Not Worth The Polyurethane It Came In
Akimbo Cafe Lab - Hot Cocoa (34rmb)
This wanghong mug of hot cocoa comes in a silver-lined box, a full-on branded cardboard container, with a paper film and an over-engineered opaque plastic top. Points off for not being environmentally friendly. We're taking that into account this year. It's 2019, how can I enjoy my hot chocolate in a giant polyurethane cup if I know it comes at the cost of our planet. No more planet, no more hot chocolate.
Also, it's garbage. Thin, milky mouthwash for 34rmb. Hard pass.
la Boulangerie et Patisserie by Pierre Gagnaire - Hot Chocolate (38rmb)
Too light, too weak. I expected some gravitas, some dignity and solemnity from a big-name French patisserie that serves quality pain au chocolat, especially for 38rmb, and I did not get it. Not a fan.
Peet's - Dark Chocolate Mocca (40rmb)
Comes with a little paper film under the top cover which spares the tape. Nice. It's dark and rich, the way Peet likes its coffee, allegedly 66% cocoa. Unfortunately, this is actually a mocha, a gritty, unpleasantly bitter drink I have never understood the appeal of. Doesn't really belong on a list of hot chocolates, but it's the closest they got so it deserved a shot.
Perfectly Acceptable Hot Chocolates
Wagas - Hot Chocolate (36rmb)
We forgot Wagas last year! Oversight fixed. Their big takeaway cups are filled with something that's more milk chocolate than cocoa, and especially sweet since it comes with whipped cream and syrup on top and yet no marshmallows. Probably be pretty popular with kids, but it won't cut it for cocoa fiends.
Awfully Chocolate - 70% Signature Hot Chocolate (40rmb)
A solid black cup. Darker than black. It's like, how much more black could this be and the answer is none. None more black. Awfully Chocolate is, appropriately, heavy on the chocolate flavor, and not too sweet. I dig it. It comes with a cube of truffle chocolate that you can either munch on or dunk in the drink to really kick the chocolate level up to "awfully." The add-on might excuse the 40rmb price tag, but that's still a lot to pay for a smallish cup of cocoa.
CHOCOholic - Classic Hot Chocolate (25rmb)
Christ, finally. I don't remember it being so hard to get some goddamn marshmallows in my hot chocolate. CHOCOholic, recently relocated to Changle Lu, gives not one, but two options: a thick, pillowy strata of 'mallow meringue, or a smore floated in your drink. That alone would've put it at the top of my list except Chocoholic's just not very chocolatey. Distinctly too thin. Decent, but not great, for a measly 25rmb.
The Brown Ambrosia Of The Gods
Gelato Dal Cuore - Hot Chocolate (38rmb)
Surprise contender from an Italian ice-cream maker. Small and pricy, like an artisinal it's thiccc. Maybe even thiccc-er than last year's thiccc-est offering from Sumerian. The chocolate flavor is so heavy it's almost fruity, and it goes down like a velvet glove stroking your esophagus. Nnngh yeah. Madonna mia. Kissy chef fingers, mwah. Could only be improved with marshmallows.
Starbucks - Classic Hot Chocolate (29rmb)
Still a gold standard, still 29rmb! If you want a good hot chocolate, you won't go wrong with Starbucks. Still a little dusty, still very good, points off for no marshmallows this year, not a single measly one. Also, no tape, no extra covers, nothing, just that detachable bit you tear off to get at that sweet dark goodness. Starbucks has engineered the Toyota Hilux pick-up of take-away cups affordable, reliable, and a favorite among US military contractors.
Tims Coffee House - Classic Hot Cocoa (27rmb medium / 30rmb large)
Nearly forgot Tim Hortons! We couldn't find their offering on Ele.me at first because they've called it 热可可 rather than 热巧克力. Canadians. I hear they talk funny!
It's excellent. Very classic. Just a hint of milk under the sweet chocolate, and best of all, it comes in an enormous crimson mug. Look at this towering, venerable maple. A noble red pillar. What volume. What girth. You could ride a tree trunk straight to the paper mill on the amount of hot chocolate it contains.
So there we have it. Gelato Dal Cuore is probably the best of the bunch, which is good news for them because I'm guessing the ice-cream sales might be down for next few months, and Starbucks has a new rival in Tims vying for the crown of best mass-produced cocoa. Surprisingly, Luckin appears to have capitulated, no longer offering a hot chocolate. The market for hot cocoa remains dynamic and unpredictable.
The real take-away, however, is that Shanghai's marshmallow situation remains absolute trash.