Every 2021 Starbucks Holiday Item, Ranked Worst To Best

Some people think the winter holiday season officially begins when the Black Friday sales start, but the truth is, it starts the moment the Starbucks holiday cups arrive and those Peppermint Mochas start flowing. This year the holiday cups and flavored lattes debuted on November 4, and include both longstanding favorites and a new addition — the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte. (For those die hard Starbucks holiday drinks fans, the collectable and reusable red cups that are typically offered for free on the first day of the holiday launch will be arriving on November 18.)

We decided to take this opportunity to try every holiday food and drink item that made it to the Starbucks menu this year, in the wide variety of formats that they're offered in, to give you an idea of what you can expect. With more than a dozen drinks available, the choices can be a little overwhelming, but we've ranked them all so you know what not to miss and what you might want to wait to try later (or, in some cases, not at all).

21. Iced Chestnut Praline Latte

We don't mean to hate on this latte straight out of the gate because we think it's one of the more creative options on the Starbucks holiday drink menu, but the Iced Chestnut Praline Latte is an easy skip. The nuttiness tastes stale and bitter, while the praline tastes like sugar that was completely scorched, making the drink's sweetness both overwhelming and strangely nonexistent at the same time. 

There's a lot going on here, and none of it seems to be working properly. The whipped cream topping and toffee pieces go a little way in balancing this iced beverage, but they can't make up for the strong disagreeable flavors entirely. If you're a Chestnut Praline fan, don't let this latte version deter you. We encourage you to order it in either the hot or Frappuccino versions to enjoy all of the interesting notes that this flavor has to offer.

20. Snowman sugar cookie

If you buy the Starbucks snowman sugar cookie because you think it's cute, we completely understand. It's pretty adorable and fitting for any day it's below 60 degrees. The cookie comes in a sealed bag to keep it from drying out, which we appreciate. The snowman cookie we received was perfectly decorated without any broken pieces or frosting flaws which we were also impressed with, considering it wasn't made on site. Even though it's described as a shortbread cookie on the Starbucks website, the cookie isn't hard and crumbly. It's tender with a little bit of crumble action, but definitely not dry. The frosting on top isn't rock hard like royal icing that could break teeth, but soft enough to bite through without shattering.

The only problem is, this cute snowman is boring in the taste department. It's a little buttery and sweet enough but seems to be lacking any depth of flavor from vanilla or any other additions. It could genuinely benefit from a few dunks into your warm coffee, assuming you're into that sort of thing. 

But even though it isn't especially tasty, we'd probably still buy it just because of how adorable it is. On the other hand, if you've got a little one that's an extremely picky eater, this might be the perfect cookie to satisfy them on the road trip to grandma's house for the holidays.

19. Iced Peppermint Mocha

We tried the Peppermint Mocha in all three formats: hot, cold, and Frappuccino (frozen). No matter what, it's an iconic drink that people are going to flip out for, just like they have every year for the last 20 years. But of the three, we thought that the Iced Peppermint Mocha was the least exciting of all of the formats it comes in. It was almost as if someone had melted down our favorite milkshake and put it on ice instead of serving it nicely frozen or comfortingly warm. And even though we're telling you that it's our least favorite option of the three Peppermint Mochas, you should know that we sucked it down to the very last drop anyway ⁠— so it's still a pretty tasty drink even if we don't think it's exactly perfect.

The biggest drawback of the Iced Peppermint Mocha is that the mocha sauce itself is grainy in cold form, due to the cocoa powder in the syrup. There isn't really anything you can do about that, but we'd suggest ordering it with half of the standard mocha and peppermint sauces. That way the coffee flavor shines brighter, and it's more of a flavored iced latte than a melted peppermint chocolate milkshake on ice. Also, go ahead and skip the whipped cream on this one if your dead-set on getting this drink in iced form.

18. Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte

The Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte is the newest addition to the Starbucks holiday menu. We thought it was a little strange that Starbucks would intentionally launch a cold drink for the cold season, but we had to sample it the way it was intended to be enjoyed. The drink gave us the feeling of enjoying an iced coffee, lighter than a typical latte, with some of the nuttiness of the almond milk coming through. The sugar cookie syrup is delicately sweet and a little bit buttery tasting, but not overwhelmingly toasted like you'll find with the Chestnut Praline or Caramel Brulée flavors. In fact, the flavors of this drink are restrained enough that we can imagine drinking the Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte year-round, especially cold. 

But how does it stand up to the rest of the holiday collection? We thought it was a little bit on the boring side in the iced format, and other than the name, it isn't an especially festive drink. (For the record, we're not the only ones disappointed with the sugar cookie latte.) It's not that it's bad, it's just that it had a lot of work cut out for it to stand up to such powerful flavors like peppermint and caramel, and in comparison, this one falls flat.

17. Reindeer cake pop

The reindeer cake pop is, admittedly, a little goofy looking, but we think it's a perfect little bite when you want a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. It's got the same vanilla filling that the rest of the Starbucks cake pops have, which we think tastes delightfully like moist birthday cake. Given that most of the holiday drinks on this list are already very sweet, the prospect of adding more sugar to your coffee break might not be appealing, so we'd recommend grabbing one of these cake pops with a cup of drip coffee or the Irish Cream Cold Brew for a more balanced coffee break. It's also going to delight any kids you may be picking a snack up for along the way or even your favorite coworkers the week before you all go your separate ways for the holidays. 

One cake pop cost us $2.95 before tax, which we thought was a reasonable price for such a well-decorated treat. If you're planning on giving them as a gift or popping one into a stocking, you'll need to wrap it yourself since the pops come au natural.

16. Iced Caramel Brulée Latte

If you're looking for a clear difference between an iced caramel latte from the competitor's coffee shop and an iced Caramel Brulée latte from Starbucks, you're probably not going to find that distinction here. The Caramel Brulée latte is Starbucks' essential caramel latte, with the supposed added flavor of torched sugar like you'd find on top of a crème brûlée custard. But in the cold format, all of that nuance is missing and it's simply an iced caramel latte. We're not complaining because iced caramel lattes are great, but in comparison to the rest of the holiday menu, this one just feels like a regular menu item — a classic, but normal.

In that case, you may be wondering what the difference is between the Iced Caramel Brulée Latte and the Iced Caramel Macchiato. Other than how the beverage is prepared, the Caramel Brulée latte is flavored with a special caramel brulée syrup. Alternately, the caramel macchiato is flavored with vanilla syrup, then has a caramel drizzle topping (which usually falls to the bottom in cold form and needs stirring to incorporate into the drink). We like that this drink doesn't require any extra stirring, but we couldn't help but be distracted by all of the other more creative holiday offerings.

15. Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino

If you were to blind taste the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino and the Caramel Brulée Frappuccino side-by-side, you'd probably have difficulty telling them apart. Both are ultra creamy with a burnt caramel flavor. They both even have the same curiously synthetic toasty flavor that leaves a slight aftertaste. Since they're so similar tasting it might be difficult to choose which one is actually better. 

We don't love that the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino is a little sweeter than the Caramel Brulée Frappuccino, which we think is plenty sweet enough as it is. The Caramel Brulée Frappuccino has slightly fewer calories which is a bonus if you're a regular Frappuccino drinker. Ultimately, we think this is one of the holiday drinks that you can skip over in favor of the more popular Frappuccinos, but if you're a big fan of white chocolate, you'll probably enjoy it.

14. Irish Cream Cold Brew

We get it, not everyone is here for the peppermint mochas and sugary cookie lattes. Some people just want coffee ... with maybe just a hint of cheer to feel special, but definitely not going overboard with it. Starbucks wants those folks to be happy too and has brought back the Irish Cream Cold Brew, which is first and foremost cold brew coffee. It's got a few pumps of Irish cream syrup in it to for some sweetness, and then it's topped with an Irish cream cold foam. And that's it. Okay, there's a tiny sprinkle of cocoa powder on top of the cold foam, but seriously, that's it.

If you want a straightforward cold brew coffee that's just sweet enough to be cheerful, this is the drink for you. But if you're a huge fan of Baileys Irish Cream, you're going to be pretty disappointed. The thing is, it's difficult for something to taste like Irish cream if it doesn't have any whiskey in it, or hasn't been brewed or aged in a whiskey barrel. As far as we could tell, it hasn't come in contact with anything of the sort, unlike the Irish con Crema, brewed with whiskey barrel-aged beans, which we had the pleasure of trying at a Starbucks Reserve location. If you're looking for a cold brew with a little bit more flavor, we're big fans of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew for as long as it's available (and when it's not, you can make it at home).

13. Caramel Brulee Frappuccino

The Caramel Brulée Frappuccino is basically an icy caramel milkshake. One taster commented that the creaminess and mild flavor of the caramel reminded them of eating Werther's candies at their grandparents' house. It seems like there's a little more going on in the Frappuccino version of this latte compared to the basic iced version, which seems to be a trend among most of the lattes on this list. Even with a more intense caramel flavor that's blended into every sip, we found it difficult to pinpoint the coffee. For those who don't drink coffee, or have just maxed out on it for the day, Starbucks also offers a coffee-free version called the Caramel Brulée Créme Frappuccino.

While we mostly enjoyed the Caramel Brulée Frappuccino, we noticed that it has a little bit of a strange aftertaste. It's the same strange aftertaste that we noticed in almost all of the drinks with a "burnt" or "brulée" flavor profile. While we can't be sure, it seems like an artificial flavor was added to these syrups to give them that burnt sugar quality. You may not be able to taste it with just one sip or even one drink, but after trying over a dozen drinks in a short period of time, the flavor became apparent, and eventually a turnoff.

12. Christmas Blend 2021 whole bean coffee

On cold mornings it seems to take even longer to get going. The prospect of putting on shoes, much less winter weather clothes, just to go all the way to your closest Starbucks store for your first cup of coffee is an unreasonable request. So Starbucks has made a Christmas Blend whole bean coffee to get you going when you can't make it to the store.

The Christmas Blend coffee sources beans from Sumatra and combines them with beans from Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, and Columbia. It's a dark roast coffee that really adds a little boldness to your morning when you really need the extra kick. The description on the side of the bag claims the coffee has "notes of herbs and baking spices and a chocolate finish," and although we were hard-pressed to detect many of those flavors distinctly, the freshly ground coffee smells absolutely intoxicating. While it's not entirely unusual for coffees to have spices and chocolate flavor profiles, it's certainly a nice touch during the holidays. Even though this particular blend is a darker roast coffee, it isn't too astringent or bitter, and even brewed lighter it's got enough flavor to stand up to a little milk and sugar. After all, much of the pleasure of drinking real coffee is it tasting like bold real coffee.

11. Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Frappuccino

For this particular Frappuccino, we did a little experiment. We ordered one Frappuccino with almond milk as the drink was intended, and one with skim milk to see how much flavor the dairy selection actually contributes to the drink. It turns out, very little — the majority of the flavor comes from the Sugar Cookie syrup

In both cases, we thought the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Frappuccino was a better choice for drinking this beverage cold than the iced version. Since this Frappuccino is technically vegan, it isn't served with whipped cream, only a dusting of holiday sugar, which we thought was great and helped keep the drink lighter. Blended, the ingredients seem a little bit creamier and the chill feels more like a winter's day than the sensation of drinking a regular iced latte. If you'd like to keep it vegan but are allergic to nuts, order it with oat milk instead for a similar experience. 

10. Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino

Perhaps the only thing more iconic on the Starbucks menu than the Peppermint Mocha is the Frappuccino, and serving a Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino was really a natural progression of the drink. This Frappuccino, like almost all the others, is an absolute treat. And by that we mean, it's basically dessert. More like a chocolate peppermint milkshake than a coffee beverage, the Frappuccino is delightfully sweet, and even more peppermint heavy than in the hot version. The peppermint lends itself well to cold drinks just as well as hot drinks, and will have you glowing with holiday joy in whichever format you enjoy it in. 

Just like the Iced Peppermint Mocha, we noticed that the mocha sauce takes on a slightly chalky texture when it's cold, most likely due to the cocoa powder that's used in the syrup since cocoa powder doesn't really dissolve. The texture isn't so distracting that you're not going to enjoy this drink, but it does knock it down a few notches in the overall rankings. We got this Frappuccino with the whipped cream and chocolate curls, and while we don't think it's an absolutely necessary addition to the drink, you might as well go for it since you're having dessert anyway.

9. Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte

Even though the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte was meant to be enjoyed cold, we think it's best served hot. Maybe it's because the temperatures are finally dropping towards freezing (in some parts of the country anyway), but we think it's more because it reminds us of warm sugar cookies fresh out of the oven. In hot format, it's buttery and creamy on top of being sweet and we don't think you'd even be able to tell it's vegan if you didn't already know.

As far as looks go, this isn't an especially attractive drink. There isn't a mound of whipped cream on top of it like there are on the other lattes, but we didn't miss it while we were warming up drinking it. The red and green sugars on top are a nice little touch though. We did notice that several stores we went to were running out of almond milk because of the new popularity of this drink. Our barista mentioned that the latte was out of stock on the app, but may be available in stores by request in an effort to conserve short supplies of almond milk.

8. Caramel Brulée Latte

Prepared to be swept away in a sea of sweet and creamy waves. The Caramel Brulée latte is exceptionally sweet, and maybe a little too much so for some people, but it's also an incredibly popular choice for many others who aren't really into the creativity of some of the other holiday drinks or the intense peppermint flavor of the Peppermint Mocha. It's easy to like the Caramel Brulée Latte, and if you're worried about it being too sweet, just ask for fewer pumps of syrup in your drink. 

With that said, we think the whipped cream and additional caramel bits on top are completely unnecessary given how rich this drink already is on its own. The bizarre synthetic toasted aftertaste isn't quite as apparent in the hot version of this drink as it is in the cold versions of the drink, but by the time you drink a few of these lattes, you'll probably notice the flavor. Otherwise, the Caramel Brulée Latte is the smoothest drink in the holiday drink lineup from Starbucks, and easily the drink with the widest appeal.

7. Chestnut Praline Frappuccino

There's something about the Frappuccino that can turn just about any drink into something magical. That's certainly the case with the Chestnut Praline Frappuccino. In its iced format, the Chestnut Praline Latte was our least favorite menu on the entire holiday menu, but in Frappuccino form, it is magically transformed into a winter treat that we can't get enough of. The flavor of chestnut roasted over an open fire leads the way, followed by the sweet caramel-like praline flavor in this Frappuccino. We can even taste some of the baking spices in the topping. Overall, it reminded us of a smoothie loaded with nuts.  

This icy beverage is truly unique in the lineup, managing to take the oftentimes misunderstood flavor of the holiday roasted chestnut and turn it into a treat that feels both festive and comforting. Whipped cream is an option, and we enjoyed it on this particular Frappuccino.

6. Sugar Plum Cheese Danish

Just reading the name "Sugar Plum Cheese Danish" got us excited to try this particular holiday food offering. The pastry will appeal to all Danish lovers, whether you tend to reach for the jam-filled version or the cheese-filled version since the filling is perfectly balanced. The cream cheese filling is surprisingly light, and the mildly spiced plum jam nicely accents both the cheese filling and the buttery dough. Sure, it makes a fine quick breakfast item, but we imagine this Danish being great any time of day.

If you're a Danish connoisseur, you might notice that this particular pastry is a little more bready than what you'll likely find at an artisanal bakery. Danish dough is a yeasted laminated dough, similar to croissant dough but with the addition of eggs, according to The Culinary Pro. You can tell that the Danish has been laminated, but it's not an especially flaky dough. With that said, we appreciated the nice fluffy air pockets and ultra buttery taste. Whether you're getting a bite with filling or dough alone, you're going to enjoy this pastry, although the filling is so good that we wish it was doubled. If given the option, ask for it heated to revive the crunchiness of the dough and the creaminess of the fillings.

5. Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino

The Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino is a mouthful to order, but delightful to drink. The white chocolate mocha sauce seems to have solved the graininess problem of the mocha syrup, and the peppermint shines through just as bright as it does with the classic Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino. In fact, this drink is mostly peppermint, which is a huge bonus for those who love that intense peppermint flavor. It's also very sweet, which should be expected of a Frappuccino. The white chocolate is noticeable, but clearly different than the dark chocolate version. It's creamier and more subtle, really handing the spotlight over to the peppermint and reveling in its role as supporting flavor. The coffee itself might be difficult to pinpoint, but again, that should be expected from a Frappuccino. 

We'd say that if you don't care too much for dark chocolate or really can't stand a grainy texture in your drink, to give this mocha a try instead of the regular Peppermint Mocha. Given how creamy this particular Frappuccino already is, we think it's fine if you skip the additional whipped cream and toppings.

4. Cranberry Bliss Bar

Looking at the Cranberry Bliss Bar, we were a little nervous about what we were getting ourselves into. We like cranberries, but do we want them that much? Is this more like a granola bar or a bar cookie? Even though the Cranberry Bliss Bar has been around for several holiday seasons and has garnered a large fan following as well as countless copycat recipes, we were tasting it for the first time. And wow, we completely get the hype. 

Let's start with the bar itself. It's a moist and almost creamy blondie that's unmistakably made with soft brown sugar. Its studded with white chocolate and dried cranberry bits that come through in every bite. The bar has then been topped with an appropriately dense layer of cream cheese frosting that's beautifully orange-scented but not overwhelmingly so. And on top of that, there are even more dried cranberries plus a drizzle of soft white chocolate. Even if you're not a fan of white chocolate, we think there's still a chance that you'll be excited by this bar.

The Cranberry Bliss Bar is clearly a dessert item, but we won't judge you if you pick one up for breakfast. We also won't judge you if you pick up the 6-pack Cranberry Bliss Tray. You probably won't be able to fool anyone into thinking you baked them yourself at your next holiday gathering, but we're pretty sure that everyone will be delighted that you brought them.

3. Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha

While the peppermint and dark chocolate flavors seem to elegantly contrast each other in the classic Peppermint Mocha, the white chocolate and peppermint flavors seem to smoothly align in the Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. This mocha is ultra creamy and tastes as smooth as velvet going down. The white chocolate doesn't disappear into the background of the peppermint, but accents it in a way that makes the peppermint flavor a touch more subtle than when paired with the dark chocolate. This is definitely the sweeter tasting option of the two mochas, which isn't entirely surprising given that the white chocolate mocha sauce is made with sweetened condensed milk (as well as cocoa butter, which is the base for white chocolate). If you order it with toppings, the drink comes with the same whipped cream and chocolate curls as the original Peppermint Mocha, which we think is a nice touch on the hot beverage. It's a luxurious and indulgent drink, but we think that served hot, the original Peppermint Mocha is just a touch more exciting. 

Ultimately, this one boils down to personal tastes. A lot of people are turned off by white chocolate, which would rule this drink out, but we think that if you're open to the idea of it and really love all things peppermint, you should still give the Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha a try.

2. Chestnut Praline Latte

The Chestnut Praline Latte is the stuff of backyard firepits, roasting marshmallows while singing Christmas carols, and curling up on the couch to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" for the millionth time. It tastes so classically Christmassy that you might even consider switching out your Peppermint Mocha every now and then for the soul-warming taste of this latte. It's nutty and buttery, with a light caramel sweetness to bring it all together. 

The warm coffee and milk play so well off of the nut and toffee flavors that it's hard to tell them apart. It's nuttier than the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, but with the hit of toasty caramel flavor that we love from the Caramel Brulée Latte. Interestingly after several sips, we started to wonder what that flavor was that seemed so familiar, when one taster blurted out, "It tastes like popcorn!" — and they're right. There's a hint of buttery caramel popcorn to this drink, which we think happens to taste amazing.

1. Peppermint Mocha

The Peppermint Mocha is to the Starbucks holiday drink lineup what the Pumpkin Spice Latte is to the autumn roster. It just wouldn't be the same without it, and possibly not even exist at all. According to Starbucks, the Peppermint Mocha was introduced to the coffee chain's lineup in 2002 making this the 20th year that the incredibly popular drink has been available. It's so popular, in fact, that it's been the best selling holiday drink on the Starbucks menu since it was released. And frankly, we aren't surprised.

A hot Starbucks Peppermint Mocha is a thing of magic. Caffé mocha, which is traditionally a latte served with cocoa or chocolate syrup, has been upgraded with a rich dark chocolate and an equally intense peppermint flavor. It's sweet, but comfortingly warm with a delightful spike of cool peppermint. (It's like a cup full of melted Andes mints.) The peppermint isn't subtle. It's strong enough that you're going to be breathing peppermint for a while after you finish this drink.

But just like plenty of the other holiday drinks on the menu, you're going to be hard pressed to find very much coffee flavor in this mocha. It's there, so if you need a caffeine boost, you'll still get it. Most of the flavor from the espresso is eclipsed by the strong chocolate and peppermint, which is just fine by us.