10 Not-so-simple Steps to Enjoying Holiday Coffee

November 27, 2013

Warm-hearted feelings are associated, maybe paradoxically, with being cold and having coffee in-hand. Add a dash of cinnamon and splash of honey; the warm-hearted coffee just became warmer. Sure, the coffee is physically warm as sensory receptors in your hand tell your brain, “Hey, you, this item is warm.” But mentally, as well, this coffee is figuratively warmer than usual. Why?

Holiday joy and excitement saturate all environments.

This holiday cup may have joy. Or maybe it doesn’t because dairy products ruined the excitement.

And with such positive saturation, everyone desires to sip a holiday drink while briskly walking in cold weather. For me, I dream of sipping a Pumpkin Spice Latte—with a straw, of course—while feeling the warmth of my cup radiate through my gloved hands. Yes, you read correctly: I drink my coffee, espresso, and even red wine with a straw. (Classy, right? I don’t want to stain my pearly whites!) I’d tweet a photo of my holiday drink, too. After all, according to Buddy from the movie Elf, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Except, drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte would never happen.

Starbucks notes that their signature Pumpkin Spice Latte contains “espresso, pumpkin-flavored syrup, and steamed milk.” Topping-off the 380-calorie beverage is “sweetened whipped cream and pumpkin pie spices.”

Yikes. Milk contamination nation.

Just ask for no whipped cream, you think? That, and use almond or soy milk, right? No, I think. Such a latte sans-cream and -milk still has milk particles in the aforementioned pumpkin-flavored syrup. You don’t believe me? Gasp. I’m offended! (Kidding.)

Even The Huffington Post recently had this coverage.

As I shared in a previous blog post, I have a dairy allergy. Milk is the worst. It’s no fun and I have to be extremely strict and cautious in consuming just about everything. Sure, I can always make my own drink at home for my safety. But what am I going to do carry a clunky tumbler with me everywhere? There are other options; it’s just a matter of being inquisitive about ingredients and cross-contamination.

Ordering holiday drinks at coffee shop seems easy. Well, it’s not. It’s actually quite complicated. No, not like being complicated on a first date as I shared before. I’m more so typing about investigating coffee shop kitchen practices.

Manage your holiday drink-ordering experience by following these 10 steps.

Sure, yes, of course I’ll hold your hand.

Be direct with the barista. When ordering, practice your direct communication skills saying, “I want to let you know before I order: I have a severe allergy to dairy product,” or “I’m vegan with a strict diet.” Initially sharing such detail places your expectations on the table when ordering a holiday drink. And communicated expectations are important to experiencing a costly beverage. “I’m craving a holiday drink so I have some questions.”

Questions are essential because you want be sure your expectations are in alignment with barista creations.

Be not afraid when asking questions. Remember, I’m holding your hand.

Double-check the label for your own peace of mind. “May I personally see the label for the syrups used in my drink? I know, I know, that’s a weird question; I’m sorry for being difficult, but I need a piece of mind.”

One of two instances happens after reading the label. You’re disappointed because the holiday drink syrup has dairy galore; yuck. Or you’re in the clear. For a Gingerbread Latte, the coffee sirens sing in your favor. So go for it.

“I want a Grande …”

Ouch, that hurt. No need to be nervous or worried. We’re only ordering a holiday drink. Loosen your grip on my hand!

Order your beverage with soy milk. “… Soy Gingerbread Latte.” Try almond milk if your coffee shop has it. It’s delicious.

Remember to articulate no whipped cream. “Oh and remember, absolutely no whipped cream.”

Regroup, ensuring baristas separate dairy from non-dairy products. Spitfire communication just went down because there are more than 15 impatient people behind you in line at the coffee shop.

Whatever; don’t mind them. This is your holiday drink experience and you’re the one paying $6. On top of that, you might get sick. It’s a gamble, so regroup and continue ensuring that your expectations to not get sick are met. Most coffee shops do a good job at segregating dairy from non-dairy products. However, double-checking doesn’t hurt.

“Quick question,” you ask, “do you use dairy products in separate containers? I want to make sure cross-contamination is eliminated.”

Sweet syrup! The alluring coffee sirens are in your favor again because different containers are used for non-dairy ingredients.

Ask for “half-caf” (half-caffeinated for those who aren’t fluent in coffee) if ordering at night. I mean, OK, sure: You’re more than welcome to have regular espresso if you want to be up all night. I’m just trying to save your circadian rhythm. You don’t want to be wired all night. Or maybe you do. Your choice.

Ouch! Now that hand squeeze was intentional. Meanie.

Ask for extra cinnamon. Cinnamon is my favorite, so I’ll take extra on my holiday drink. Do you want more? How does it taste, you ask? Delicious.

Check their work. You’re getting on the coffee sirens’ nerves. Why? Because you asked them to make your drink without whipped cream, but of course they don’t listen. Or they forget. Come on baristas!

And then the barista tries to just scrape off the whipped cream from the already-made beverage, which isn’t going to work for you. Now you have to explain your allergy or vegan lifestyle all over again.

Wouldn’t it be better if one barista helped you from order initiation to delivery (kind of like Chipotle does to prevent cross-contamination)? Sigh. One can only wish.

“I have two Grande Soy Gingerbread Lattes without whipped cream ready at the bar,” says a barista among all of the coffee shop chatter and music. Fantastic: Our drinks are ready!

Sip slowly. Burning one’s tongue is the worst. Use a straw if you’re concerned about staining your teeth just as I am. In this case, you want to be extra careful with sipping slowly. Wait a few minutes for the liquid to settle down its scorch.

Tweet me a photo of your holiday drink @jasonsyptak. After doing this, your holiday latte should be not too hot, nor too cool. It’s perfect.

Now can we stop holding hands already so my holiday drink can warm my cold hands?


Photo: Louis Abate via Flickr

Jason Syptak ventures in New York City as a strategy artisan for start-ups. He’s an avid runner, yogi, and Zumba Fitness instructor. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Jason values coffee and dairy- and gluten-free muffins. Follow him on Instagram.


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