HOT CHOCOLATE. Cocoa. Chocolat Chaud. Chocolate Caliente. A classic winter treat, brought back every year with candy canes and gingerbread houses. There are endless different types and flavors — milk and chocolate syrup in the microwave, Swiss Miss packets with mini marshmallows, Trader Joe’s bitter “sipping chocolate”, the famous Serendipity frozen hot chocolate, Nutella hot chocolate, melted chocolate, cinnamon hot chocolate, and chocolate tea… you get the idea.
With so much variety, it can be hard to choose just one drink on a cold winter day, especially in Palo Alto, where it seems like there’s a café on every corner, each offering a new hot chocolate variety. Even frozen yogurt places like Fraîche offer their own version of hot chocolate.
After going on a hot cocoa tour through Palo Alto and consuming thousands of calories of steaming cocoa,  we ranked the top five best specialty hot chocolates in Palo Alto.

1) Coupa Cafe
538 Ramona Street, Palo Alto
What to Get: Chuao Hot Chocolate
Coupa Cafe is a lesser-known venue, tucked away on Ramona with a location on Stanford Campus. It has gained recognition among Paly students with its beloved Chuao Hot Chocolates. The Abuela hot chocolate is thick and creamy, but not so milky that it outweighs the cocoa taste, which is very authentic and not as artificial as Peet’s or Starbucks plain hot chocolates — you won’t find an icky chocolate coating at the bottom of your cup! The cinnamon flavor offers a different twist unlike the other usual seasonal flavors of caramel, pumpkin or peppermint. Both flavors are sure to please.
2) Mayfield
110 Town & Country, Palo Alto
What to Get: Hot Cocoa & Marshmallow
Streams of Paly students flow in and out of Mayfield every day at lunch, especially during the colder months, cramming the warm, delicious-smelling store full of backpacks and rainboots. Best known and adored for the French Demi Baguette at a record price of $1.35, Mayfield also prides itself on its acclaimed hot chocolate. It’s definitely a higher quality than at-home instant cocoa, which often end up with a bottom coated in grainy chocolate. It stays consistently creamy and sweet the whole way through. What makes it perfect is the homemade marshmallow, which melts as you drink and adds another shock of sweetness to the drink — unless you give in and eat the whole thing first.

3) Douce France
104 Town & Country, Palo Alto
What to Get: Chocolat Chaud
Douce France is perfect for Parisian-stye baked goods (Douce macaroons are delicious and all of their sandwiches are made in authentic French baguette style.) Cakes and other desserts are rich, much like the Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate.) Topped with whipped cream, the hot chocolate is a classic choice that is very creamy, keeping it from being too strong or too sweet. The shaved chocolate on top as well as the high-quality ingredients and rich chocolate make it extra-sweet.

4) Starbucks
2000 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
What to get: Salted Caramel Hot ChocolateVenturing away from your usual Starbucks order can be intimidating, especially with the daunting menu. Each winter brings back autumnnal drink options. If you’re not in the mood for a regular  cocoa, or maybe a peppermint mocha, the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate is a delicious option. The regular hot chocolate can be a bit too strong, and tastes coffee-flavored, but the Salted Caramel has a unique flavor not offered at most other cafés. Although salt and chocolate is a recognized flavor combination, it is rarely made into hot chocolate. The caramel adds a sweetness that can be a little much for one of the larger sizes, but for a sweet morning pick-me-up, the Tall size is perfect.

5) Powder Hot Cocoa
The Nurse’s Office, Paly Campus
What to Get: Hot chocolate packet
While hot chocolate at Town and Country can run anywhere from $3 to $5, the rainy season brings packets of hot cocoa powder and styrofoam cups to the nurse’s office, where a cup of instant hot chocolate costs 25 cents. Water is pre-boiled, and it’s a definite steal — even the Academic Resource Center hot chocolate with marshmallows costs a dollar. Although Town and Country might have higher quality, richer options, it’s hard to go wrong with a steaming hot cup of cocoa in the morning, especially without the hassle of going across the street and waiting in long lines.