The holiday season used to begin when people started decorating in late November. Now, stores pull out their Christmas items in October and the official commencement of holiday cheer seems to be controlled by the moment Starbucks introduces their annual red cup.
However, holiday drinks haven’t changed much—or have they? Beverages such as hot chocolate and apple cider are still classics, but there are new flavors hitting up coffee shops today that most likely weren’t invented in the seventeenth century (that’s eggnog—fun fact).
Peppermint everything. Pumpkin everything (how did pumpkin get into drinks, anyway?). Any flavoring considered autumnal or festive placed into coffee, milk or hot chocolate automatically becomes a holiday drink (I could totally imagine gingerbread hot chocolate—they already have gingerbread lattes, don’t they?). It seems as if the commercialized drink industry is just turning classic, basic drinks and adding a bit of extra flavoring to make it “more Christmas.”
Yet the base of the beverages are still the same old, same old coffee, chocolate, and cider. These are drinks many people have all year-round, but are just renovated and charged extra for their holiday-infused flavor.
I’ve had quite a few of the now-becoming-standard peppermint mochas and pumpkin spice lattes myself, I admit, so maybe Starbucks has succeeded in making me break my wallet out for a shot of espresso, two pumps of holiday syrup and nonfat milk with chocolate shavings on top of a small mountain of whipped cream. However, if you’re like me and you don’t want to constantly go to the cafes for a holiday drink, or you don’t like the way your drinks are being prepared, make them at home and add your own festive touch. Using simple beverages, you can easily invent your own holiday drink recipe or recreate your favorite drink. Here are three drinks in their most primitive forms that you can alternate in any way—by either sweetening it up or lessening the spice—and still maintain that holiday vibe.
Coffee and hot chocolate
I’ve put these two together because they are both extremely versatile and quite similar in many ways. Something obvious, loved and guzzled by millions of people every day no matter what the season is, hot chocolate and hot coffee—or variations of it—are always around somewhere at any Christmas party. These beverages can be enjoyed year round—even hot chocolate (ever heard of frozen hot chocolate?) but add a pinch of holiday spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon, or flavor the drink with syrup you can make yourself or buy at the store—toffee nut, hazelnut, peppermint and vanilla all do the trick—for extra holiday cheer.
Coffee itself has so many varieties and something for everyone. Adding frothy milk produces a latte; chocolate syrup or powder with milk generates mocha; and blended with ice, milk and various sweet syrups calls for the birth of a drink teenagers adore: the frappe. Or sometimes it’s best to drink the stuff plain. Pair a bold black coffee with something sweet, like a Christmas sugar cookie or pumpkin bread.
Hot chocolate is known for being the ultimately cozy comfort drink—if that’s even a thing. Pop a snowman-shaped marshmallow and a peppermint stirring stick into your mug and you’ve added the festivities of the holidays into the drink. I would also recommend trying to make your own hot chocolate purely out of real chocolate powder and milk, rather than using syrup or powdered hot chocolate mix. You can adjust the sweetness and flavor to your liking, and chocolate flavors are richer and smoother. Add peppermint, caramel, or vanilla syrups for a twist of flavor, and just a pinch of salt enhances the taste of chocolate.
2. Apple cider
Apple cider is generally defined as unsweetened, unfiltered and all-natural: basically apple juice without the processing. There are many varieties of apple cider today, such as cider with alcohol or sparkling cider.
Apple cider alone can be drunk hot or cold, and although personally I prefer the cold, fizzing champagne-like version, hot cider is the most popular kind around the holidays. Add cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon for a warm spiced cider
If you’d like to lay off on the spices, you can add your favorite juice to make a unique punch. Apple cider is great for Christmas punches or non-alcoholic cocktails, since the apple is a fruit that can be easily paired with many others and is often the base juice of many smoothies. Apple cider and your juice of choice will most likely taste delicious together, and you can use natural fruits such as raspberry puree, citrus zest and cranberry juice. Some sparkling ciders already come in varieties mixed with other fruit, such as grape-apple cider or cranberry-apple cider.
Although personally I’ve never tried eggnog before, this old-fashioned holiday classic has been around for centuries. A rich, frothy dairy-based drink made with eggs, milk and nutmeg or vanilla spices, most people either love the stuff or absolutely hate it. Eggnog is mostly homemade, but it hasn’t escaped commercialization with eggnog ice cream, cheesecake and other desserts mimicking its flavor now out and about on the market.
Try eggnog with different spices such as cloves or cinnamon. Add a bit of pure cocoa or coffee powder for a darker richer flavor, or substitute half the sugar your recipe calls for with some sweet syrups such as caramel or hazelnut. Eggnog can also be mixed with coffee to create the popular taste of an eggnog latte.
You can also make eggnog punch simply by adding a quart of eggnog with a pint of vanilla ice cream and a quart of 7-Up or Sprite, an idea from punchbowl.com.
Even though all of these drinks have been twisted around one way or another during the holidays, you can experiment with different combinations and flavors using natural ingredients that you have at home. You might just find a way to recreate that peppermint chai latte that you love so much, or stumble upon your new favorite holiday drink that you invented (I’m still thinking that gingerbread hot chocolate might be the next biggest hit).