Caffeine takeover: Seasonal holiday coffee returns with sweet flavors

A look inside Starbucks’ holiday coffee

“We get so much Christmas and holiday flavor stuff that you can only get this time of year.”

Casey Aldridge, Manager at Fresno State’s Starbucks

As a caffeine lover, the commercials and advertisements on new holiday drinks spark me with joy and excitement.

The new season marks a new opportunity for beverages. Winter is known for its hot and indulging drinks that bring a sense of comfort.

From spice blends and creamers to peppermint and caramel syrups, coffee is greatly appreciated in the winter.

Often, those holiday coffee drink commercials come from one world-famous coffeehouse that has 31,256 locations all over the world, according to a Statista report. That’s right, Starbucks air their annual holiday commercials as soon as November hits, which feature their new coffee cup design and classic winter beverages.

Some of those classics include the Peppermint Mocha, Eggnog Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte and the newest holiday drink this year, the Irish Cream Cold Brew. All except the Irish Cream Cold Brew can be served iced, hot or Frappuccino blended.

However, this year only some of those coffee blends made it onto Fresno State’s Starbucks list on most popular drinks during the winter.

The Caramel Brulée Latte, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Macchiato and White Mocha are the top five beverages that are sold around this time to students, faculty and staff, according to Casey Aldridge, Manager at Fresno State’s Starbucks.

The Toasted White Chocolate Mocha (right) and the Caramel Brulee Latte are two holiday drinks available at Starbucks. (Courtesy Marilyn Castaneda)

The coffee shop is located on the second floor of the Henry Madden Library and can always be seen with a long line curving throughout the store.

“There’s still drinks that are popular all year round, like Caramel Macchiato and White Mocha are always right up at the top as well,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge said the Peppermint Mocha is also an all year-round beverage but is advertised during the holiday season, which makes customers think it’s only available during the winter season.

The Peppermint Mocha is made with a combination of sweet milk, sweet mocha sauce and peppermint-flavored syrup. It’s topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate curls. The grande size, which is medium, comes with two shots of espresso.

“The grande size and venti [large] has two shots of espresso and that’s equivalent to 150 milligrams of caffeine,” said Daniel Saldana, a Starbucks barista in Hanford. “A tall [small] only gets one shot of espresso.”

Saldana said the Caramel Brulée Latte is a winter favorite in Hanford. The beverage is made with espresso, steamed milk and rich caramel brulée sauce, topped with whipped cream and crystal-like pieces of caramel brulée.

I was able to sample the latte, which was quite delicious but too sweet for my liking. It has a strong presence of caramel and sweet milk with minimal notes of caffeine. It’s possible I just like a strong cup of coffee.

My taste testing didn’t stop there. A cup of Toasted White Chocolate Mocha was whipped up quickly for me in a small red holiday cup.

In that cup was a mixture of espresso, steamed milk, caramelized white chocolate flavors, finished with whipped cream and holiday sugar sparkles and white pearls.

Now, I know this drink might sound like a winter wonderland filled with indulgent flavors, but that wasn’t the case for me. I have to say I did not enjoy this holiday blend as much as the Caramel Brulée Latte. Although it’s called a mocha, it simply did not taste authentic and have the same earthy tones a mocha usually has. I’m no coffee expert but it was rather too sweet and sugary.

Saldana said some drinks are more sugar than caffeine.

Each shot of espresso contains 75 milligrams of caffeine, according to Aldridge. A regular cup of coffee contains 150 to 250 milligrams of caffeine depending on its size.

Caffeine is a stimulant and is the most commonly used drug in the world, according to an article from Medical News Today.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a maximum intake of 400 milligrams per day. Caffeine can have a negative impact on your health. For example, it may worsen depression or anxiety, cause fatigue, headaches, insomnia and increases the release of stomach acid. Just like it’s negative impacts, caffeine also has its benefits. A 75-milligram serving of caffeine can increase alertness, enhance cognitive function and weight loss.

As for those who don’t want to order a coffee mixed with a bunch of artificial flavors and prefer to make their own cup at home, there are also coffee beans.

Starbucks bagged coffee comes in the Christmas Blend, Christmas Blend Espresso, Christmas Blend Blonde, Reserve Christmas and Holiday Blend.

“This time of year, we do sell a lot more [coffee beans] than any other time of the year,” Aldridge said. “We get so much Christmas and holiday flavor stuff that you can only get this time of year.”

The bagged coffee tends to be more expensive and aren’t purchased as frequently. However, students are in luck as the end of the semester nears the holiday beans go on sale. Aldridge said students are also able to use their Bulldog Bucks but only at the Fresno State Starbucks.

Personally, every time I want to order a new beverage at Starbucks, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed knowing there are so many different options and yet such limited information on the menus. Aldridge said it’s confusing for customers who aren’t familiar with Starbucks.

“We just try to ask as many questions to the customer as possible and so we’ll do what we think is a close variation of what their favorite drink is,” Aldridge said. “Any drink can be modified to however you want it.”

Any drink can have more espresso added, more caffeine or less Aldridge said. Beverages that are made with espresso get espresso shots, whatever type of flavor the customer wants and milk. Drinks can be modified with the desired amount of espresso shots and pumps of various syrups. Some beverages are topped off with cream and others get a small topping depending the type of syrup added. 

But when you walk into a Starbucks you can’t help but feel confused as to why the menu is limited after hearing of all the endless coffee creations. So why is less more?

According to a news article from the HuffPost, a concise menu benefits the customers and baristas.

“The guest will buy more items if it is easy to navigate the menu. When they have to search the menu and get confused, the guest will order a ‘default’ item, an item that is easy and safe,” said Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer with 36 years of experience in the field, in the article.

Clearing up the menu also adds more space to offer details on specialty drinks that may command higher prices, according to Rapp.

Although, the Starbucks app can also be very convenient if you know how to navigate a smartphone. I use mine all the time to decide what beverage to order. It allows the user to browse through the menu and categorizes each drink. You are also able to customize the drink, place your order and pick it up at a nearby Starbucks. The application allows you to upload money and rack up rewards every time you purchase an item.

However, Aldridge said the Starbucks on campus doesn’t have the necessary technology to redeem the rewards. They are able to scan the app to make the purchase but can’t use the rewards to pay for such items.

“Our register system is a lot different and because we’re a licensed store and we work for Fresno State, it’s just different,” Aldridge said. “A few years ago, we didn’t even have the app scanning so for the people who had it, we would have to type in all of their numbers on the card.”

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