Food versus Food: Holiday Latte

Welcome to the first post of the Food versus Food Friday series, in which I pit food(or beverage) items from Howard County establishments (hocoblogs@@@) against each other.  This week, just in time for both the cold weather and the holidays, I'm sampling coffee drinks!

Due to a technical glitch, there are no pictures this week. 

In the interest of not consuming 400 extra calories/day, I made the following adjustments to each drink: skim milk, no whipped cream. 

Contender #1: Gingerbread latte from Starbucks (Dobbin, Columbia)
Large, skim, no whip.

Contender #2: Sugar and Spice Latte from Seattle's Best (Borders in the Columbia Crossing shopping center, Columbia)
Medium, skim, no whip.

Starbucks actually owns Seattle's Best, so I was curious how different their espresso drinks could be.  And yes, I know these are two different flavors of lattes.  I tried to keep that in mind during the review.

The Starbucks Gingerbread latte was my first holiday drink of the season, and I was pretty excited.  It came in a nice red cup, toasty warm, and smelled like the holidays.  I have good memories of the gingerbread latte from Christmases past.  I even had a coworker bring in a bottle of Starbucks' gingerbread syrup for coffee a year ago, and we made our coffee festive all winter.  So I was looking forward to the latte, and I was disappointed.

Despite a nice gingerbready aroma, the latte just didn't taste good.  To be clear, I love gingerbread and gingersnaps.  I like spicy strong ginger, the dark molasses, and just the hint of sugar.  I know that gingerbread is not supposed to be sweet like a cake. 

Maybe it was the skim milk.  I did get some molasses.  And a strange, vaguely-cinnamon taste - cinnamon like atomic fireballs.  Not in a good way.  But mostly, the latte tasted like someone had soaked bandaids in it overnight.  I can't describe the taste any other way, except to say "Gross."

I wasn't sure what to expect from Contender #2.  The displays at the Borders Cafe are festive, but there was little to show for what 'sugar and spice' is.  Nutmeg?  Pumpkin pie spice?  Cinnamon?  Though I opted out for the extras, I will say that Borders makes a pretty drink.  Without the cloud of whipped cream, my drink looked like a standard latte.  That changed when I took a sip.

The Sugar and Spice latte has a fairly light aroma that becomes much more pronounced after the first sip.  And it tastes exactly like the name: there's sweetness, maybe like a dark brown sugar, and a lot of the spices I associate with the holiday. Nutmeg. Cloves. Cinnamon.  In fact, it almost reminded me of eggnog, only it wasn't as thick.  The sweetness was definitely not cloying, and it made the drink taste richer -- more so than the average skim latte.

I didn't record the prices this round, but they were comparable - Starbucks and SB/Borders are big chains, and their prices are pretty standard across the city.

When enjoyment is factored in, though, things change.  I had to choke the first half of the Gingerbread latte down.  After that, it became a little easier to drink, but not enjoyable.  In contrast, I really enjoyed the Sugar and Spice latte from Borders.  It was pleasantly sweet, but not too much, and tasted like an indulgence even though it was a slimmed-down version.

So the winner is.... Sugar and Spice Latte from Borders!

Next Week: Seasonal Bagel Death Match.  Without the Death part.


  1. I had no idea Starbucks owned Seattles' Best!

    And now I need to get out to Borders.

    (Nice use of the tag, btw!)

  2. Ho. These businesses may have Howard County "establishments," but "hoco" they are not. What about a more on-the-ground, local Hoco test? While it may be too enthusiastic to say options abound, I do offer that Howard County has, in the local coffee/latte world --

    Little French Market
    Bean Hollow
    Mad City
    and a few others

    HowChow could probably hook you up with more tips re the Hoco food scene if you needed them. He's quite responsive and knowledgeable.

    Thanks for being our first hocoblogs@@@ tag user. Keep the local-local-local stuff coming.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys!

    I did realize while I was writing that maybe chains were a bad choice for the first post... There is a Coffee II post coming up that pits Mad City Coffee against Casey's Coffee. Although I may check out Bean Hollow instead, because that one is entirely new to me. Thanks for the suggestion!

    For future FvF, I will definitely incorporate more HoCo-specific restaurants. These are the businesses I try to support, but like many people in Howard County... I patronize chains as well, so I'm not going to completely ignore them.

    HowChow is very helpful. It's already my go-to for food spots. :)