Tis the season for holiday-themed coffee drinks. It's admittedly one of our favorite times on the coffee calendar, when we can temporarily trade in our "wake us up" skinny double-shot lattes for some classic and even more contemporary "fatten us up" holiday flavors like peppermint mocha, pumpkin spice, eggnog, caramel brulée and even gingerbread cookie lattes. While we responsibly make our way through various holiday coffee menus -- heck, we're just doing our due diligence -- today we're engaged in a spicy battle between Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's and Starbucks gingerbread lattes.
We started at Coffee Bean, handing over $3.60 for a small Gingerbread Cookie Latte. While waiting for barista to make our drink, we noticed one of Coffee Bean's signature hand-drawn chalkboards revealing a clearly terrorized gingerbread man screaming "I have a family!" while being dropped into a blender, presumably to be made into an iced version of the Gingerbread Cookie coffee. Clever, if not a bit creepy.
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We got our drink, leaving the cartoon Gingerbread man to meet his icy fate, and noticed right away that the steaming gingerbread coffee seemed thicker than a traditional non-fat latte, with a creamy, almost buttery-smooth texture. One taste was like taking a swig from a vat of wonderful, melted butterscotch candy, but it was only after a few sips that we got any semblance of ginger at all. While the spicy kick expected from a holiday gingerbread cookie was missing, the sticky-sweet molasses flavor did come through. The concentrated sugary flavor could be considered overwhelming, but the creamy, comforting latte screamed "holidays" and was a welcome way to start a chilly fall day.
Next we made our way to Starbucks, buying a tall Gingerbread Latte for $3.75. We couldn't help but notice that Starbucks has a much more substantial -- and seemingly inspired -- holiday coffee menu, with creative holiday lattes like Eggnog, Caramel Apple, Caramel Brulée and Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. Add to that Starbucks' red and white-designed holiday cups, and the Seattle coffee giant seemed to trump Coffee Bean entirely. But then we tasted the coffee. The good news: before even taking a sip we were hit with the aroma of tangy, spicy gingerbread. It was a good start, considering Coffee Bean's latte was more candy than gingerbread cookie. But when we took a sip, the gingerbread spice was quickly replaced with a burned, almost ash tray-like aftertaste, a result of Starbucks' method of over-roasting its coffee beans. Two more sips and we were done, unable to get halfway through the drink.
When all was said and done, the fight was one of flavored syrup versus flavored syrup: both Coffee Bean and Starbucks' Gingerbread Lattes are made with steamed milk and a heavy dose of their unique gingerbread-flavored syrups. While the spot-on taste and aromatics of Starbucks' gingerbread syrup would have taken the crown, once the coffee and milk were added the taste went from spicy to singed. So the victor is: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.