Over Thanksgiving break, I had a conversation with a few friends about when exactly the “holiday season” begins. After Halloween? After Thanksgiving? Dec. 1? On Christmas Day or the first day of Hanukkah? Whatever holiday you observe, we can all agree corporate America brings out tinsel as soon as it’s safe to take down Halloween decorations.
I mark the holidays with the time-honored tradition of Starbucks red cups. On Nov. 1, I proudly get in line to spend my hard-earned dollars on an over-priced cup of “coffee” because that cup, for me, symbolizes my favorite time of the year. Families come together, trees on campus are lined with lights, capitalism shifts into high gear and traditional lattes have a little kick.
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of holiday drinks; they’ve always been a little too sweet for me. But this season, I decided to sample a few holiday favorites to try to prove my stubborn “do I get a black coffee with Splenda or a nonfat chai” self wrong. I even branched out into some “lesser-known” corporate chains. The nerve, right?
The Pumpkin Spice Latte: “Espresso, pumpkin-flavored syrup and steamed milk. Topped with sweetened whipped cream and pumpkin pie spices.”
From Starbucks: I love pumpkin pie. I think it’s the best kind. But for some reason, the sheer mention of “PSL” makes me cringe. Mostly because why would you call it that? My main concern is the sheer ambiguity of ingredients. It doesn’t quite taste like pumpkin. It does taste like cinnamon or caramel or some kind of sweetener. But again, I’m not too sure. Still this seems to be a holiday favorite, so much so that the demand caused our beloved Norbucks to run out of it for a few days. (What exactly are they not running out of?) Needless to say, I wasn’t too distraught.
From Cosi: Interestingly enough, I liked this one better. It was definitely sweeter than the one at Starbucks, but at least it kind of tasted like pumpkin. It also kind of tasted like butternut squash soup. That may sound weird, but I promise, it was a positive. This drink had a richer flavor overall, and while I may not order it again, I was able to endure more than a few sips, which is more than I can say for its Starbucks counterpart.
The Peppermint Mocha: “Espresso, steamed milk, mocha sauce and peppermint flavored syrup, topped with sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate curls.”
From Starbucks: I like it. The mint is very subdued, almost an aftertaste to the usual mocha. But it still has a twist. This is a great cop out for a holiday drink-weary consumer like me. You may even be able to get away with pairing this with a Cranberry Bliss Bar or the Frosted Snowman Cookie for some added holiday fun.
From Panera: This one tastes very, very minty. My friend could actually smell the mint while walking right next to me. This makes the mocha a little sweeter, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what mood you’re in. I wouldn’t recommend having a pastry with this drink; it would be an overwhelming amount of sugar and not a high enough coffee-to-chocolate ratio. But at least this drink deserves the “peppermint” in its title.
The Peppermint Hot Chocolate: “Steamed milk with peppermint, mocha and vanilla flavored syrups, sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate curls.”
From Starbucks: This tastes exactly like the Peppermint Mocha. They’re seriously the same. I’m pretty sure it’s a conspiracy.
The Gingerbread Latte: “Espresso with steamed milk and gingerbread flavored syrup. Topped with sweetened whipped cream and nutmeg.”
From Starbucks: It’s cinnamon liquid in a cup. I have the same complaint about this as I do the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I don’t taste any ginger, nutmeg or anything you would expect in a gingersnap or gingerbread cookie. But it’s still a very yummy and very sweet holiday drink. Like Panera’s Peppermint Mocha, I would not recommend this with a pastry. It’s perfectly sufficient as a dessert drink on its own.
Conclusion: I must say Starbucks’ Peppermint Mocha tops my list, only because it is the most traditional drink that still maintains holiday sentiment. But all in all, I’m sticking with my non-fat chai. Sorry to disappoint … but happy holidays, everyone!