December 10, 2021 | LIFE | By Kristen Richards | Image by Iris Guo

I’ve worked through two holiday seasons as a barista at Starbucks. Every time those red and green cups are released, the ones decorated like Christmas trees, I fall victim to capitalism.

When all the lights have been unplugged and the espresso machines cleaned, the Starbucks store looks like the cooling of lukewarm milk in a decaying coffin of paper and plastic.

Yet, what Starbucks tries to capture, and what I feel as a barista during the holidays, is the moment before the lights turn off, when the whipped cream curls, the steamed milk froths and settles, the smell of chocolate and coffee meeting in the air.

This year, I spent many hours with my fellow baristas debating the quality of the holiday drinks. Though my opinion is just one, these are my personal recommendations and reviews as a coffee-connoisseur.

Let’s start with the most popular holiday drink: the Caramel Brulée Latte. Already, I have made so many of them that I know when a customer is going to say “Caramel Brulée” before they even say “Caramel Brulée.” The Caramel Brulée syrup is actually a sauce, which mixes with milk and espresso much more naturally than the usual liquid syrup. I’d recommend this drink as a hot latte!

The peppermint mocha is the true holiday classic. Peppermint Mochas are like a warm hug by the fire while you listen to Charlie Brown Christmas. I’ve never had a Peppermint Mocha iced, and I don’t have the desire to try it. This drink is best hot, although I would never actually recommend a Frappuccino (I have a vendetta against them) I have heard whispering rumors that the customers love the Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino — perhaps something to try.

I call the Chestnut Praline a forgotten friend. The Chestnut Praline Latte is my personal favorite holiday drink. This drink is equally good iced, hot, or blended, though my favorite way to drink it is as a hot latte with oat milk. The Chestnut Praline topping is far superior than any other drink topping, so even if you don’t get a chestnut praline latte, adding the praline topping would enhance any latte!

The Toasted White Mocha is burnt, but buttery. I have briefly tried this flavor in the form of a Frappuccino — my least favorite drink to consume or create. At first the flavor is like a buttery marshmallow, but somewhat burnt. I think this drink is best as an iced latte with caramel syrup or caramel drizzle. Another plus is that this drink does have some adorable red and white holidays sprinkles.

The Sugar Cookie Almond Milk Latte is like a creative canvas. If you are going to order this, I would highly recommend oat milk rather than almond milk. I have a secret theory that Starbucks only made this drink with almond milk because they wanted to sell more almond milk. There is no disputing the fact that it is far better with oat or soy milk.

In terms of syrups, the sugar cookie syrup has a strong flavor, and I personally think it is better when mixed with other syrups — caramel, mocha, even peppermint. I mean, who doesn’t want a peppermint sugar cookie during the holidays? Plain old sugar cookies dry out far too fast. Don’t let this holiday drink lose its spark: try it in another form.

I hope that my guiding advice has resonated with all my fellow latte-lovers and will make your next trip to the coffeeshop just a little bit better. There are similar versions of these drinks at local coffeeshops as well, and I would encourage everyone to try new places in addition to their old favorites.

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