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The Best (and Worst) Holiday Drinks NYC Coffee Shops Have to Offer

Walking around campus and seeing the overwhelming amount of students with holiday-themed Starbucks coffee cups, it feels as if everyone is drinking a peppermint or gingerbread creation as they head to class. I, however, am one of the students drinking an Americano, black, behind the cheery holiday cup. So, in the spirit of Spoon, I decided to try a few of these dessert-in-a-cup drinks at coffee shops around NYU (both chains and local shops) throughout the month of November. I set out to find which drinks are worth all the extra sugar and the upsell for the seasonal flavors. Read on for the results from my holiday drink taste test—since us students can only spare the time to show our holiday spirit while caffeinating on the way to class.

The Bean

With locations throughout the East Village, The Bean is beloved by many NYU students, myself included. To begin this challenge, I took a break from my regular black coffee and ordered a latte with 2 pumps of pumpkin spice syrup. I enjoyed the pumpkin flavor, which was more sweet than spicy, but not overwhelming. At $5.55 (or $6.05 with an alternative milk), the upcharge for the flavored latte was relatively small, considering a medium drip coffee is $3.20. My only complaint was the latte’s cooler temperature. I had to drink it quickly before it got too cold for me to enjoy.

Photo by Marisa Bianco

Peet’s Coffee

With a location inside of NYU's Kimmel Center for Student Life and one on Union Square, Peet’s is another convenient option for a coffee fix. At this stop on my holiday drink taste test, I cheated on my challenge and ordered a pumpkin chai latte (and asked for it “less sweet”), instead of a regular latte with espresso. I admit that the pumpkin chai did not taste much different from a regular chai latte, but I enjoyed the hint of fall spice. The drink overall tasted great with the perfect sweetness level, and even convinced me that Peet’s is an underrated coffee shop on campus. I will be back to try more holiday themed drinks there as I start studying for finals.

Photo by Marisa Bianco

Gregory’s Coffee

At Gregory’s Coffee, I ordered a pumpkin spice latte and also asked for it “less sweet.” Unfortunately, either my less sweet request backfired or whoever was making my drink forgot to add pumpkin flavor, because my drink tasted like a normal latte with no trace of pumpkin. Luckily, this incident didn’t deter me from Gregory’s, and I still love their coffee and smoothies. However, I didn’t have it in me to find out if it was just a barista mistake and pay another $5.50 to redo the taste test. Sorry, not sorry.

Photo by Marisa Bianco

City of Saints

I would be a regular at City of Saints if I lived just a couple of minutes closer to their Astor Place location. Their fall holiday special was a vanilla cinnamon latte. This was one of my favorite lattes from my holiday drink taste test, which I ordered iced because it was an uncommonly warm November afternoon. The barista was incredibly helpful in making it my preferred level of sweetness. He achieved the ideal balance between the vanilla, cinnamon, and coffee flavors. City of Saints also has the increasingly popular oat milk alternative that works great alone in a cappuccino or pairs perfectly with the vanilla cinnamon. My only reservation was the price tag—the $6 tab gave me a bit of sticker shock. I will save these lattes for a treating myself kind of day.

Photo by Marisa Bianco

Pret a Manger

While this chain is more ubiquitous in the UK than in the U.S., there are still plenty of Pret locations throughout NYC. I ordered a spiced pumpkin latte with almond milk. The pumpkin spice flavor was subtle (a bit too subtle for my taste), but it paired well with the almond milk. Pret’s espresso beverages are also some of the most affordable I’ve seen in the city. Plus, with grab-and-go food and self-serve drip coffee, their efficiency is top notch. Even at peak hours, I was able to get a holiday latte in record time.

Photo by Marisa Bianco


Starbucks is the franchise that made seasonal beverages the consumer phenomenon they are today. I often find popular online publications writing stories about the newest Starbucks menu additions. For my holiday drink taste test, I tried both the pumpkin spice latte and the peppermint mocha—two drinks I remember begging my mom for as a preteen, but hadn’t tried in years. To avoid a dreaded sugar crash and to let the coffee taste shine through, I would recommend asking for half the amount of syrup pumps. For example, I ordered my PSL with 2 pumps of syrup, and my peppermint mocha with 1 pump of mocha and 1 pump of peppermint. A non-fat milk will make the drink lighter, while a 2% or whole milk provides a creamy consistency that pairs well with a holiday flavor. 

Starbucks easily lets you customize the amount of syrup, caramel drizzles, chocolate powder, etc. (especially when you use mobile order). With two locations I can visit on campus, even when I only have 15 minutes between classes, I will be mobile-ordering a dessert drink when I need a sweet pick-me-up in the future.

Photo by Marisa Bianco

The key takeaway from my holiday drink taste test is that the perfect seasonal beverage is all about finding the right customization. Sometimes the sweetness of soy milk just doesn’t pair as well with pumpkin spice than a dairy or almond milk. I found that getting the right amount of syrup was a challenge, since each shop has a different way of using syrups and spices.

At your local coffee shop, chat with your barista about how sweet you want the drink to achieve your preferred balance between coffee and syrup flavor. As for the price, I will be sticking to my Americanos...except for days when I need a treat. My bank account can only be festive every once in a while. *sigh*

Originally published by Spoon University.


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