Every year, the four big coffee chains (Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Bo’s Coffee, and Seattle’s Best) release special Christmas drinks to celebrate the holidays. Each coffee shop tries to put a unique spin on their drinks, and they get more creative each year. It just so happens that all four are present along Katipunan, spreading the Christmas spirit with their caffeinated beverages. This year, Vantage pits these drinks against one another to search for the ultimate coffee experience this Christmas season.
Bo’s Coffee’s Christmas drinks are uncomplicated, as they follow the theme of a white Christmas. Albeit simple, the drinks do not necessarily lack in presentation. The mix of the brown and the white make these drinks chic-looking.
Bo’s Coffee does not offer the same flair as the other coffeeshops in terms of the flavors. The Dry White and the Flat White drinks, versions of the same drink with the dry having more foam than milk and the flat vice versa, are subtle in flavor. The Dry White is very foamy for the first few sips, letting the flavor take over without the creaminess of the drink to augment it. This lets the bitterness come through and allows the well-roasted coffee to shine. Once you get to the part of the drink with the milk and coffee, which is the part that tastes much like the Flat White, the experience is rounded out. The drink is smooth and the coffee and the milk are in a perfect proportion to complement each other. Though a bit watery at the end, the drink is still satisfying.
The Cold White Brew is where Bo’s Coffee truly shines. The coffee’s quality is particularly apparent in the drink, with fruity notes abound in each sip. The baristas ask for your desired sugar level upon order, and at 50% sugar level, the drink’s bitterness is curbed until the end of each sip. Over time, the milk seeps and mixes with the coffee and the sugar, making for a very creamy taste with each sip. This rounds out the flavor of the drink. Overall, this drink is a triumph and its understatement makes it not just a novelty Christmas drink, but a drink that can be enjoyed at any time.
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
At first glance, the Christmas coffee drinks from Seattle’s Best look promising. The dusting of cocoa powder on top of the Espresso Banoffee and the decorative sugar Christmas tree on top of the Raspberry Christmas Mousse really heighten the expectations for these drinks. Despite the attractive aesthetics, the drinks themselves are disappointing.
The concept behind the drinks seem promising, but their potential is ruined by poor execution. The Espresso Banoffee drink has a confusing taste, with the artificial banana flavoring and the bland-tasting coffee not mixing well together. A sip of the drink first tastes too sweet while the banana flavoring assaults your taste buds before the unsavory flavor of their coffee takes over. The coffee at Seattle’s Best doesn’t have the earthy or fruity notes expected, and only tastes vaguely chocolatey.
The Raspberry Christmas Mousse is the most exciting drink to look at from the whole list, but its flavor is among the weakest. There is almost no coffee flavor present in the drink, and the chocolate flavor is apparent but not pleasant. The raspberry flavor tastes way too artificial and muddles your taste buds, leaving a weird, film-like feeling on the surface of your tongue. It is reminiscent of a badly-made fruitcake, almost to the point of being completely unpalatable and hard to swallow.
Overall Grade: 1/5
It’s safe to say that the ubiquity of Starbucks’ seasonal drinks has rendered it a holiday staple that is much anticipated by the public. Each year, the coffee chain releases three special Christmas-themed beverages—and this season’s collection, “Cups of Merry,” does not disappoint.
The Toffee Nut Frappuccino is a returning favorite from last year. With swirls of cream topped with a nutty crunch, the golden drink fits right in with the Christmas season. Its flavor contains just the right amount of sweet, caramelized toffee goodness balanced out with a hint of coffee.
In contrast, the Vanilla Nougat Frappuccino is a relatively new flavor, though it still shines. While most vanilla-flavored food generally lack a dominant flavor, one can taste actual vanilla bean in the beverage. In addition, the dollop of cream drizzled with raspberry syrup on top actually adds dimension to the whole drink, rather than just thickening it. However, delicious as it is, the promised taste of coffee is nowhere to be found, so in case one wants a kick of caffeine, perhaps he or she should opt to have the Vanilla Nougat in its latte form.
Rounding off the “Cups of Merry” is the Christmas Tree Mocha, which gets its name from its garnish: A generous amount of green cream piped tall into a pine tree shape and sprinkled with red peppermint flakes. Like the other seasonal drinks, it is also served in Frappuccino form, though baristas advise to have it served hot in order to actually taste its flavor. Sadly, this means that unlike the stately topping of a Frappuccino, the ‘Christmas tree’ cream is served flattened into an unappealing green blob. While the peppermint essence is prevalent in the latte—as it should be—it is perhaps a tad too strong as it ends up overpowering the coffee. Served hot, it can make an excellent holiday drink, but not for those who crave the actual taste of coffee. While Starbucks more than delivers in terms of flavor, it could do with making the taste of coffee much stronger.
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (CBTL) serves up another strong contender of a collection for holiday drinks. Though not as adventurous or as Christmassy as the aforementioned coffee shops, this year’s Double Chocolate Berry Trio still successfully delivers with quality ingredients and overall consistency.
The selection is available as both a cold beverage, in the form of CBTL’s signature ice-blended mocha, and a hot drink, in the form of a latte. First up is the Double Chocolate Strawberry Iced Mocha. Even at its smallest size, it still stands tall with a hefty serving of coffee, topped with swirls upon swirls of whipped cream and drizzled with strawberry syrup. In terms of presentation, it’s pretty to look at, though it lacks a holiday flair. In terms of taste, however, there’s too much coffee and not enough strawberry—the elusive fruity notes only appearing once you mix the syrup topping with the entire drink.
CBTL’s hot drinks fare slightly better, providing both eye candy and good flavor. The Double Chocolate Raspberry Latte and Double Chocolate Blueberry Latte are nearly identical in presentation, with both drinks being served in quaint white mugs underneath layers of creamy froth. The only overlying difference lies in the color of the syrup drizzled on top—magenta and indigo in a lattice pattern, respectively.
However, the stark contrast in flavors is palpable. The former’s raspberry flavor is artificial at best and too weak at that, being strongly overpowered by the bitterness of the coffee. Its raspberry flavor ultimately fails to harmonize with the earthy tones of the coffee and cocoa beans. For the latter, the blueberry taste is noticeable at once, with a rich, pleasant flavor that does not taste at all artificial. Yet it cannot be said that its berry flavor melds with the coffee one, as the drink provides only notes of chocolate and blueberry—the taste of coffee being surprisingly absent. Although each individual drink is blended to perfection and contain the right consistency, there’s no accounting for taste as a whole—much less the spirit of the season.
Overall Grade: 3.5/5
In the end, while all four major coffee shops of Katipunan provide their own unique twists to their beverage menu for the season, when it comes to coffee flavor and holiday flair, only two somewhat prevail in the end. With that, Bo’s Coffee and Starbucks are tied for the best Christmas drinks. For a more traditional fare, a coffee aficionado is advised to take a seat at Bo’s for the earthy flavor of their brewed, quality beverages. For a more exciting experience, the curious taste-tester is encouraged to head over to Starbucks for its colorful and adventurous holiday drinks. Or one can just opt to try everything—it’s Christmas, after all.
Graphic by Cody Jalandoni
Photos by Jerry Feng