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The Christmas coffee conundrum: How to have high street Christmas coffees as a Vegan

Christmas is finally here. In fact, it's been on its way since the beginning of November. Forget Halloween and Bonfire Night, as soon as the festive hot drinks appear in our favourite coffee shop window, we all know that Christmas is fast approaching. Every year, the big players on the coffee bean scene – the likes of Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero's – release their seasonal Christmas coffees.

With the festive coffee range growing each year, it can be mind-boggling to know which Christmas coffee to treat yourself to, especially if you’re a vegan. Most festive hot drinks are based on milk and come drowning in whipped cream. It’s no wonder that many of us living a plant-based lifestyle think that enjoying a festive coffee is near impossible. But there is a silver lining. You can have your Christmas coffee and drink it, even as a vegan. All it takes is a little tweaking and some essential know-how.


How to have Christmas coffee as a vegan

The easiest way to still enjoy your Christmas drink while being vegan is to nicely ask the barista at your favourite coffee shop (and smile at them while you’re at it) to replace the normal milk with a dairy-free alternative. Plant-based milk like soy, almond or coconut milk are now in all chain coffee shops and quite a lot of independent coffee shops, so this is an easy enough request.

Clearly whipped cream is also another no-go, but if you’re feeling brave or the barista looks particularly friendly, you can even ask them to aerate the dairy-free milk a little longer. This will make it more frothy, and you can even add a scoop onto the top of your drink as a finishing touch. Dashings of cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate powders to decorate your coffee with are normally vegan-friendly and a great way to turn up your latte into a cup of Christmas cheer.

There are also, perhaps surprisingly, a lot of toppings which are suitable for vegans. Seasonal toppings such as caramel brulée topping (Starbucks), praline crumbles, dark chocolate curls, and sea salt are all appropriate for vegans, but we would always recommend double-checking with the baristas.Normally clear syrups that are used to flavour coffees are also vegan-friendly, but sauces are not. However, there are some general ingredients to stay away from, like anything with pumpkin spice for example. That doesn’t so bad, does it? As most Christmas coffees are normal drinks jazzed up with a dash or two of seasonal syrups, there is no reason that you cannot enjoy these drinks, all you have to do is simply opt for a plant-based milk.


The Starbucks Christmas Menu

Starbucks' annual Red Cups release is as much a part of the build-up to Christmas as your local Christmas lights switch-on, last-minute Christmas shopping and the first snow flurry that brings the whole country to a standstill. This time every year Instagram is bombarded with images of people proudly flaunting their red cup, (if you don’t believe us, simply search #redcups). But as much as the red cups are festive, what’s inside the cup is equally as important.

The good news is, the majority of Starbucks’ Christmas drinks can be adjusted to suit vegan or dairy-free requirements. For the most part, all you need to do is swap out the normal milk for a dairy-free option, and ask for no whipped cream. Simple!

The no-nos

Unfortunately, not all of Starbucks’ coffees can be transformed into amazing, vegan creations. Out of the coffees, the traditional Eggnog Latte & the new Christmas Brulee Latte can’t be made vegan. Neither can the Caramel and Iced Caramel Macchiato, Caramel Frappuccino and White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino (damn non-vegan sauces). Sadly, so are the Salted Caramel Brownie, Chai Tea and White Chocolate Cream Frappuccinos. I bet by this point you’re beginning to realise that the Starbucks’ drinks menu is a lot more extensive than you originally thought. 

There are also some other extras to avoid as a rule of thumb:

  • Caramel, butterscotch, and salted toffee drizzles
  • Pumpkin spice sauce
  • Toffee Nut sprinkles
  • Gold chocolate curls
  • Honey

But to compensate how many drinks Starbucks has failed to make vegan, there’s a plentiful supply of vegan treats and nibbles to choose from, like the Vegan Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Bar, Strawberry Candy Cane or Vegan Winter Sandwich. Yes, please!

The Costa Christmas Menu

Although not the home of the infamous red cups that globally mark the start of the holidays, Costa has been a key player in the festive drinks game for long enough to be sure to make a festive drink or two you’ll be asking Santa for. With their fetching festive menu, it’s fair to say that Costa does not do Christmas by halves.

Much like Starbucks, coffee syrups at Costa are a vegan’s friend (mostly). All syrups at Costa except the marshmallow and caramel fudge syrups are vegan-friendly. This means you can have more seasonal flavours like amaretto, hazelnut, mint and gingerbread worry-free!

As well as their special Christmas coffees, Costa has also released the limited-edition Winter Character Roast which can be used in any of the coffees of your choosing. This festive coffee roast has winter berries, dark cocoa and Christmas spices, so it’s a bit like the caffeinated version of mulled wine. Yum!

On the naughty list

Unfortunately all of Costa’s speciality hot chocolates (caramelised orange hot chocolate, mint hot chocolate, black forest hot chocolate, toasted marshmallow hot chocolate) are still not suitable for vegans. This is all thanks to the milk powder in their cocoa mixture.

However, you can still get plenty of Christmas cheer from the range of vegan goodies that Costa offers. For those feeling festive and famished, try out the Gluten-Free, Vegan Iced Fruit Slice, the Gluten-Free, Vegan Mince Tart, the Gingerbread and Sticky Toffee Wreath Cake or the Clementine Drizzle Loaf Cake. Is anyone else’s mouth watering?

The Caffe Nero's Christmas Menu

The lesser-known creator of speciality coffee drinks, Caffe Nero has a lot to compete with when waging festive war against Starbucks and Costa. But their Christmas coffees are not to be ignored. Although their festive range of coffees tends to include only two or three options, they are equally as delicious and Christmasy as Starbucks’ and Costa’s festive creations.

Follow suit with Caffe Nero’s by swapping regular milk for plant-based milk and avoiding whipped cream, marshmallows and sprinkles like the plague. Certain drinks, like the Belgium Mocha Frappe, Milano Hot Chocolate and Chai Latte, are not appropriate for those of us on a plant-based diet. But rest assured, a cup of caffeinated festivity is still at a hand. As a Christmas present to yourself, why not add a seasonal syrup to your dairy-free cappuccino for a festive drink of deliciousness? Vegan-friendly syrups include:

  • Amaretto
  • Caramel
  • Cinnamon
  • Gingerbread
  • Mint
  • Hazelnut
  • Salted Caramel
  • Tiramisu
  • Triple Sec
  • Vanilla
  • Caramel – sugar-free
  • Hazelnut – sugar-free
  • Vanilla – sugar-free

If this list of syrup options wasn’t enough to make you run to the nearest Caffe Neros, there’s also a few foodie treats that are vegan appropriate and festive to accompany your coffee. Caffe Nero’s Mince Pies and the new Veggie Festive Feast Flatbread are both seasonal, delicious, and vegan options, in addition to their already substantial vegan and veggie menu.

If you’re looking for a vegan coffee shop to go to instead of the standard high street chains, there are plenty to choose from. We love Vida Bakery in the heart of London – it is a fantastic spot for a cup of coffee and a vegan cupcake that is more beautiful than a baby unicorn. For something more savoury, Dishoom is the place to be for great coffee and tantalizing Indian street-food. Fun fact, we collect coffee grounds for our UpCircle products from both of the above!  

It’s the most wonderful time of year … to recycle

As everyone knows, coffee cups aren’t easy to recycle. This is because of the thin plastic coating that covers the cups to make them waterproof. Otherwise, the cups wouldn’t be able to hold in liquid - they would just leak all over the place – not ideal!
With so many coffee shops now not only selling their own branded reusable cups but also offering incentives to bring in your own reusable cups, there isn’t an excuse left for still using throw-away coffee cups. You can even get a reusable red cup from Starbucks - now that’s something to put on your Christmas list. We’ re trying to minimise the number of single use coffee cups ending up on landfill by printing all of our fliers and leaflets on card made from recycled coffee cups!

All we want for Christmas is coffee grounds

All this Christmas coffee must have got you thinking – what happens to the coffee grounds produced when we buy a seasonal Christmas coffee? In the UK, we now drink approximately 95 million cups of coffee per day. Bio Bean, the first company to industrialise turning waste coffee grounds into biofuels and biochemicals, estimates that we produce around half a million tonnes of waste coffee grounds in the UK every year. That’s an awful lot. Too much in fact.

Here at UpCircle, we love coffee. But we are less keen on our caffeine habit filling up landfills, so we decided to do something about it. We create skin-loving, natural beauty products using ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded. Our naturally-scented coffee scrubs use repurposed coffee grounds collected from cafes and restaurants, cutting down the amount sent to landfills.

Love indulgent skincare but hate creating waste? The beauty industry is one of the biggest contributors to environmental waste in the world. We are trying to stop that. We create ethical, natural skincare that not only makes you feel good but is designed to cut down the damage to the environment. So you can lather yourself up worry-free.