Delectable Italian Hot Chocolate in Italy (+ Recipe for Cioccolata Calda)

Calling all chocolate lovers! Whether you’re a raging chocoholic or temper your sweet tooth with an iron will, it’s safe to say there’s nothing in the world quite like hot chocolate in Italy!

Of course, Italians love their coffee, but when it comes to warm chocolate beverages, there’s nothing better in the cold weather. It’s one of those Italian drinks that transcends food to become an experience!

So if you love a welcoming mug of hot chocolate that soothes the soul, you’ll fall hard for what Italians call Cioccolata Calda, their dense and creamy version of hot chocolate.

Here’s a little info about this uniquely Italian treat and how to make it at home when you’re seriously missing Italy!

Hot chocolate in Italy, Italian hot chocolate

What is Cioccolata Calda?

Italian hot chocolate — sometimes called Italian drinking chocolate, or European drinking chocolate elsewhere in Europe — is a tasty and creamy drink that is thick but still very drinkable, and just as importantly — dunkable.

You may think a drink that looks molten thick wouldn’t taste appealing but after all, it’s molten chocolate. Plus, it’s typically good chocolate to boot.

Your first cup of thick Italian hot chocolate will feel decadent, as if you’re somehow sneaking the melted chocolate your Mom used when she was baking a cake or icing brownies. And surprisingly, it tastes as natural going down as any warm Italian drink like espresso or cappuccino.

The ingredients in Cioccolata Calda are simple: chocolate, milk, and sugar (if you like). The drinking concoction is melted in special machines that slowly swirl the mixture constantly to avoid scalding it.

This type of thick hot chocolate is found throughout Europe, but the name is unique to Italy, as is the service with a light sweet treat or dessert like Italian cantucci or biscotti.

You’ll find this delectable drink served in small cups, which is fine because as you’ll find, it is very rich. Drinking a big mug-full as Americans do with our coffee may be too much of a good thing.

Italian hot chocolate in Italy

The History of Italian Hot Chocolate

You may already know that chocolate was born in South America. Leave it to the pre-Columbian peoples who were light years ahead of their time to also discover the wonders of what is still one of the world’s most beloved foods.

Although their early version of a hot chocolate drink is believed to be a thinner version of a hot, chocolaty drink infused with rich flavors like chili, cinnamon, and vanilla, it became known throughout the world even before the world learned of its medicinal properties. Soon, the Spanish conquerers brought it back to Spain where it quickly became the newest status symbol among the wealthiest classes.

Italy was among the first states in the Spanish domain to enjoy the new hot chocolate drink in a big way, and it didn’t take long for them to make it their own. When the Savoy Kingdom served the drink at a celebration in Turin, it wasn’t long before this Italian city became a center for chocolate production.

Today, you can find this tasty drink throughout northern and central Italy when the weather turns cold. It’s a staple at all the Christmas markets and a popular street food around the Christmas holidays.

Italian hot chocolate in Florence

What Makes Hot Chocolate Italian Hot Chocolate?

By now you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. You’ve had hot chocolate before, even if it was the powdered kind that came in a packet to which you added boiling hot water to get a mostly-dissolved hot drink with a few undissolved bubbles of cocoa powder floating on top.

At the end, a half teaspoon of the mixture remained in the bottom of your cup. The container of Swiss Miss was ever-present in our family’s kitchen pantry when I was a kid. Maybe you were lucky and had someone in your family who made the homemade kind?

It wasn’t until my husband and I finally visited Italy in winter that we tasted Cioccolata Calda at the Christmas market in Bolzano (Mercatini di Natale) and our world was changed forever! Then we had it again when we moved down to Bologna and again in Florence. By the end of our 2 week Christmas trip, we’d tasted Cioccolata Calda everywhere we ate, for research of course ;-)

So what makes Italian hot chocolate so unique? For one thing, Italian hot chocolate is thicker, creamier, and richer than traditional American hot chocolate.

It’s like your favorite chocolate pudding and chocolate bar had a love child! It’s served warm/hot in a mug with a spoon of course and usually topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Also — and this is important — this Italian chocolate drink is generally made with darker cocoa and not the milk chocolate often found in the US. I can’t remember it any other way in all that we tasted in Italy.

So if you’re a dark chocolate lover like me, get ready for your chocolate Nirvana!

Italian Hot Chocolate Recipe

Italian hot chocolate recipe, Cioccolata Calda

Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

Italian hot chocolate is made with a few key ingredients: cocoa, sugar, and milk. In some cases, a little dark chocolate and a thickening agent, such as cornstarch, are added as well.


2 cups whole milk

2-3 ozs dark chocolate, minimum 70% cacao beans

4 tbsp bitter cocoa powder

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tbsp confectioners sugar

Yield: (3-4) 5 oz servings

Chop the dark chocolate into very small pieces. Place the milk on low heat and heat to hot but not boiling.

Mix together the chocolate pieces, cocoa, cornstarch, and powdered sugar in a bowl.

When the milk is hot and small bubbles begin to form on the surface, add the chocolate mixture and stir or whisk until thick and creamy.

Continue stirring to avoid lumps from forming.

When the mixture begins to thicken even slightly (it will begin to look glossy and get thick on the bottom of the whisk) remove it from the heat.

The cornstarch will cause it to thicken even after it’s removed from heat. You don’t want to overcook it or you’ll end up with a thicker pudding consistency.

Serve warm with a small biscotti or cookie to dunk.

Tips for Making Cioccolata Calda

Making Cioccolata Calda couldn’t be easier (as the above Italian hot chocolate recipe will show), but there are a few tips to keep in mind. Like most things in Italy, slow and steady not only wins the race but is part of the experience. So simmer… don’t boil, and go easy on the chocolate — a little goes a long way.

- Make sure the milk is warm before you start adding the other ingredients.

- Watch the heat and be mindful of boiling or scalding the bottom.

- If chocolate clumps start to form, remove the mixture from heat and whisk vigorously until it is smooth again.

- Do not allow the chocolate to thicken too much before removing it from heat.

- If you love a good flavoring such as vanilla, cinnamon or caramel, always add it at the very end.

TIP: Add a squishy soft caramel to the saucer as a garnish. They melt perfectly in the hot chocolate and add a wonderful twist for caramel-lovers!