Most would agree that the eggnog latte is a seasonal guilty pleasure. I politely beg to differ.
Indeed, allow me to posit that there’s no such thing as “guilty pleasure”, or at the very least our culture ought not be so obsessed with the concept. If something makes me genuinely happy, and hurts no one in the process, then what do I have to feel guilty about? Is “guilty pleasure” just a way of saying “I know this isn’t cool, but I still love it?” That doesn’t sound like guilt to me; that sounds like being alive.
I was born in the first-half of the 1980s in the Pacific Northwest, which means I grew up in full thrust of the Starbucks Craze 1.0. Our little suburb of Tacoma—I say “our” because Zachary grew up there too, the plural is earned—had one of the early small-town Starbucks locations, in a shopping center called Green Firs. A not insignificant part of my identity development, up to and including various teenaged hijinks I won’t go into here, took place in and around this shopping center, and that includes my earliest coffee memory. I ‘member with crystal ball clarity sitting with my mom in her 90s Ford Aerostar van (slate exterior, beige interior) and taking a sip of her eggnog latte. I was probably eight years old, let’s say.
That sweet steam billowing out of the lid! That frothy, warm, delicious foam—a familiar flavor like the eggnog we’d drink sometimes at home, and yet different, imbued with some deep caramel depth of flavor from the coffee. I fell for it immediately, and soon was demanding to go in the shop with mom instead of sitting in the Aerostar, asking questions about the Passport Program and trying to show off my brain by identifying the Sumatra Tiger logo as being part of Indonesia.
Eggnog lattes were the first coffee drink I ever loved and I still love them. In fact, I love everything about coffee’s annual embrace of holiday-isms, and think that it’s enormously useful for getting normie coffee drinkers to think about coffee as something seasonal in the first place, a delicious part of the season cycle like pears in December, or fennel in August. There’s a reason why it’s always my byline, year after year, on our annual Holiday Blends guide; I’m a geek for this stuff. It makes me smile. I actively look forward to it once we get to, oh, let’s say November 1st.
And so when good, interesting, progressive, independent and delicious cafes play around with holiday coffee tropes, there’s probably nothing I love more. I want to drink your small-batch autumn cider steamer, your hand-forged cinnamon syrup Nutcracker Mocha, and dear god, all of these drinks at Go Get Em Tiger. But most of all I want to try your artisanal eggnog latte. I know it sounds weird when you steam it, as though the espresso machine itself is groaning under insult and duress. And I know it doesn’t exactly showcase the coffee’s terroir. We’ll talk about espresso volume and temperature and processing and stuff the next time I come in. But this time, I just want the silly holiday thing.
Call me a sentimentalist, call the eggnog latte dumb, whatever—I understand the Scrooging impulse. You can make mine to go in that case. Just, whatever you do, don’t call it a guilty pleasure, because I assure you, I don’t feel guilty.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.