Starbucks Holiday Drinks Taste Test and Ranking

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Every year, just moments after the wafts of pumpkin spice have disappeared from the air, Starbucks announces its holiday drink lineup, along with its special holiday cups.

starbucks holiday cups 2021

 

This year’s drinks.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

This year’s holiday lineup, which hit stores November 4, consists of the Peppermint Mocha, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, Caramel Brulée Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, and Irish Cream Cold Brew.

The fan-favorite Gingerbread Latte was taken off the menu in 2019, and in 2021, we also lost the Eggnog Latte.

The Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte is their newest offering, and the chain’s first non-dairy holiday drink.

My least favorite drink, unfortunately, was the Irish Cream Cold Brew.

irish cream cold brew

 

Irish Cream Cold Brew.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

This was a bit shocking to me, as Starbucks’ fall cold-brew offering, the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, is one of my all-time favorite drinks. But the holiday version, which is the chain’s signature cold brew with “Irish Cream flavored syrup, topped with Vanilla Sweet Cream Foam and a strike of cocoa powder,” was not for me.

To me, it tasted sour, and it didn’t pair well at all with the foam. I was only able to take a few sips.

It is one of the lower-calorie options, containing 200 calories in a grande.

The Toasted White Chocolate Mocha tasted exactly like the regular white chocolate mocha available year-round, with some added sugar.

toasted white chocolate mocha

 

Toasted White Chocolate Mocha.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

The Toasted White Chocolate Mocha is espresso, steamed milk, “and flavors of caramelized white chocolate finished with whipped cream and a topping of holiday sugar sparkles and crispy white pearls.”  Despite the sugar sparkles and pearls it has fewer calories — “only” 420.

Apparently, the only difference between the holiday White Chocolate Mocha and the regular, year-round version are the red sugar sparkles and pearls, which mine, sadly didn’t have this year — though, in the past, they have been on the drink.

That’s completely OK with me because I’m a fan of the year-round version. However, if you like the actual taste of coffee, this is not the drink for you. The “caramelized white chocolate mocha sauce” completely masks any coffee flavor.

Plus, this drink is already cloyingly sweet. It essentially tastes like a toasted marshmallow.

The Caramel Brulée Latte, in my opinion, didn’t taste any different than a regular Caramel Latte.

The Caramel Brulée Latte.

 

The Caramel Brulée Latte.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

A Caramel Brulée Latte is described by Starbucks as “espresso, steamed milk, and rich caramel brulée sauce, topped with whipped cream and a caramel brulée topping.” It has 410 calories.

This sweet latte underwhelmed me. In my opinion, there isn’t anything to differentiate it from Starbucks’ regular Caramel Latte.

It is supposed to have a topping that’s reminiscent of crème brûlée, a popular custard dessert, which I’m assuming is what the little crumbs on top are. But they were too subtle to taste.

If anything, it tastes a bit smokier than the regular Caramel Latte, which makes sense — brulée means burned in French. In the context of baking, it normally refers to the torching of sugar. If you like caramel, but sometimes find it a bit too sweet, this charred-tasting version is for you.

Next up is the Peppermint Mocha, returning for a landmark 19th season in 2021.

A Peppermint Mocha in a holiday cup.

 

A Peppermint Mocha in a holiday cup.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

Peppermint Mochas are a fan-favorite. We know this because it has been imitated by other big coffee chains, like Dunkin’.

It is also a holiday classic, made with espresso, steamed milk, mocha sauce, and peppermint-flavored syrup. It’s topped with whipped cream and “dark chocolate curls.”

It contains 440 calories in a grande size.

Sadly, the whipped cream was missing from my drink, but overall, it was a pretty solid choice — if you like peppermint, that is.

peppermint mocha

 

Peppermint mocha.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

Don’t expect subtlety in this drink — the peppermint flavor is very pronounced. I could barely taste the mocha in this drink, even with the dark chocolate curls, and the coffee might as well have been non-existent.

However, few flavors conjure the holidays and winter as well as peppermint does. So if you’re looking for a drink to sip on while blasting “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” this is your best bet.

But my favorite holiday drink remains the same: the Chestnut Praline Latte.

chestnut praline latte

 

Chestnut Praline Latte.

Gabbi Shaw/Insider

The Chestnut Praline Latte is espresso, steamed milk, and chestnut praline syrup topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs. It has 330 calories.

The nutty flavor wasn’t too overbearing, so I was able to still get a taste of the coffee. It was also not as sweet as the rest. In fact, I’d say it strikes the perfect balance between syrupy and sweet. The Starbucks website was correct in saying it evokes “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

The spiced praline crumbs were also my favorite topping.

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