Starbucks 2021 Holiday Cup Revealed: How Does It Compare to Previous Years?

2021 saw Starbucks release four colorful and sentimental designs for its annual holiday red cups; look back on every design since 2005.

By Tierney Bricker Nov 04, 2021 11:26 AMTags
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It's official: The holiday season has begun.

How do we know? Well, Starbucks' signature red cups of happiness are officially available, with the beloved coffee chain's holiday drinks making their way into stores nationwide. 2021's drinks include the classic peppermint mocha and chestnut praline latte, along with the debut of the iced sugar cookie almondmilk latte. Did we mention there's also a reindeer cake pop, complete with a red button nose? 

But c'mon, we all know the returning favorite we're most excited to see: The holiday cup, with this year's offering possibly being the brand's most sentimental. 

"This holiday, we wanted it to feel magical, we wanted it to be warm, and we wanted it to be inclusive," Starbucks associate creative director Suzie Reecer said in a statement. "Our goal was to really bring joy to every customer and every partner."

Celebrity Families Wearing Matching Holiday Pajamas

To do so, 2021's cups were crafted in classic shades of red, green and white with hints of frosty lilac, and contained little gift tags to create room for a cheerful message.


"I'm so looking forward to the holidays in our stores," Reecer said. "I think it's going to just bring so much happiness to everyone at a time when we are all really ready for it. We hope Starbucks can be a place that brings our customers and partners pure holiday joy."

To celebrate the arrival of this year's red cups, we're looking back on all of Starbucks' designs since they became a holiday tradition in 2005.

So put on your favorite Christmas song, grab your seasonal beverage of choice and take a stroll down memory lane to see all of the designs over the years...


Ribbon, Dot, Sparkle and Brand Wrap were the four main designs for the brand's 2020 theme—"Carry the Merry," which was written on two of the samplings.

 "Our thought behind the cups this year was about people carrying them out in the world as messengers of joy," Jeff Wilkson, creative director for Starbucks, said in a press release at the time, adding that he wanted customers' orders to be a "brief moment that they can look forward to."


More was definitely more in '19, with the four cups featuring polka dots, merry dance, merry stripes and candy cane stripes. In a statement, the company explained the trendy design and bright colors were meant to "evoke mini moments of joy for our customers and partners—it's fun, festive and uniquely Starbucks."


Sbux debuted four designs for their seasonal cups, generating mostly positive feedback, with the offerings paying homage to previous design elements but with a twist, using vintage colors and patterns. This was also the first year the company introduced the reusable holiday cup, with customers getting 50 cents off their grande holiday drink if they brought it back through the holiday season.


It was all about customer customization, with Starbucks announcing that year's holiday cup was "intentionally designed to encourage our customers to add their own color and illustrations. We love the idea of everyone making this year's cup their own."


Forget the 12 days of Christmas, it was the 13 cups of Starbucks' holiday season this year, with the designs created by customers. Contestants from six countries decked their cups with holiday lights, snowflakes, trees and more.

2016's Unity Cup

OK, so this technically wasn't a holiday cup BUT it caused a bit of a stir online when, following 2015's cup-related controversy (more to come on that!), Starbucks first unveiled this GREEN mosaic design, featuring over 100 figures intertwined, including a barista, coffee farmer and friends, to name a few. 

But Starbucks announced it was a limited edition Unity Cup, with CEO Howard Schultz explaining, "The green cup and the design represent the connections Starbucks has as a community with its partners (employees) and customers. During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other."

Sbux soon released the actual holiday cup for the season, which—phew!—was red. And all was calm caffeinated, all was bright.


Oh, the controversial red cup. After the minimalist design was unveiled (Well, as minimalist as a bright red ombre paper cup can be), social media went wild, accusing the retailer of stripping all signs of Christmas from the annual offering. #MerryChristamasStarbucks" trended on Facebook after an Arizona pastor posted a video rant about the lack of Christmas on his cup that was viewed over 11 million times.

"In response to the video, our core values as a company is to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity," Starbucks said in a statement at the time. "Each year during the holidays we aim to bring our customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season and we will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world."


Simple and classic, this red cup featured brush-stroke trees and snowflakes. 



These red cups were all about the hardware, a.k.a. ornaments.


We always feel like somebody's watching us...and it's because there is a giant snowman winking at us as we down a Trenta Gingerbread Latte. Pretty sure that's how the song goes!


Each cup featured warm and fuzzy sentiments as well as carolers, animals and showmen. (Also, this was the year the Skinny Peppermint Mocha, may it now rest in peace, was introduced.)


Because everyone loves carolers (as long as they are not actually singing awkwardly in front of you on your porch), the new decade's fist designs kicked off with people singing and their lyrics.


This red cup highlighted classic holiday buzz-words like "hope" and "wish" and other ooey-gooey words that are likely stenciled all over your mom's Christmas tchotchkes.


We love the subtle illustration making the Starbucks logo an ornament. Chic. 


Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, through the traffic we go to get our hands on our eggnog latte! "Pass the cheer," was the theme of 2007's red cup season, with the coffee sleeves featuring that slogan with a cheery blue and snow flake-filled backdrop.


Business on top, party on the bottom, with the bottom of the 2006 red cup featuring holiday shoppers and ice skaters for a festive trim.


"It only happens once a year." And to think people looked forward to the roll-out of these disposal coffee chalices this much pre-social media and the dawn of the red cup selfie.

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