How to make a mocha: 6 steps to chocolate coffee perfection

Espresso machine with mocha ingredients
(Image credit: Future, Victoria Woollaston)

Creating the perfect mocha at home can be tricky. Get the balance of flavors wrong and you're left with a slightly bitter hot chocolate or an odd-tasting coffee. 

Tools & ingredients

- Cup

- High-quality cocoa powder or hot chocolate powder

- Milk

- Chocolate shavings or cocoa powder for garnish (optional)

- Espresso machine: Our favorite espresso machine is the Breville Infuser BES840X and we refined our mocha-making process on the Smeg Espresso Maker.

- Coffee beans: Look for medium- or dark-roasted beans that are described as nutty or chocolatey. You can use coffee grounds instead but the same flavor profile applies.

- Grinder: If you opt to use coffee beans, you'll need a grinder.  The best types are conical burr grinders because they're so precise. Some espresso machines have built-in grinders, like the De'Longhi La Specialista Arte Evo or the Smeg Espresso Manual Coffee Machine. Alternatively, you can buy standalone grinders like the Krups Precise Stainless Steel Flat Burr Grinder

- Steam wand

- Milk frother: If your espresso machine has a built-in steam wand, it usually doubles up as a milk frother. However, you can buy standalone milk frothers, and I – along with 15,000+ Amazon reviewers – recommend the $16.99 Bean Envy Handheld Milk Frother.

Instead, the ideal mocha perfectly combines the intensity of espresso with the sweetness of chocolate, all topped off with the smoothness of steamed milk in a way that rivals the kind you get in coffee shops.  

From my experience in testing the best espresso machines, this balance is achieved by being selective with your choice of coffee beans, getting the grind size just right, and frothing the milk just enough to add a silky finish without adding bubbles. It's a process that takes a bit of trial and error to get right but is more worth the effort in the end. 

In this guide, I'll walk you through how to make a mocha at home with some tips, tricks, and things to avoid that I've learned along the way. 

Quick steps for how to make a mocha

  1. Brew the espresso shot
  2. Add the cocoa powder and mix well
  3. Steam and froth the milk
  4. Add the warm milk to the cocoa-espresso base 
  5. Stir until all powder is dissolved 
  6. Add chocolate flakes or cream (optional)

Step by step guide: How to make a mocha

1. Brew the espresso shot

(Image: © Future, Victoria Woollaston)

To get the best base for your mocha, you need to pull an espresso shot using your coffee beans of choice. This is where the most experimentation will happen.

Since a mocha combines the taste of espresso with the sweetness of chocolate, the coffee beans you select should complement but not overpower the chocolate. Medium and dark roasts have a stronger, more robust flavor that pairs well with chocolate. Dark roasts, in particular, have a deep, slightly bitter flavor that offsets well against the sweetness from the cocoa powder.

Beans from Colombia tend to work well. Beans from Africa, such as Ethiopian or Kenyan, can add fruity or floral notes, but they might be overpowered by the chocolate in a mocha.

Once you've found beans you like, you then need to experiment with grind size. The perfect grind size will produce an espresso that is dark in color, takes around 25-30 seconds to pull, and causes the pressure gauge found on most espresso machines to sit in the middle of the designated sweet spot. 

The perfect espresso shot doesn't taste too weak, or too bitter and will have a thin crema on the top. 

Tip: I recommend pulling a double shot, or around 2 oz / 60ml of espresso for the base of a large mocha. I also prefer to pull the shot into a small cup first so that I can mix the milk and base together in a separate cup at the same time. 

2. Add the cocoa powder and mix well

(Image: © Future, Victoria Woollaston)

Add two tablespoons of chocolate or cocoa powder – a tablespoon at a time – to the espresso while it's still hot and mix well to remove as many lumps as possible. 

Don't worry too much if you can't get rid of all the lumps as they will disappear when you add the warm milk. 

If you're making a standard mocha, add hot water to this base, leaving enough room to add milk. 

If you're making a mocha latte, skip this step and jump straight to step three.

Tip: If you want a more intense, rich chocolatey flavor, which also adds a smooth texture, you can use chocolate syrup as well as, or instead of the cocoa powder. I find it harder to control the intensity of the chocolate with the syrup and it tastes slightly artificial but that's a personal taste. 

3. Steam and froth the milk

(Image: © Future, Victoria Woollaston)

Pour milk into a pitcher, leaving enough room for it to expand. 

Use the steam wand on your espresso machine to steam the milk until it’s hot. You can alternatively heat the milk in the microwave or on the stove. The ideal temperature of milk for a mocha is around 149-158 F / 65-70 C. This means it's hot to the touch but isn't simmering. To take the guesswork out of this step, I recommend buying a pitcher with a built-in temperature gauge, like this $11.99 Milk Frother from Amazon

If you're using the steam wand as a milk frother, move the steam wand up and down slowly in the milk so that it creates small bubbles. It can be easy to go wrong at this point by adding large bubbles because the jet of steam can be quite powerful. This is where a standalone milk frother or small hand whisk works well to create small, fine bubbles.  

The steamed milk adds a creamy texture to the mocha, balancing the richness of the espresso and chocolate. 

Tip: If you think the bubbles are too big or the milk is more foamy than frothy, gently bang the base of the pitcher on your sideboard a couple of times to help it settle. 

4. Add the warm milk to the cocoa-espresso base

(Image: © Future, Victoria Woollaston)

Slowly pour the milk into the cocoa-espresso base. This helps the base infuse into the milk and helps add a thin layer of froth on the top. 

If you pull the shot into a small cup before pouring it into a larger mug, you can add the coffee base and milk to the new mug at the same. In my experience, this makes sure that it mixes well and evenly. 

Alternatively, using a long spoon, gently stir the drink to get rid of any remaining lumps. 

Tip: If you want to guarantee a perfect mocha texture, the Hotel Chocolat Velvetizer does all the hard work for you. It works for all milky hot drinks, not just hot chocolate. 

5. Garnish with chocolate sprinkles of powder (optional)

(Image: © Future, Victoria Woollaston)

If you want to add an extra element of chocolatey goodness to your mocha, sprinkle over chocolate flakes or cocoa powder. 

FAQs

What is mocha?

Mocha is a drink that combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate flavors. This can be in the form of chocolate syrup, cocoa powder, or melted chocolate. 

A standard mocha consists of an espresso and chocolate base, hot water, and steamed, frothy milk.

A mocha latte is made using the same espresso and chocolate base but in place of the water is more milk. In a mocha latte, around 75% of the drink is milk.

Both mocha types have a creamy texture and are often topped with whipped cream and/or a sprinkle of cocoa powder or chocolate shavings.

What is a white mocha?

A white mocha is like a traditional mocha but white chocolate is used instead of milk or dark chocolate. 

It combines espresso, steamed milk, and white chocolate syrup or melted white chocolate. It's much sweeter and creamier than a regular mocha and, like the regular mocha, it can also be topped with whipped cream and garnished, often with white chocolate shavings.

Can you make mocha with instant coffee?

Yes, although the process differs slightly.

  • Dissolve 1-2 teaspoons of instant coffee in a small amount of hot water (about 1-2 oz / 30-60 ml).
  • Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup or cocoa powder. Stir well until the chocolate has dissolved.
  • Warm your milk in a saucepan or microwave. For a frothy texture, whisk the milk vigorously or use a milk frother.
  • Pour the chocolate-coffee mixture into a cup, followed by the heated milk, and stir well.
  • Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cocoa powder or chocolate shavings.

Final thoughts

Once you get the hang of it, making a mocha at home is great for cosy nights in or when you have friends over. 

The key is balancing the intensity of the coffee with the sweetness of the chocolate, and the smoothness of the milk but this will depend on personal tastes as much as it does the processes involved. 

And that's the best part of making mocha, or any coffee drink, at home – the freedom to customize it to your liking. Whether that's adjusting the chocolate-to-coffee ratio, experimenting with different types of chocolate and beans, or adding your own garnishes. 

Victoria Woollaston
Lifestyle and technology journalist

Victoria Woollaston is a freelance lifestyle and technology journalist with almost two decades of experience reviewing gadgets, beauty tech and household appliances for the likes of WIRED, TechRadar, Expert Reviews, Alphr and more.