I tried 8 holiday drinks from popular coffee chains, and Starbucks’ best minty drink is Dunkin’s worst

Dunkin’ and Starbucks have both released winter drink menus in 2020. Savanna Swain Wilson/Insider
  • I spent two weeks ordering every available 2020 holiday drink from my local Dunkin’ and Starbucks locations.
  • In the end, I think Starbucks had a better selection of festive drinks.
  • My favourite holiday order was Starbucks’ peppermint mocha, followed closely by Starbucks’ chestnut-praline latte, then Dunkin’s gingerbread latte.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nothing marks the beginning of the holiday season quite like the arrival of the holiday drink menus at Dunkin’ and Starbucks — which launched on November 4 and November 5, respectively.

Dunkin’s holiday menu offers three seasonal drinks: the gingerbread iced latte, peppermint-mocha latte, and chai oat-milk latte. And Starbucks’ selection features the return of five holiday options from previous years: peppermint mocha, toasted white-chocolate mocha, caramel-brulée latte, eggnog latte, and chestnut-praline latte.

As a fan of all things peppermint and gingerbread, I couldn’t resist trying out all of the festive drinks to see which chain was doing the holiday season justice this year.

Read on to find out how each drink stacked up, and which ones I’ll be ordering again this winter.

Editor’s Note: This article was written and published before Dunkin’ introduced the sugarplum macchiato on December 2.

The Dunkin’ peppermint-mocha latte was milky and forgettable

Dunkin' peppermint mocha
Dunkin’s peppermint-mocha latte. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Of all of the holiday drinks I tried, Dunkin’s peppermint-mocha latte was my least favourite.

The most glaring issue was the recipe seemed to have trouble committing to a particular flavour — the cocoa used for the mocha was disappointingly bitter and mild, and the hint of mint was barely noticeable. As a result, the milk completely overpowered every other flavour in this drink, including the coffee.

I thought it tasted like a child’s hot chocolate with a vague whisper of peppermint in it, which was disappointing, to say the least.

VERDICT: Peppermint and chocolate should be the stars of the show in this latte, but unfortunately, the Dunkin’ version of this classic holiday drink relegated these two flavours to the background.

I imagine this would be a great option for people who don’t like a strong taste of coffee or anything else in their drinks, but for me, it was too milky to be memorable.

Despite all of the hype surrounding the drink, I thought the eggnog latte from Starbucks was ultimately underwhelming

Starbucks eggnog latte
The eggnog latte has both vocal fans and haters. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Let me begin by saying I am well aware that Starbucks’ eggnog latte and its popularity — or lack thereof — is a polarising topic.

And I get it, eggnog is a bit of an unusual beverage that falls somewhere between heavy cream and drinkable custard, and it is extremely decadent, sweet, and rich. Perhaps that’s why it’s only available on grocery-store shelves for such a short season.

Still, I gave the eggnog latte a chance because I knew that although there are many people who hate it, there are a lot of people who love it. And I actually like the way the holiday staple tastes when paired with a liquor like brandy, so I was curious to see how it mixed with coffee.

I don’t mean to sound like the Grinch, but I was ultimately unimpressed by this option. It was like drinking a sweetened, slightly acidic heavy cream, even after the barista “cut” the eggnog by thinning it out with regular milk.

Starbucks eggnog latte
I was not a fan of how my eggnog latte tasted. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Thankfully the espresso was still noticeable underneath all the dairy, but something about it tasted off to me.

It might have been that I don’t care for the flavour of hot eggnog, or that the coffee seemed discrete behind the drink’s other elements — but not even the light dusting of nutmeg on the top could redeem it.VERDICT: I didn’t hate it, and there’s a good chance you’ll probably really like it if you love eggnog, but I think I’ll stick to enjoying my holiday drink chilled.

The Starbucks caramel-brulée
latte was essentially an elevated version of the chain’s regular caramel latte

Starbucks caramel brulee latte
Starbucks’ caramel-brulée latte uses a different syrup than the regular caramel latte. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

The caramel-brulée latte tasted like a box of holiday candy in a cup.

Upon the first sip, I thought of the sweets that my family and I used to get in tins from my neighbours when I was a kid, which often consisted of chewy caramels and cellophane-wrapped buttered toffee.

That said, I totally understand why some people may find this drink underwhelming, since it seemed quite similar to the chain’s standard caramel latte, even though Starbucks uses different flavour syrups for each drink,

Starbucks caramel brulée latte
The caramel-brulée flakes were a nice touch. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

My latte came topped with whipped cream and yummy caramel-brulée flakes, which looked like bits of shiny gold.

I noticed that the caramel-brulée latte had a distinct buttery and smoky flavour , which makes sense because the baking term “brulée” usually refers to the process of caramelizing sugar on the top of a dessert, usually via a blow torch.

That “torched” flavour in the syrup added a level of complexity to the drink that tasted more unique and elegant than a regular caramel latte.VERDICT: Although I thought the caramel-brulée latte was enjoyable, I still found it was a bit too sweet for me to order as-is. I definitely liked it a lot better than the other caramel alternative, but in the future, I’ll ask the barista to cut the amount of syrup in half.

The chai oat-milk latte from Dunkin’ is a fragrant and pleasant new dairy-free addition to the chain’s winter menu

Dunkin chai latte
Dunkin’ got the flavours just right in its chai oat-milk latte. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Dunkin’ recently hopped on the plant-based-milk trend by adding oat milk to stores in August. And just in time for the holidays, the chain released its own chai oat-milk latte.

Chai tea is typically made with a blend of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and most notably, cardamon, and Dunkin’ did an excellent job capturing all of those elements within this drink.

After one whiff of this latte, I was mentally transported to a chilly afternoon spent walking through the woods, which is about as wintery as you can get.

This drink is definitely spicier than it is sweet. The barista who made my order suggested that I add a flavour swirl or other sweetener to it, but I declined because I wanted to taste the latte as-is.

Dunkin chai latte
The oat milk came out foamy and delicious. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I thought it was quite tasty — the chai flavoring had just the right balance of spices, and the steamed oat milk gave the drink a velvety foam that carried through to the very last sip.

I’m already a big fan of adding this dairy-free alternative to my regular morning coffee, but this drink supported my belief that oat milk makes the most creamy and delicious lattes. It also has a natural sweetness that added a nice contrast to the earthy chai flavour.

I’ve been to some coffee shops that use a chai powder or syrup that tastes more like artificial vanilla and leaves an unpleasant residue at the bottom of the cup, but Dunkin’ nailed this recipe — every element blended seamlessly into the oat milk, creating an even balance of flavour throughout the entire drink.

VERDICT: Overall, I thought that Dunkin’s oat-milk chai latte was a pleasant departure from the other sugary drinks on its holiday menu. I hope it sticks around for a bit because I’ll definitely be ordering it again.

The iced gingerbread latte from Dunkin’ reminded me of a freshly baked holiday cookie

Dunkin iced gingerbread latte
The gingerbread latte is available cold or hot. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

This was my first time trying the iced gingerbread latte, and I am happy to report that it was excellent in every way.

At a glance, this beverage radiated pure holiday cheer. I’ll even overlook the fact that my local Dunkin’ was completely out of its festive Cheersin’ cups, because the mountain of whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, and caramel topping this drink brought a huge smile to my face.

Dunkin iced gingerbread latte
The toppings on Dunkin’s iced gingerbread latte were incredible. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

What really won me over about this drink was that it tasted exactly like freshly baked gingerbread cookies — sugary and sweet with a nice, even medley of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger that allowed Dunkin’s espresso to meld seamlessly.

Best of all, it didn’t have a syrupy or artificial aftertaste.

I also really liked that Dunkin’ chose to feature the iced version of this order as a part of its holiday lineup. Winter is often associated with hot drinks, but as someone who routinely drinks iced coffee, I appreciated that the chain added a cold option to its list while also serving the warm alternative.

VERDICT: The familiar, festive flavour of this gingerbread latte highlighted the best parts of this season: spending the afternoon making baked goods or building gingerbread houses with your family.

In short, I “fa la la la” loved it, and I can’t wait to order it next time at Dunkin’.

The toasted white-chocolate mocha from Starbucks seemed more like dessert than coffee

Starbucks white-chocolate mocha
Starbucks’ toasted white-chocolate mocha is an Instagrammable treat. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

If you’ve ever wondered what “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker” would be like as a beverage, it’s the Starbucks toasted white-chocolate mocha.

It sort of tastes like a mix of butterscotch, toasted marshmallow, and graham cracker blended with an intensely yummy white-chocolate flavour.

My drink was topped with whipped cream, festive pink sprinkles, and round sugar pearls, which would make for an aesthetically pleasing, joyful Instagram photo.

Starbucks white-chocolate mocha
My toasted white-chocolate mocha tasted almost too sweet to be a coffee order. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

VERDICT: I enjoyed my toasted white-chocolate mocha, and as I type this review, I can’t think of anything better than cozying up next to a fireplace with a cup of it in my hands.

At the same time, it was almost distressingly sweet. I’m aware many of the drinks on this list are loaded with sugar, but this one masked the actual flavour of coffee so well that it tasted more like a genuine dessert than something I could ever order before noon again.

I also didn’t care for the sugar pearls, which immediately sank to the bottom, only to catch me off guard when I mistook them for soggy clumps of napkin.

And although I wouldn’t write it off completely, I don’t know if its flavour was memorable enough for me to order the drink again.

I couldn’t get enough of the nutty, scrumptious topping on Starbucks’ chestnut-praline latte

Starbucks chestnut praline latte
Starbucks’ chestnut-praline latte nailed the nutty flavour. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

What do you get when you cross a time-honoured holiday tradition with the warmth of smooth espresso, hot milk, and praline sprinkles?

Apparently, it’s the 21st-century caffeinated miracle known as the Starbucks chestnut-praline latte.

I’m a huge fan of candied nuts, but I don’t think I have ever eaten an actual chestnut in my life, let alone one that had been roasted over an open fire. Still, I trusted that Starbucks was being somewhat true to the flavour of this traditional holiday treat with this drink.

After the first sip, I immediately detected the taste of spiced nuts which then yielded to a delicate sweetness that wasn’t at all cloying or overpowering. The flavour was more like honey than syrup, and it reminded me of graham crackers.

Starbucks chestnut praline latte
The caramel-crumb praline topping was a wonderful addition. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

As someone who prefers lattes that you can taste the coffee in, this order hit all of the right notes for me. The earthiness of the espresso rounded out the nutty and sweet elements of the drink to create a sophisticated and exceptionally well-balanced latte.

And the caramel-praline crumb topping deserves its own recognition. At first, I thought it was finely chopped candied nuts, but it turned out to be just sugar.

I don’t usually like my beverages to have any added texture, but these sweet crumbles were the final touch that this drink needed to go from an A to an A+. I wish I could buy them in a jar to have on hand at my own house.

VERDICT: Where do I sign the petition for Starbucks to make this drink available year-round?

I enjoyed the majority of the holiday drinks I tried, but none of them compared to
Starbucks’ iconic
peppermint mocha

Starbucks peppermint mocha
The peppermint mocha from Starbucks is a holiday classic. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

None of the other drinks could compare to this one, and this mocha is still one of my favourite things about winter.

Starbucks has seemingly perfected the recipe for this coffee-shop holiday classic, as the order had just the right amount of chocolate, peppermint, milk, and espresso.

I also think the fact that the chain uses a chocolate sauce instead of a syrup or powder makes a huge difference. With a bold, decadent taste that keeps you wanting more, this drink gets about as close to a pure chocolate flavour as possible.

Perhaps that’s why this option has been a mainstay on the chain’s menu every holiday season for 18 years, with many stores — including my own — frequently selling out of peppermint flavour every few days when winter comes around.

Starbucks peppermint mocha
Starbucks’ peppermint mocha has the perfect combination of flavours. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Even though Starbucks’ peppermint flavour is technically available year-round, I purposely wait until the drink’s official rerelease every November to get the full experience, complete with a holiday cup and chocolate curls that give the drink that extra dose of winter magic.

That said, the peppermint mocha may not be for those who are super sensitive to rich, sugary tastes.

But although the seasonal flavours shine, Starbucks’ espresso is strong enough to not get buried. I have also ordered this drink with half the amount of sweetener, and it still tastes just as good.

Starbucks peppermint mocha
I have ordered the peppermint mocha for years. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

VERDICT: With a winning combination of espresso, full-bodied chocolate sauce, cool peppermint syrup, espresso, milk, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, Starbucks’ peppermint mocha tastes like a dreamy, winter wonderland.

I am probably going to order this drink again every winter for the rest of my life.