What Is It: Starbucks’ New Holiday Spice Flat White

Who Tried It: Maria Yagoda, PEOPLE writer-reporter

Why We Did It: Because we’ll ingest anything that has the word “holiday” in it.

What is “holiday spice”?

The term evokes a sort of granular cheer: peppermint, cloves, the sound of Mariah Carey hitting the high notes, dreams, pajamas that cover your feet and snowflakes, all chopped up into a heady potpourri. In the case of Starbucks’ new holiday beverage, the Holiday Spice Flat White, I invested too much emotionally into what it could be, into the idea of a beverage that was The Holidays, wholly assuming the essence of a season.

It wasn’t fair of me to expect that much of an espresso beverage, let alone anything or anyone, not even Santa. The drink, which is creamy and cautiously sweet, is indulgent, but does not taste like opening presents or getting eggnog drunk. It does taste like cinnamon, espresso and steamed milk, which is perfectly fine…just not magic.

First things first, a “flat white” is an espresso beverage founded in Australia in the 1980s that has recently gained traction in the States: two ristretto shots topped with a thin layer of steamed whole milk. Starbucks launched their flat white in early 2015, with the new variation HSFW first offered in stores on November 30th for the holiday season.

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“We were inspired by the practice of mulling cider, so we crafted our own holiday mulling spice blend of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, sugar and a touch of tangerine,” beverage director Michelle Sundquist said in a statement on the new beverage. “The spices and velvety milk perfectly complement Starbucks Christmas Blend Espresso Roast. The spices further develop in the warm milk and lightly enhance the flavor of the beverage. Because it’s so subtle, you don’t taste the holiday mulling spices until you take a couple sips. And then a touch of sweetness and the slightest note of tangerine flavor come through.”

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As far as the claims of subtlety go, the drink is espresso-forward and not-too-sweet, but the gentle hand that sweetened it is clearly different than the one in charge of the cinnamon, which mutes the more compelling notes of ginger, nutmeg and clove. The tangerine, which coats back of the tongue, makes for a really nice, bright finish.

Expectations vs. reality aside, we could see ourselves sipping this beverage when we’re craving a jolt of energy…or the blood-sugar-reducing properties of cinnamon.

—Maria Yagoda, @mariayagoda