Starbucks dunks into winter merrymaking with holiday menu specials

Safeway Starbucks at Red Hill Shopping Center on a particularly quiet night.

Charlie Gaebe

Safeway Starbucks at Red Hill Shopping Center on a particularly quiet night.

With the holiday season just around the corner, Starbucks has returned many fan favorite foods and drinks to their holiday menu, as well as a few new additions. Starting November 6, customers lined up at locations across the U.S. and Canada to get their hands on a signature red cup of Joe. Here is one caffeine fiend’s take on what’s worth your time, and what’s not.

Starting off the list with a heavy hitter, the Peppermint Mocha returns for its nineteenth year in Starbucks history. This holiday classic starts off like any old mocha: Starbucks’ espresso roast, steamed milk, chocolate mocha syrup, and topped with whipped cream. However, it takes a turn with the addition of peppermint syrup and shaved dark chocolate curls. The drink is available year round, but the chocolate curls are only available during the holiday season. While the dark chocolate flavoring might be on the bitter side for some people, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with such a classic drink. I rate it a 8/10 and would recommend it to any classic mocha drinker.

The sweeter twin of the classic Peppermint Mocha, the Peppermint White Mocha, follows the same recipe, but with the substitution of dark chocolate for white chocolate. However, it doesn’t have a distinct white chocolate flavor. Instead, it just tastes less chocolatey than the dark version and is far sweeter, arguably to the point of excessiveness. I had the idea to mix equal parts of the Peppermint White Mocha and the classic Peppermint Mocha, which makes a near perfect blend of rich chocolate and sweetness. If you are ordering two drinks, I would recommend trying out this concoction. On its own I give it an 8/10, but both Peppermint Mochas mixed is a 9/10 in my book. 

The last of this year’s holiday mochas is the disappointing Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. Starbucks describes this drink as a classic caffe mocha with “caramelized white chocolate” with two types of “festive holiday sugar sparkles.” The caramelized chocolate syrup ends up giving the drink an unpleasant burnt taste, and the sprinkles are less enjoyable to drink than the chocolate curls of the previous drinks. Worst of all, it has no holiday spirit. None of the ingredients distinguish the beverage from a regular year-round menu item, which is why I give this drink a 4/10. If a caramelized, smoky flavor is what you’re after, you would be better off going for the Chestnut Praline Latte.

A unique take on a latte foundation, the Chestnut Praline Latte offers a festive flavor palette of caramelized chestnuts and holiday spices. Each sip tastes like a garland-lined fireplace in a log cabin, thanks to the flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Bits of praline top off the latte, lending a sugary crunch to the whipped cream topping. However, while it succeeds in tasting like Christmas, it also suffers similar problems to the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. The caramelization doesn’t benefit the drink, but instead makes the taste burned and rough. I rate the Chestnut Praline Latte a 6/10; while it misses the mark overall, you can definitely taste the holiday season in this drink.

Eight of Starbucks’ lineup of holiday drinks alongside the Sugar Plum Cheese Danish (left) and Cranberry Bliss Bar (right). (Charlie Gaebe)

Next up is the Caramel Brulée Latte. This beverage is just a latte with added caramel syrup and sugary caramel bits as a topping. This drink is ideal for caramel lovers, because unlike the popular Caramel Macchiato, it actually has caramel in the flavoring (the macchiato only has caramel in the drizzled topping). Overall, the elements of this drink combine to create a rich, smooth product, although it is less festive than some others. Personally, I rate this drink a 7/10. Any caramel fan would enjoy one of these.

The last drink on this list, and the only new drink this year, is the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, which is also Starbucks’ first holiday drink that comes dairy-free by default. Baristas mix Starbucks Blonde espresso, steamed almond milk, and sugar cookie flavored syrup to create the drink, then top it with green and red sprinkles. I had high hopes for this drink to be a rich, nutty, and cozy combination of flavors, but I was underwhelmed. It just ends up tasting like fake vanilla and butter flavorings. Also, the sprinkles aren’t the most enjoyable topping to drink, especially if you get this without whipped cream. I don’t recommend this drink, and I give it a 4/10. 

For the holiday food menu, I tried two pastries: The Cranberry Bliss Bar and the Sugar Plum Cheese Danish. The danish is made of a fluffy, but dry, pastry with a cream cheese and sugar plum spread. It has a lot of potential, but this snack fell flat for me. The texture of the bread is more like a dry bread roll than the sweet, layery dough they were going for. I would rate it a 4/10. The cranberry bar, on the other hand, hits the spot. It’s a slice of blondie cake with white chocolate and cranberries baked inside, topped with a layer of cream cheese frosting, more cranberries, and a drizzle of hardened white chocolate to finish it off. Each element combines blissfully for a satisfying bite and a burst of sweetness that pairs with any holiday drink. I give it an 8/10, and would definitely recommend it with any Starbucks libation.

Even if the temperature stays above 60 degrees, the Starbucks holiday menu is a surefire way to get in the holiday spirit. If you want to catch any of the items before they’re gone, I would suggest either of the Peppermint Mochas or the Caramel Brulée Latte, and don’t forget to pick up a cranberry bar before you leave.