How To Create The Ultimate Hot Chocolate Bar

Wow guests with a delectable spread.

Hot chocolate


As Southern entertainers, we all know that a great hostess makes inviting spaces for her guests, and that includes drink stations. She sets up an amazing cocktail bar in the evenings and an even more impressive coffee bar in the mornings, predicting your needs and wants before you even have time to register them yourself. One of the most popular holiday hostess tricks is to create an enticing, indulgent hot chocolate bar. It’s a decadent treat for visitors of all ages. 

Hot chocolate is among the most nostalgic and inclusive holiday drinks, and chances are you have your own memories associated with drinking hot cocoa. According to Jim Hagy, the restauranteur and caterer behind Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, “Hot chocolate is the universal comfort beverage. When I was a kid, we had it on the night the family decorated the Christmas tree, a tradition my wife and I carry over with our children. It sparks the magic of the season and brings together kids and kids-at-heart alike.”

Being able to customize your cup makes it that much more special. And according to Hagy, as an added bonus, “Guests may even use their cup as a conversation starter as they see what combinations others have concocted.” The key to a great hot chocolate bar begins with impressive ingredients. “Start with a rich hot chocolate, then beautifully present it with goodies you curate with love for your guests,” he says. 

The Basics

As you start to build your bar, consider a few of the important basics. You’ll want a way to keep your cocoa warm, so plan to use your trusty slow cooker or a stainless steel server. This would also be an excellent opportunity to turn to that sterling silver tea or coffee service you inherited from your grandmother. Silver conducts temperatures, helping to keep food and beverages nice and hot. You’ll also want plenty of mugs or cups for guests, so they can try different combinations or return to the bar again and again. Finally, the base of any great hot chocolate bar is using quality hot chocolate. “Never go for the “add water” prepared mix,” says Hagy. Instead, making it homemade is the way to go. “For our hot chocolate we use a combination of a good cocoa powder and a good quality prepared chocolate. The best tip is to use a combination of heavy cream and milk which makes it rich and creamy,” he explains. 

The Accouterments

This is where the fun begins, and your options are truly limitless. Allow yourself to be a kid in a candy shop—literally. Marshmallows and whipped cream are a given, but think outside of the box for other creative additions. Peppermint sticks, biscotti, cookie crumbles, white chocolate shavings, crushed candies, toffee, sea salt, cinnamon sticks, and even your favorite local sweet goodies are all good to include. Hagy suggests a theme for an even more fun display. “Play off a certain element that ties it together—such as Southern inspired, featuring confections from the South with toppings such as Willa’s Shortbread Cookies, Lil’ Goos from Goo Goo Cluster or artisanal marshmallows from Bang Candy Co.” Bonus: Goo Goo Cluster even makes two of their own flavors of sipping chocolate, Pecan Truffle Hot Cocoa and Triple Chocolate Hot Cocoa, which according to Mike Colón, executive pastry chef and general manager at Goo Goo Cluster, “allows us to still experience that feeling of nostalgia while keeping things interesting for our palate.”

The Additions

The guests in attendance will help you decide more than just your toppings. It will also help you curate other additions such as liquors. “If you are having kids present, a beautiful display of holiday candies and cookies are a must. If it’s an adult event, be sure to add a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream or a Peppermint Liquor accompanied with a more sophisticated selection of chocolate and candy.” Don’t forget to turn to your favorite Southern distilleries, too. Spirits such Jackson Morgan Peppermint Mocha Cream Liqueur or Tarnished Truth’s Old Cavalier Bourbon Cream Liquor are welcome accompaniments. 

In the true spirit of the holidays, remember to have fun with pulling your hot chocolate spread together. It’s all about making lasting memories with the people you love. 

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