There are three types of drink that define the run into Christmas for us.
Firstly, the fizzy kind – suitable in any context. Secondly, the mulled kind, to be sipped amid twinkly lights at a festive pop-up or market. And thirdly, the caffeinated or chocolatey kind, piped full of syrup and piled with whipped cream and sweet treats, the kind that used to keep us going through winter office hours and marathon Christmas shopping sessions.
Gone (along with our social lives) is our chance to enjoy the first two, except in our own homes. But with high street coffee chains and bakeries still open for takeaways in lockdown, we can – following precautions – try the latter. Read on for our verdicts, and thank you, baristas, for your socially distanced cheer.
Greggs Festive Mint Hot Chocolate
Price: In store
Reviewed by: Angela Hui, life reporter
“I can’t remember the last time I had hot chocolate. Normally I gravitate straight towards the caffeine, but on first sip I realise I should go for hot chocolate more often – feel like a big kid again. The drink itself is chocolately, rich and creamy with a oh-so subtle hint of mint syrup, topped with a perfect whipped cream swirl sprinkled with chunky chocolate flakes (I unashamedly scoop this off directly into my mouth).This is a sweet warming treat, ideal for a cold winter’s day. Can’t say it instantly reminds me of Christmas though; it’s more of a refreshing minty afterthought. It doesn’t taste overly sugary, you know, where you’re left with furry teeth. But after checking, I realise there’s a whopping 46g(!) of sugar per serving, so maybe I’ll stick to my oat milk latte after all.”
Starbucks Toffee Nut / Eggnog / Gingerbread Latte
Price: From £3.15
Reviewed by: Adam Bloodworth, features writer
“Caution, do not approach with a fear of sugar! The Starbucks Christmas range doesn’t feel designed for coffee drinkers, points out my friend when we try them during a cold November lockdown walk. She’s right: they’re cloyingly sweet, all four of them, even the new Deluxe Hot Chocolate, which doesn’t have the depth of flavour you’d hope for. Of the three festive classics, the Toffee Nut Latte tastes most like it isn’t just made of sugar: there’s decipherable nut and toffee flavour profiles in there, and would be my go-to if I return. The Eggnog Latte scores highest in the ‘phwooarrr, that’s a lot of sugar!’ rankings, with the Gingerbread Latte somewhere in-between. These will please fans of festive drinks who go nowhere near coffee the rest of the year – and new for 2020, the vegan whipped cream, rich and full of flavour, is an inclusive hit.”
Costa’s Quality Street Purple One Latte
Reviewed by: Rachel Moss, life reporter
“This latte supposedly comes with both caramel chocolate sauce and roasted hazelnut syrup, but, to me, it just tastes like your standard caramel latte. As I love caramel lattes, this isn’t a huge problem, I should add. It satisfies my sweet tooth without being overly sickly. It doesn’t scream ‘Christmas’ like the nutmeg and cinnamon-based drinks I usually associate with the season, and that makes it a nice alternative for those who’ve succumbed early to festive fatigue. My biggest criticism is that the hazelnut syrup could pack a bigger punch. At £3.50 for a small, it’s also not the best value. But the drink does come with a Quality Street sweet on the side – a gimmick that I shamelessly love.”
McDonald’s Salted Caramel Latte
Reviewed by: Amy Packham, life editor
“Salted caramel isn’t necessarily a festive flavour – but it very much ticks the indulgence box we need right now. And I do enjoy this drink. It’s milky and sweet, like you’d expect from a caramel latte. But it’s nothing special and it doesn’t feel that Christmassy, either. There’s a sort of burnt caramel taste, which isn’t a bad thing – it actually makes it less sugary and gives it more of a distinct flavour. I’d easily get this again, just maybe in a smaller size. As with all of the sugary Christmas drinks, it’s hard to finish a whole one and not feel a bit sick.”
Caffè Nero Christmas Gingerbread Latte
Reviewed by: Nancy Groves, head of life
“Pre-pandemic, my Flat White habit meant I could barely countenance a commute without coffee. Because I’m no home barista (however many guides I read to becoming one), I’ve reverted to tea in lockdown, and was looking forward to this as a treat. But here’s where I put it to you that festive hot beverages are massively over-hyped. I can’t deny this one looks pretty, especially with its marshmallows instead of the customary dollop of whipped cream. The issue lies beneath. This latte has all the consistency of a muddy puddle, which no amount of dusted cinnamon can mask, and a woody, smoky aftertaste that’s more burnt toast than Gingerbread. Alas, I do not know the muffin man, Gingey, but I could probably do with one to take the taste away.”
Pret’s S’mores Hot Chocolate
Price: from £3.15
Reviewed by: Tasha Hinde, life reporter
“Described by Pret as a festive hot chocolate, combining biscuit (Speculoos) syrup, a shot of chocolate powder and steamed milk, topped with whipped cream, a sprinkling of dark chocolate curls and a marshmallow. I was pretty excited to try the S’mores Hot Chocolate. I was expecting something marshmallowy and quite rich in flavour but sadly I got none of that whatsoever. What I did get was essentially hot, frothy milk with a couple of chocolate sprinkles on top. The person behind the till did explain they’d run out of cream for the top but I didn’t realise they’d run out of basically all of the other ingredients too. No flavour, no festive feel, just disappointment.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.