When I, the squadron leader of the Time Out Test-Eater Squad, immigrated to America, I didn't have a tree for my first Christmas until my parents, on the holiday's eve, bought the entire setup out of a pharmacy's display window and transferred it to our living room on Christmas morning. That remains the best Christmas surprise I ever got. But the Christmas Tree Frappuccino at Starbucks is gunning for a close second.
A towering, conical swirl of matcha whipped cream makes for a believable-enough tree, dolled up with strings of caramel tinsel and candied cranberry ornaments. The cup itself is a thick trunk of frozen peppermint mocha crème. That's the technical taste. But, really, it's the flavor equivalent of hands and noses pressed against a window on a snowy morning, of gift wrap being torn open, of eyes widening at the realization that our letter to the North Pole was read and answered, and of church bells ringing at the end of “It's A Wonderful Life.” My grinchy, critical heart grew three sizes this morning. My Christmas Tree Frappuccino lacked the dried strawberry star atop it, but I favor angels anyway, especially my Starbucks crush.
I am chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and he smiled when he saw me, in spite of myself; a wink of his eye and a twist of his head soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
How dashing! How dapper! How fancy and flexin'!
On matcha! On mocha! On cranberry fixin's!
"You know I never got to try that unicorn frappe," he said as he made my Christmas tree drink. "We just kept running out of ingredients." He looked legitimately crestfallen.
"They've been chasing that unicorn ever since," I replied.
"Too bad it ran away," he quipped.
There lies Starbucks' problem: ever since achieving phenomenal—if gastronomically undeserved—virality with its Unicorn Frappuccino earlier this year, it has cried wolf too many times since. The Zombie Frappuccino was a Halloween nightmare. Whoever hatched this Christmas tree idea in whatever gingerbread corporate office is no doubt currently planning New Year's, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, and Easter iterations. Get ready for your Facebook feed to fill up with red-white-and-blue frappes during next year's mid-term elections.
The chalk drawing of this Christmas tree drink was far better than the real thing, as was the official Starbucks photo of it. But I liked my dumpier version nonetheless. It was Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree Frappuccino. It was a Christmas Tree Frappuccino that had been through 2017. It was a Christmas Tree Frappuccino taking a knee. It was a #MeToo Christmas Tree Frappuccino.
It's a shame it wasn't celebrated more. Because this Christmas Tree Frapp deserves better ("Please tell me it's not pine-flavored," a co-worker pleaded when we brought the trunk-heavy behemoth into the office). Christmas itself deserves better than that. It's not about fireworks or social media likes or Lexuses with oversized ribbons in the driveway. It's about God becoming one of us in the form of a helpless baby in a manger. It's about humility and vulnerability and the joy that both can bring.
Someone else ordered a Christmas tree frappe at the same time I did—hi Lisa! Wherever you are!—and it reaffirmed my sense that there are folks out there who still take this time of year to believe in how good things can be. Even thirsty-ass, corporate-as-fuck frappuccinos. God bless us, every frappe.
As we left, my Starbucks crush wished me well. "I'm not gonna lie," he added. "It's actually pretty good. You're gonna like it, Rich. You're gonna be back for more." And I will. Because how often does an angel give you wings? Merry Starbucks to all, and to all a good frappe.