The Drink of December: A Ranking of UChicago’s Best Cups of Hot Cocoa

Arts reporter Lainey Gregory rates hot chocolates on UChicago’s campus.


James Ransom

As the holidays approach, there’s no better way to avoid work than to relax in a café with a hot chocolate in hand.

By Lainey Gregory, Arts Reporter

As the holidays approach, there’s no better way to avoid work than to relax in a café with a hot chocolate in hand. With so many cafés on campus, it can be hard to know where to start your search. I scoured the quad to find the perfect cup of hot chocolate, which, just like the UChicago Core Curriculum, has a few requirements that must be met.

Richness: Richness describes the intensity and quality of the drink’s chocolate flavor on a scale from 1 to 10.

Sweetness: Sweetness refers to how well the beverage’s sugar content compliments the overall drink on a scale from 1 to 10.

Creaminess: Creaminess characterizes the overall consistency of the hot chocolate on a scale from 1 to 10.

Whipped Cream: I gave a bonus point if the drink came with whipped cream just because I like whipped cream!

8) Starbucks at Saieh Hall

Richness: 4

Sweetness: 3

Creaminess: 4

Whipped Cream: +1

Overall: 12/30

Starbucks is a beverage hotspot that dutifully serves the economics students of Saieh Hall. Unfortunately, its hot chocolate is terrible, representing the worst that hot chocolate has to offer. It has the consistency of water and excessive sweetness, and the chocolate flavor is overly strong. And on top of all that, the drink was scalding hot. Priced at $3.75 for the smallest size, Starbucks’s hot chocolate was the most expensive on this list. While I don’t think this beverage is worth your money, at least it has whipped cream!

7) Peach’s

Richness: 6

Sweetness: 3

Creaminess: 5

Overall: 14/30

Peach’s hot cocoa recipe features both powdered hot chocolate mix and Hershey’s syrup. This combination regrettably resulted in a hot chocolate that was overly sugary. Additionally, the processed chocolate mix gave the drink a strange aftertaste. My cup was also lukewarm and had a thin consistency, which I attributed to improper aeration of the beverage. With a little more time in the frother, Peach’s hot chocolate has the potential to be a warm winter treat.

6) Hallowed Grounds

Richness: 6

Sweetness: 4

Creaminess: 8

Overall: 18/30

Hallowed’s hot chocolate came in my favorite purple “My Grandma Rocks” mug. I was joined by my friend Tom, who noted that he appreciates the “depth of flavor” in Hallowed Grounds’s hot chocolate. I regret to say that I did not get a cup like that. The drink was very creamy, but it lacked any chocolate flavor. I felt like I was drinking a mildly sweet, steamed milk. Then, when I reached the bottom of the cup, I was hit with a wave of dense chocolate. The syrup had not been mixed with the milk and had settled at the bottom of the mug. Next time I stop at Hallowed, I will be sure to stir my cocoa well.

5) Harper Café

Richness: 7

Sweetness: 8

Creaminess: 4

Whipped Cream: +1

Overall: 20/30

Nestled in the east tower of the Harper Memorial Library, Harper Café boasts cheap coffee and a dark academia environment. Its hot chocolate was perfectly sweet, which makes for a very pleasant cup. The chocolate flavor was bold but unfortunately had an artificial taste. Harper was the only café that made hot chocolate with water, which came at the cost of the creaminess of the beverage. Overall, I thought that the drink was pretty standard, but I really enjoyed it.

4) Grounds of Being

Richness: 6

Sweetness: 5

Creaminess: 10

Overall: 21/30

With cash in hand, I descended into the basement of the Divinity School to sample my next cocoa. The best part of this hot chocolate was undoubtedly the texture. However, there was very little flavor, most likely because of poor mixing of the chocolate sauce. I recommend asking for extra chocolate sauce to create a perfect cup. Regardless, I am now a huge fan of Grounds of Being’s hot chocolate and will be back very soon! If you would like to try a cup for yourself, don’t forget to bring your wallet; Grounds of Being only accepts cash!

3) Cobb Café

Richness: 6.5

Sweetness: 9

Creaminess: 8

Overall: 23.5/30

My love for Cobb Café runs deep, so I had very high expectations for its hot chocolate. My order was met with confusion, and the barista admitted to me that he did not know if Cobb sold hot chocolate. After consulting an off-the-clock friend, he managed to locate some and charged me $2, his best guess at the price (which was later discovered to be $3.75). The drink itself had a very subtle sweetness and a silky-smooth consistency. My cup would have benefited from a little bit more chocolate, as the intensity of the flavor was slightly lacking. Despite that, Cobb’s hot cocoa was quite good and is certainly worth a return visit.

2) Ex Libris

Richness: 7.5

Sweetness: 9

Creaminess: 8

Whipped Cream: +1

Overall: 25.5/30

Located in the Reg, Ex Libris provides respite to those in the throes of deadlines and late-night study sessions. My cup was filled to the brim and had just the right amount of chocolate flavor. After burning my tongue on the other seven hot chocolates on this list, I was extremely grateful for the mild warmth of this cup of cocoa. The chocolate syrup had a delicately sweet aftertaste, which earned this cup of hot cocoa the number two spot. While you’re there, snag one of Ex Lib’s fresh pastries because its hot chocolate is best paired with a chocolate old-fashioned donut!

1) Plein Air

Richness: 9

Sweetness: 9

Creaminess: 9

Overall: 27/30

Plein Air was one of the last stops on my hot chocolate adventure. A few friends and I arrived just before closing, but the baristas were very kind and made us a drink despite my tardiness. What made this cup wonderful was Plein Air’s house-made chocolate syrup, which added a light sweetness that left me wanting more. I usually prefer a slightly bolder flavor in my hot chocolate, but this drink’s silky consistency was more than satisfying. After so many cups, my appetite for hot cocoa was starting to ebb. However, I was surprised to find myself bickering with my friends over who gets to finish off the mug. We will be back very soon to purchase our own cups because Plein Air’s hot chocolate is too good to share!