Ultimate Make-Your-Own Hot Cocoa Bar

A cup of hot cocoa with a colorful red candied rim sits next to three cups containing candy cane sticks, biscotti and marshmallow respectively

Hot cocoa brings us joy and comfort, and antioxidant-rich dark cocoa may yield health benefits, too. When guests come to your home, treat them to a grand make-your-own hot cocoa bar! Don’t worry: it’ll look fancy, but it’s simple to set up.

  • Set out a variety of festive, silly, or winter-themed mugs.
  • Fancy drinks deserve special rim garnishes. Next to your mugs, set out separate saucers of honey, caramel sauce, maple syrup and molasses. Next to each liquid, set a small bowl or saucer of a complementing spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, sea salt flakes, sprinkles, or edible glitter, for example. Be adventurous.
  • Will you provide instant hot cocoa and hot water, or warmed milk and melted chocolate squares? The former you can serve from an insulated pot or tea maker; for the latter, you’ll need an electric hotplate and a saucepan.
  • Set out a variety of flavored marshmallows. Use small cookie cutters to form fun marshmallow shapes. Sprinkle some with tasty spices (i.e., cloves, cayenne, vanilla, cake-decorating sugar). Toss others with crushed peppermints.
  • Make decorative marshmallow sculptures:
    • Use toothpicks, large and small marshmallows to make snowflakes for garnishing drinks. Stick 6 toothpicks into a large marshmallow, in a hexagonal pattern. Affix a small marshmallow to the outward-facing end of each toothpick, or stack several marshmallows on each toothpick.
    • Make side display snowpeople. Push a small straw or toothpick through a stack of marshmallows (large mallow on the bottom, then medium, then small — in the shape of a snowperson). Use cake-decorating gels to paint eyes, a smile and a carrot nose on each snowperson’s face, if you wish.
  • Offer tasty stir sticks. Set out mason jars filled with candy canes, cinnamon sticks, biscotti, salted caramel bars, and chocolate-dipped pretzels. The trick here is to supply lavish accompaniments with minimal work on your part — all you have to do is open the packages. It’s luxury, the easy way!
  • Spike it! Party guests age 21 and over may appreciate the opportunity to add some liquid cheer their hot cocoa. Coffee or hazelnut liqueurs, Irish cream, crème de menthe, crème de cacao, spiced or vanilla rum, vodka and bourbon are all excellent complements. If you are providing warm milk for the hot cocoa base, avoid raspberry or orange liqueurs—their acids will curdle the milk.