glass mug shows off the rich brown colour.  This hot chocolate has the closest flavour to actual chocolate melting in your mouth, and is sweetened to just the right level for my taste.  This has by far the strongest, most decadent taste.  However, it does get powdery at the bottom of the glass.  If you like your hot chocolate really chocolatey and aren’t bothered about the cream, this is the one for you.  
Rating: 4/5

Caffe Nero (£2.65)

Caffe Nero hot chocolate.

This seemed to be the smallest serving of the lot.  However, Caffe Nero has the best presentation – in addition to whipped cream for free, it is served with dark chocolate sprinkles on top.  The drink looks appealing and classy.  The taste was a fairly strong  flavour of dark chocolate.  It is sweet but the sugar is not overpowering like Starbucks.  Additionally, there was no powdery feel at the end of the drink.  The whipped cream tastes different here, it is less sweet and tastes more like actual fresh cream.  Overall this hot chocolate seems quite sophisticated.  If you want something a bit fancy, choose this one.
Rating: 4/5

And the winner is…

Costa!  Although they did not give whipped cream for free, in my opinion their hot chocolate had the best flavour by far: indulgent, comforting and not too sweet.  But everyone’s tastes are different – why not give them all a try and see which suits you the best.