The Origin Story Behind Starbucks' Beloved Peppermint Mocha

The Starbucks Peppermint Mocha — which contains espresso, mocha sauce, peppermint syrup, whipped cream, and dark chocolate curls — is the perfect cozy and comforting drink to enjoy during wintertime, even if you prefer it iced or blended instead of hot. The drink also signals many people's favorite time of the year: the holiday season. It's really no wonder that the chocolatey coffee beverage is so beloved. But just how did the Peppermint Mocha make it onto the menu in the first place?

Well, the Peppermint Mocha has been around for over two decades, having made its debut all the way back in 2002. But, believe it or not, it wasn't the first holiday drink added to the menu. As explained on the Starbucks website, the first of their holiday drinks was the now-discontinued Eggnog Latte, which debuted in 1986. This was followed by the Gingerbread Latte in 2000. Overall, the company was looking for fun, holiday beverages to bring in new customers who might not know a ton about espresso drinks. 

Despite Starbucks technically opening in 1971, this was still the early days for the company (the Frappuccino had barely been introduced in 1995, just to put things into perspective). Peter Dukes, the Starbucks product manager for espresso beverages who joined the company in 2001, said, "Customers' understanding of espresso and lattes was really in its infancy. I think [a holiday beverage] was a good introduction for a lot of people back then to lattes and espresso."

A taste team came up with the Peppermint Mocha

When Peter Dukes joined the Starbucks team, he was also joining a subdivision — the research and development team — which included the Starbucks Liquid Lab: A team of 10 people who were responsible for tasting new drink ideas. After trying out a few other holiday flavors, they decided on the Peppermint Mocha. The drink was inspired by the prevalence of peppermint candies during the holiday season. The Peppermint Mocha has remained a hit over the years, ever since it first became available in 2002 — and the recipe has remained basically unchanged for two decades.

In fact, the biggest difference is that it used to be topped with red sprinkles instead of dark chocolate curls. Nowadays, the Peppermint Mocha even goes beyond an exclusively in-store drink. You can buy the Peppermint Mocha limited-edition flavored ground coffee roast or a Starbucks pre-made Peppermint Mocha beverage in grocery stores. This means that the beloved festive drink is even more accessible during the holiday season. Even better than that? Starbucks stocks both its peppermint syrup and mocha sauce 24/7, meaning you can technically enjoy Starbucks Peppermint Mochas all year-round!