I’m a sucker for a sugary, handcrafted espresso drink. Add a festive, ribbon-wrapped cup and I’ll happily pay $5+ to get it. Recently, Starbucks announced their 2021 lineup of holiday drinks (RIP eggnog latte 🪦) and I was tasked with separating the impressive from the overrated. (It’s tough work, but someone’s got to do it.)

How did I *try* to keep the judging fair? I ordered every drink as advertised on Starbucks’ website without any modifications on milk, temperature, or other ingredients. Is this list *totally* unbiased? Nope. I’m offering up my personal recommendations based on what I liked the best, what I wouldn’t try again, and my first impressions of each recipe. Here’s my take, extra-hot.

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  • First sip tastes like: an Andes mint
  • Would I get it again? yes!
  • Suggested modifications: half syrup

I really didn’t expect to like this one very much. I’m not big on mochas and I can take or leave mint chocolate flavors, but this was hands down my favorite drink of the lineup. It has the sweet start you’d expect from a holiday drink, but balances out with a minty finish.

Although there’s plenty of candy flavor, this drink wasn’t weighed down by a too-rich texture like some other drinks on this list. I liked the sweetness of this sip, but if you’re looking to cut back on added sugar just ask for your order with half of the added syrup.

  • First sip tastes like: a sugar cookie!
  • Would I get it again? yes
  • Suggested modifications: no sprinkles (if iced)

This reminded me of a nostalgic holiday twist on my go-to iced caramel macchiato. The almond milk provides a recognizable nougat sugar cookie flavor and I love that it offers a specially crafted nondairy option.

I’d imagine the sprinkles would melt quickly in the hot version, but if you’re ordering an iced drink be aware that you’ll get some crunchy sprinkles along the way. I thought this added to the fun of a festive drink, but not everyone likes to chew their latte.

  • First sip tastes like: Lucky Charms (like, if a top-tier chef made them from scratch)
  • Would I get it again? yes
  • Suggested modifications: none

This drink managed to be flavorful without getting loaded down with the strong syrupy richness of my bottom picks. I didn’t really pick up chestnut or praline flavors, as much as I love them both. Instead of chestnuts on an open fire, I thought it tasted more like a toasted marshmallow (which isn’t a bad thing). It definitely drove home the sugary flavor of fresh pralines, but it didn’t have the nostalgia that I got from my top two picks.

  • First sip tastes like: tons of sweet cream creamer in a cold brew
  • Would I get it again? yes
  • Suggested modifications: half syrup

This drink brings the most coffee flavor to the table, but tastes like whoever made it was trying to kill that flavor with a giant slug of creamer. The Irish cream that’s mixed in is technically a syrup, but it has a thicker, creamier texture — you can actually see it swirling with the cold brew in your cup. It has the milky, sweet flavor of Bailey’s without the booziness.

It’s also topped with sweet cream cold foam and a dash of cocoa powder. I didn’t mix in the sweet cream foam because I didn’t want to make it any sweeter, but other reviewers say it adds a hint of vanilla and a fluffier consistency. I would get it again with less of the Irish cream syrup, and I’m sure this will be perfect for anyone used to using a heavy hand when it comes to cream.

  • First sip tastes like: caramel flavoring
  • Would I get it again? no
  • Suggested modifications: half syrup

I tried this drink first with high expectations — it’s even the holiday drink my barista recommended as their personal favorite. But my first couple of sips didn’t impress. There was definitely a strong caramel flavor with some nice notes of cinnamon, but I was really distracted by how artificial the caramel tasted.

It was like taking a shot of rich caramel syrup and chasing it with a thick caramel latte. This could be a one-off based on that specific bottle of caramel syrup, but still… it’s a no from me.

  • First sip tastes like: yogurt on yogurt covered pretzels
  • Would I get it again? nope
  • Suggested modifications: substitute the whole drink with something else

This drink was super rich and syrupy like the Caramel Brulee latte, but to its credit the white chocolate flavor seemed less artificial. How did it end up on the bottom, then? Mine tasted a bit sour, like the flavor you get from the yogurt on yogurt-covered pretzels. It also had a lingering aftertaste that I didn’t love, but for white chocolate fans, this is prob a good thing.

What else is new?

There’s another new candidate for your fave Starbucks drink… thanks to a partnership between Taylor Swift and Starbucks, you can now order “Taylor’s Latte” (a grande caramel nonfat latte) by name. You can even stock up on Taylor-branded Starbucks gift cards for all of the Swifties on your list.