What beats a seasonal tribute to cake, in drinkable coffee form? Now, coffee elitists may shy away from seasonal sugar drinks containing caffeine, but just look at it this way: instead of seeing the Dunkin Donuts Red Velvet Latte as a coffee drink with flavor syrup in it, I prefer to look at it as a pink hot chocolate with caffeine. See how easy that was?
Truth be told, this special-for-the-holidays drink is a little disappointing. Perhaps this is because Dunkin's empire is simply too broad to maintain a rigid stance on consistency in preparation of limited-time-only drinks, or perhaps our scouting expeditions were slightly unlucky. But let's just say you may get a slightly different flavor balance from drink to drink, store to store, and you'll definitely not get anything that looks like the window sticker on the front of the shop—they will most likely serve your drink with foam only on the top, and the lid already in place, not some Starbucks-like grid design of syrup. (That said—one donut barista I asked to do the design anyway threw in some whipped cream!)
What you do get, though, is a decent coffee-dessert concoction: a very sweet, but not outrageous, coffee take on the "red velvet" flavor that's applied itself liberally to non-cake treats in recent years. I found the flavor profile they aimed for to be quite close to a red velvet ice cream flavor—that slightly synthetic-cake-batter-tasting cocoa powder marriage that's also colored pink.
At Dunkin, this is infused into their standard cappuccino via a layer of pumped syrup called "Red Velvet Swirl", which may or may not also appear on the top of your drink. On its own—or, ahem, tasted on a cleansing layer of whipped cream—the "swirl" flavoring is very tasty, in a pink cookie frosting kind of way. Too much in the drink, however, leaves a strange cloying coat (maybe those are the notes of cream cheese frosting?) around the already stale-tasting automatic cappuccino coffee taste, which we are otherwise willing to pardon.
That said, sometimes the mix comes out quite tasty, and boy does that coffee take on a beautiful shade of pink once the foam's gone.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop, is the New York City correspondent for Sprudge.com, and contributes to other outfits worldwide.