Review: Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini Is A Top-Tier Holiday Cocktail

It's almost winter, and surely as the holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, so do the pumpkin spice lattes of our past roll over into peppermint dreams of the future... at least, that's what they do at Starbucks, where the coffee chain invited us to try promotional samples of its holiday menu. Booze and coffee shouldn't go together as well as they do, considering one's a depressant with a sharp burn and the other's a stimulant with bitter earthiness. And yet the tug-of-war can often result in something beautiful, from coffee beans aged in bourbon barrels to zesty cocktails mingling the brew and the distillate. When Starbucks invited us to try its seasonal Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini, we expected good things from the coffee connoisseurs in collaboration with the company's resident recipe developers, who also created some non-alcoholic limited-time offerings for the season, including food menu items.

Thus we found ourselves seated at the Arriviamo Bar upstairs at Starbucks' New York Roastery in Chelsea; the fourth of its kind in the world and the first to open a bar and introduce a cocktails program. You figure if anybody knows how to spike a coffee right, they'll be pouring it in this 23,000-square-foot temple to caffeination. While all Roasteries are Reserve locations, you'd better ensure that you're headed to the bars in New York, Chicago, or Seattle. And if you're making a special trip to sample the winter cocktail offerings, don't skip over the Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini.

Reviewing Starbucks Reserve's Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini

We drank eight coffees and/or coffee cocktails in one sitting. And though we buzzed, pupils dilated, through the next 12 hours, our last thought before sleep finally came at dawn was that, yes, the Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini was the most enjoyable drink we tried that evening at the Starbucks Roastery.

The flavor hits in two parts, with the mint leaping from the highest point it can find for a bungee jump into exactly the kind of taste you want from a mocha: a well-balanced chocolate supporting a flashy riff on coffee's addictive nuttiness and right-on bitter notes. Deep enough in flavor to satisfy without wrecking your nervous system for the day, the Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini is a great transitional cocktail to say goodbye to the day and hello to an evening on the town that's not going to end before midnight. If you like coffee, you'll enjoy it for its body. If you have a sweet tooth but don't usually go in for coffee, you'll find this one un-daunting. If you don't like either, we can't teach you how to have fun. Life is short and we're very busy.

How does Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini compare with the standard Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha?

While the non-alcoholic Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha is a treat in its own right, it seems to have perfectly mingled the two tastes before topping them off with the yummy fats and proteins of fluffy whipped cream and some dark chocolate, shaved into tiny curls and acting like sprinkles. Not so with the cocktail.

Maybe it's the alcohol having some kind of discretionary effect, or possibly the heavy cream used here, but the best of the bunch served up coffee and peppermint to play complementary roles, as they're two flavors strong enough to not always play nice together. It helps that the mocha brings chocolate in to bridge the taste. Whereas your cup of peppermint mocha coffee tastes very integrated, this pairing is more discrete: peppermint, then coffee. And frankly, it's better for it. If booze and fat both being hydrophobic create this result, we say replicate this with other flavors. It's almost like two drinks in one.

How much the Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini costs

Don't go into sticker shock when you order this drink. Though sweet to sip, the expensive Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini may make you a bit salty when you see the bar tab. It costs $23 for a serving, a price that will likely have a lot of people wondering if they can't replicate it at home for pennies on the dollar.

And it's true that you could probably approximate it pretty well. You and your bottle of mint extract may even infuse the whipped cream with peppermint flavors. But if you're out and about, and just want to park it somewhere pretty, people-watch, and rest a bit before the next stage of your day spent shopping for gifts or sightseeing a new city, you could honestly do worse than this drink. Starbucks Reserve locations tend to be in touristy, high-traffic areas, so there will be a lot of bars within a block or two charging similar, or even more, than this high price for a martini glass full of cocktail. And even the crummy bars in the area are probably charging $18 to $20 for some mixological handiwork that might not even be this well-made. So all in all, while the price tag might be above par, it's not into dealbreaker territory.

The Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso is only available in these cities

While all Roasteries are Reserve locations, you'd better ensure that you're headed to the bars in New York, Chicago, or Seattle if you're making a special trip to sample the winter cocktail offerings. The Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini is only available in these three markets, even though there are other Starbucks Reserve locations around the globe.

That said, those are three great cities for a charming holiday vacation, making them good destinations if you're looking to enjoy a little magic of the season. Though we're sure Miami could wow you with its wintry sights and celebrations, you can't beat the cities that get great winters. And yes, yes, we know Seattle doesn't get much snow, but its waterfront position and general charm make it still an adorable place for a cozy oceanic exploration, and it's Starbucks' point of origin, too. We're not saying travel just to try this drink, but we are saying that you'll probably try coffee and cocktails when you do vacation, so keep the Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini in mind.

The ingredients used in a Starbucks Reserve Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini

The coffee used in the cocktail is a Starbucks Reserve espresso. The alcohol comes from Kalak single-malt vodka, whose name is derived from Cailleach, the Queen of Winter in the Irish Celtic pantheon — making this a very appropriate spirit indeed. The actual wintry flavors come from a triple dose of peppermint and a double dose of cream paired with sweet mocha: specifically, the mocha with heavy cream in the drink itself, topped with a peppermint-infused whipped cream, and finished with a flourish of candy cane sprinkles.

Looking at this mint-intensive ingredients list, it's no surprise why the peppermint flavors in this drink hit your tongue separately from the coffee itself. The seasoning is present in every stage of enjoyment. And that's good news for people who can leave sugar plums on the table because they're too preoccupied with visions of peppermint swirling in their heads.

Is Starbucks Reserve's Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini worth the price?

At $23, the Peppermint Mocha Espresso Martini is no light purchase, even in these inflationary times when less-luxe bars find the audacity to charge $20 or so for such drinks. Considering the typical Starbucks barista would have to work an hour and a half to buy one (or two with taxes!), it's a daunting purchase. Ultimately, we do think this cocktail is ultimately worth it from an odd angle. In a certain regard, the drink's flavor intensity and its high-cost work together to create a justification; you have lots of reasons to only order one and mentally file it as a holiday indulgence.

We know sugary and indulgent dessert cocktails aren't for everyone, but if you're ever going to try one, you might as well do it with the best thing on the menu at Starbucks Reserve. Everybody's got to treat themselves somewhere this time of year.