Which Christmas Drinks Are Worth the Extra Pounds This Holiday Season?December 3, 2015
Nothing signals the advent of Christmas in the Philippines better than holiday music playing as early as September, horrible nightly traffic, and an explosion of coffee shop planners.
The coming of the season is also festooned heavily by holiday-themed drinks by commercial coffee shop chains—those that coffee snobs deem as imposters and are seen more as drinkable desserts rather than caffeine boosters.
We wanted a second opinion.
Enter Aeropress Champion Kaye Ong of Habitual Coffee and multi-awarded pastry chef Miko Aspiras of Scout’s Honor and Le Petit Soufflé. The two professionals became judges to the trial of these highly-caffeinated and sugar-laden suspects.
Here’s a rundown of what’s bitter and what’s sweet with 2016’s holiday brews.
Popcorn Latte from Costa Coffee
Miko: Popcorn? Really? I don’t taste it. I was expecting the flavor of butter, a few burnt corn kernels. It tastes more like caramel coffee, though. The aroma is there, yes, but you can sense it only after drinking about 70ml. It’s milky and nutty, but you can’t really distinguish the popcorn flavor apart from the aroma.
Kaye: There’s a whiff of popcorn, but it’s more like a toffee nut. Coffee-wise, it’s a bit bitter. The popcorn flavor needs a bit of reflection in order to grasp, but on the initial sip, you know it’s coffee. After a few sips, though, the sweetness begins to overpower the coffee taste.
Roasted Chestnut Froccino from Bo’s Coffee
M: It’s really, really sweet. I know the taste of chestnuts and this has no semblance of it at all. They’re usually boiled and puréed to bring out the extract—chestnuts have a really distinct flavor, but it’s really not in this drink. The color looks like chestnut purée, though. In terms of flavor, all I taste is caramel. Maybe it would’ve been better if they didn’t label it as “Roasted Chestnut.” But it’s definitely a happy drink. It reminds me of a milkshake.
K: My comments are very similar to the popcorn latte from Costa Coffee. I can tell that its base is dark-roasted coffee, and the flavor of the espresso is very present. Again, the sweetness overpowers the coffee part of the drink, but the coffee taste definitely lingers more.
Peppermint Choc Nut Iced Latte from Bo’s Coffee
M: It tastes bitter because of the mint. It needs creaminess to tone it down. Between the two holiday drinks we’ve tried from Bo’s, the Roasted Chestnut (even though it doesn’t really taste like chestnut), is already a treat.
K: I’m so confused with the flavors! The coffee used is dark-roasted, but because of the peppermint extract and peanut in the Choc Nut, it tastes smoky and [burnt] overall. The espresso content of this drink and the Roasted Chestnut is the same, but this one isn’t as milky but a bit watery—a better balance in terms of texture.
Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks
M: It tastes just like a peppermint candy cane! I love how it’s not only syrup that I taste, but also the chocolate. The aftertaste is really minty, too. But the compromising flavor here is the coffee—there’s no aroma of it at all. If you ask me to do a blind taste, I’d think it’s peppermint hot chocolate.
K: I agree with Miko. No coffee flavor at all, and it tastes more like a peppermint hot chocolate. Maybe it’s because the combination of mint and chocolate is so good, no other flavor can come out?
Toffee Nut Frappuccino from Starbucks
M: I’ve always loved the whipped cream of Starbucks—they really use heavy cream. Mmm, this tastes just like a milkshake. They’re very generous with the toffee nut flavor, but again, the coffee taste is gone.
K: So far, the coffee flavor is most prominent at Bo’s. Despite it being faint, it still manages to cut through. I really don’t taste any coffee in this drink.
Christmas Panettone Latte from Starbucks
M: I’m disappointed. This was the drink I was most excited to try, but there is no hint of [panettone] at all! When we talk about panettone, the flavors we are looking for are molasses, butter, fruit—but it’s not here. I’d have to say that this has the most coffee taste, though, but none of the bready flavor I was looking for. It tastes like Nescafé, actually. Yes, there are dried fruit bits, but they have no contribution to the overall drink if this is Starbucks’s representation of what a panettone is.
K: This tastes like a normal Starbucks latte, but with more milk. It made the coffee less bitter, but they sure used a lot of sweet stuff to cover the usual Starbucks coffee bitterness.
Hazelnut Caramel Latte from Figaro
M: It tastes less chemical than the other drinks that contain syrup. There is no cinnamon flavor until you try the whipped cream. It’s not dessert-like at all, and it’s not enough to translate into a “Christmas drink” despite the addition of cinnamon. If anything, this is the least Christmas-y drink of the bunch.
K: I’m not a fan of it. It’s a less sweet version of the toffee nut latte from Starbucks.
Figaro Hazelnut Caramel Jelly
M: Hmm, I’m just basing this now on the coffee jelly component. The beverage part tastes the same as the one without the coffee jelly. If the coffee was really concentrated in the jelly, it wouldn’t look this light and clear. And I don’t taste the flavor of the coffee.
K: Sadly, this drink tastes like milk with crushed ice. I can taste coffee but just a bit. Starbucks’s coffee jelly is more intense than this.
Toffee Nut Ice Blend from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
M: I don’t understand why toffee is equated to Christmas—it should be an all-year thing! I like how there’s salted caramel on top because it totally balances out the flavor. I enjoyed this so much, better than the Starbucks version—there’s more coffee flavor, contains less syrup, it’s less sweet, and the saltiness gives it a nice touch.
K: It’s a creamier version of Starbucks’s Toffee Nut. I like the caffeine kick—it just proves there’s coffee in it. To me, I still can’t sincerely say that I find coffee in it, but this has to be my favorite so far—definitely better than Starbucks.
Strawberry Cheesecake Javakula from Seattle’s Best Coffee
M: Tastes like ice cream! No cheesecake flavor, though. Maybe the crumbs on the cream are supposed to be the cheesecake factor?
Cookies and Mint Javakula from Seattle’s Best Coffee
M: Again, this tastes like a milkshake. No coffee at all, but maybe just like the other mint-based drinks we’ve tried, the mint syrup overpowered it. It’s more spearmint than peppermint in flavor. Overall, it reminds me of an Oreo and mint milkshake.
K: I can taste slight undertones of coffee, but it could pass as a coffee-free drink.
Nutty Caramel Javakula from Seattle’s Best Coffee
M: This tastes too sweet and artificial because of the syrup!
K: Among all of Seattle’s offerings, this seems to have the most coffee content in it. But I can’t tell the difference between this and a regular Javakula.
Peanut Butter Cup from Seattle’s Best Coffee
M: This is the winner for dessert lovers. I love it so much. It’s so chocolate-y and the chocolate chunks inside the drink are a pleasant surprise. This is such a Christmas drink because it makes me so merry! It’s such a treat!
K: This was made for people who love Reese’s—like, super! It’s so good, but no coffee flavor.
M: If it’s dessert you’re looking for, Seattle’s Best’s offerings really take the cake. In terms of the Christmas theme, it’s the Peppermint Mocha because it reminds me so much of candy canes! That and Cookies and Mint are probably the closest you can get to the holiday spirit. Again, I’m still wondering why is Toffee Nut associated to the holidays. The Christmas Panettone latte was the drink I was most disappointed with.
K: Overall, the character of coffee is lost in all of these drinks. I was expecting to be surprised, and I was! Of all the drinks we had today, the coffee kick and flavor came out the most in Bo’s. Generally, Filipinos have such a sweet tooth. It’s not even about the complexity of the drink anymore but it’s more of the sweetness. This was so much fun, though!