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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.”

CA high-speed rail: Valley residents speak on negative impacts

It’s a way to connect from Los Angeles to the bay, but what about everything else in between?

The High-Speed Rail project in California has affected many people in the Central Valley. The project has had an impact on many Californians who live in the Central Valley, but not in a positive way. Those who have been affected by the project include families. Farmers and tax paying citizens.

Many Central Valley residents have opposed the project ever since it was first mentioned. There have been many different obstacles and downsides to the project, and it will only get worse. The rail project has exceeded the initial budget of $4 billion, with costs now estimating between $62 billion and $98 billion. Not only have costs gone up, but the size of the project has gone down. It was initially projected to connect from LA to the bay area. However, it has been decreased to connect from Bakersfield to Modesto.

Construction on the project has only taken place for the most part in the Central Valley, which has hit hard at many different angles due to the project. Citizens in the valley have been devastated by the rail project. Some of those residents being farmers and people in agriculture.

One person who has been affected by the project is Louie Oliviera.

When asked about how his family and he have been impacted by the project, said Oliviera, “We used to have a ranch where we farmed walnuts, but it was purchased by the state for the high speed rail project.”

Oliviera’s farm operations have been decreased to his home ranch. Where he once had well over 100 acres it now has been minimized to approximately 25 acres.

“It was hard to give up the land after years of hard work,” said Oliviera.

Oliviera is one of many who have lost land, as well as valuable property, to the project. “It’s hard to see all the farms that have been destroyed by the high speed rail,” Oliviera said. “As I work in agriculture and am at many different fields across the Valley all the time, it’s sad to see what has happened to these farms that have been bought out,” said Oliviera.

Jerry Fagundes was another person who had to sell his property to the state for the rail project. He had built his dream home in the Central Valley on the outskirts of Hanford.

When asked about how him and his family have been affected by the rail Fagundes said, “We had built our dream home with no plans of moving out. We built it to resemble a log cabin, it was everything we had dreamt it would be.”  

The house was raised to the ground and Fagundes said, “We fought and fought against the High-Speed Rail in order to keep our home, but sadly it wasn’t enough.”

He has harsh words for Brian P. Kelly, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“I think he is a crook,”  Fagundes said.

The Fagundes families’ story is just one of many who have been impacted by the High-Speed Rail.

“We are some of many in the Valley that oppose the High-Speed Rail. It is not a necessary type of transportation,” said Fagundes. “There are many different transportation options that already exist, which require a lot less money that could be used for better resources.”

The result is low morale in many farm families.

Farms across Fresno County, Kings County and Tulare County have been hit the hardest from the project. With the route of the rail now only going from Modesto to Bakersfield, it doesn’t make sense since the Amtrak train already exists in these cities.

The high speed rail project has faced many obstacles and difficulties in its approximately 10 year history, as it is still in the beginning stages. Construction for the rail has been going on for a few years, but not much has been accomplished. The high speed rail has caused many taxes and frustration to not only the residents of the Central Valley, but to other Californians as well.

Taxes are constantly being increased in order to fund the extreme costs of the project. Overall, the High-Speed Rail project has had a very large impact on the Central Valley, and not much support has been seen within. Families and farms are being forced to sell their property in order to fulfill a fantasy that will never be finished.

Tags: California, Central Valley, high speed rail, bay area, los angles

Caption: Construction continues for California’s High-Speed Rail project in the Central Valley. (Courtesy Los Angeles Times)

Starbucks wish a 'Merry Coffee' this holiday season with four new cup designs

Every year Starbucks launches a new holiday design on their cups. The coffee shop has created over 50 designs over the years. But for this year, the company wishes their customers a “Merry Coffee” through a series of four designs in shades of red, white and Starbucks signature green color.

Additionally, the company also brought back its limited edition reusable red cup. Customers who bring in their red cup after 2 p.m. between November 7 through January 6, will receive 50 cents off their holiday beverage.

Typography was used as the main illustrative element for three of the designs, with whole letters rotated for a musical, song-like quality. While the fourth cup is covered in polka dots. Each cup design has a unifying green stripe on the back, finishing the cup like a ribbon.

  1. Polka Dots

This cup is covered in Starbucks traditional red color with green polka dots all around. The Starbucks Siren also pops up randomly on some of the polka dots.

  1. Merry Dance

Typography is used for this cup as it has a combination red and green letters that spell out “Merry Coffee” all around the white cup.

  1. Merry Stripes

This third cup has a vintage look as its colored in green and has small letters wrapped around small white letters.

  1. Candy Cane Stripes

For the fourth cup, the holiday colors all come together. The cup has big green tilted letters falling like snow on top of red and white stripes.

Top five unusual coffee flavors you might want to try

Coffee has been around for many years where its heritage can be traced back to the Ethiopian plateau. As the bean has evolved, various coffee flavors have been created. Here are five unusual coffee flavors that will test your love for coffee. 

  1. Taco Coffee by Coffee AM
Courtesy Coffee AM

The Spicy Taco coffee is heavily infused with Mexican spices and has a meat-flavored undertone. The bag comes in either decaffeinated or caffeinated and sells for $9.99 on Coffee AM’s website.

  1. Chipotle Chocolate Cocoa by Via Bom Dia 
Courtesy Amazon

This coffee is infused with chili, which can be found on Amazon for $12.99

  1. Jack Daniel’s Coffee
Courtesy Jack Daniel’s

If you need an extra booster in your morning coffee, Jack Daniel’s has you covered. This coffee is infused with authentic Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. The coffee tin goes for $18.99 on the Jack Daniel’s website. 

  1. Maple Bacon Coffee by Boca Java
Courtesy Boca Java

Why not have your breakfast and coffee all in one? Well this coffee has the solution as it combines the sweet and savory taste of bacon with the coffee beans, without being too overpowering. The bag is sold for $8.49 on Boca Java’s website.  

  1. Death Wish Coffee 
Courtesy Death Wish Company

This coffee is exactly what it sounds like. It’s believed to be the world’s strongest coffee with beans sourced from Peru and India. The bag sells for $19.99 on Death Wish Coffee Company’s website. 

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