Monday, May 25

Coffee Cultured: Comparing leading coffee chains’ holiday drinks

(Noelle Cho/Daily Bruin)

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Peet's Coffee & Tea's holiday drink as iced Havana dulce cappuccino.

From latte art videos on Facebook to not-so-witty quotes on T-shirts, coffee is an indisputable aspect of our everyday lives. Every frappy hour is national news, and liking the taste of coffee is viewed as a mark of adulthood. I don’t claim to be a coffee expert that can easily discern between single-origin coffees and blends. However, I love coffee because of how much it has to offer in regards to its taste, variety, effect and experience. For the rest of the quarter, I will be embarking on an in-depth exploration of coffee from all aspects, and hopefully become more coffee-cultured.

Even though the holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier every year, it doesn’t begin for me until I drink my first holiday drink from Starbucks. Although the coveted and often controversial red cups reign supreme, every major coffee chain offers holiday drinks as well. Here are my thoughts on some of the limited-edition beverages from Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Peet’s Coffee & Tea and McDonald’s.

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, peppermint nitro latte, $5.60

Initially, I was confused on what this drink was, since it was advertised as both a cold brew and a latte. I asked the barista, who explained that it was both – instead of a base of espresso, they used a base of nitro cold brew, and then added more whole milk. I really appreciated this fusion since it was the best of both worlds. The cold brew base made it stronger than a normal latte, while the large amount of milk still made it feel like a latte.

Although the peppermint flavor could’ve been stronger, this drink was really creamy and smooth because of the nitro, with a layer of foam on the top. It didn’t come with ice, which prevented it from becoming diluted. I really enjoyed the strong coffee taste and high level of caffeine that was nicely balanced out with the whole milk. The only gripe I really have against this is the price, since it was 85 cents more than their other holiday drinks.

Starbucks, gingerbread latte, $4.25

Out of all of the Starbucks holiday drinks, my favorite is definitely the gingerbread latte because of my love for spices. It tastes delicious both hot or iced, although I prefer the hot version more just because the spices really come through, creating a warm and comforting drink. In addition, I find that the iced lattes at Starbucks tend to taste more milky and a bit weaker than the hot versions.

Although this latte definitely doesn’t have the strongest coffee flavor and is more of a flavored milk drink, I still like it for the holidays partially because of nostalgia, as this is something that I drink every year.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Canela Dulce Black Tie, $4.10

This drink is especially unique in the fact that it is literally an iced version of a cappuccino, with a layer of foam on the top and sprinkled with cinnamon. This was definitely my favorite holiday drink because of the strong coffee flavor that’s comparable to high-quality brands such as Intelligentsia and Ritual. Taking into account the accessibility of Peet’s and the low price in addition to the great coffee, I definitely recommend not only this drink, but the whole holiday menu as well. A holiday coffee drink is only as good as the quality of the coffee itself, so you know that you can’t go wrong with anything from Peet’s.

The cinnamon really adds a punch to the drink, reminding me of horchata. It had an excellent coffee-to-milk ratio, which I appreciated since my biggest grievance with Starbucks is how much milk they add to the iced lattes.

This is a relatively simple holiday drink, but the simplicity is what makes it great. Without the frills of additional flavors that tend to make some holiday drinks taste artificial, the perfect unity of coffee and cinnamon is able to shine.

McDonald’s, peppermint mocha, $2.58

Having had experience with the travesty that is a McDonald’s iced latte, I decided to take my chances with a hot peppermint mocha in the hopes that it would be more bearable. The McCafé holiday cup was actually really cute and festive, but that was the only positive aspect of this drink.

It had an extremely artificial peppermint taste, and was overly sweet. The coffee was extremely weak and watery and tasted like dishwater. Its saving grace was the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on the top that made it tolerable. As I drank more, I got used to the watery coffee taste, but the sugar became insufferable, leaving a terrible aftertaste in my mouth. I wanted to like this since some people are avid fans of McCafé, but this doesn’t have any redeeming factors. The only time that I can imagine myself getting this again is if I was outside somewhere freezing.

Out of these four drinks, I definitely recommend the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Whether you need coffee for studying for finals or just getting into the holiday spirit, these chains are all accessible from UCLA. May this holiday season be filled with good grades, good people and good coffee.

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