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From Tesco to Starbucks: The Independent high street Christmas sandwich and drink taste test

From a Christmas Market in a sandwich to a panettone latte, here’s our verdict on 2023’s festive offering

Best 2023 high street Christmas sandwiches revealed

With the end of the year almost upon us and before you whip out the advent calendars and dress up the tree, it’s time to answer an all-important question: which Christmas sandwich and drink is best?

Every year, supermarket stalwarts like Tesco, Waitrose and Co-op elevate their selections, resurrecting old favourites and introducing new flavour combinations to add a dash of joy to the winter gloom. Meanwhile, treasured working lunch spots like Pret, Starbucks and Caffe Nero put forth their best concoctions to keep you in the festive spirit until the holidays.

But no one enjoys a sad sandwich or a cold coffee so we’ve done the hard work for you: by taste testing a selection of this year’s Christmas sandwiches and drinks and ranking them out of five.

We’ve roped in some of the most discerning palates from The Independent office: editor Geordie Greig, food and drink editor Hannah Twiggs, video producer Harry Pagés and Culture and Lifestyle reporter Maanya Sachdeva.

See our live reactions in the video, read our verdicts below and keep checking back as we try as many sandwiches and drinks as is physically possible before Christmas arrives.

Sandwiches

Pret’s Boxing Day Toastie

(Pret)

Average rating: 4.5

Verdict:

Pret’s Boxing Day Toastie, packed with mature cheddar cheese, turkey, pulled ham, herby pork stuffing, caramelised onion chutney and sage mayo, is a masterclass in what we should be doing with our Christmas leftovers. Earning a chart-topping 4.5 from our panel, it was praised for its generous amount of filling and good balance of herby savouriness and tart sweetness. One said “nom nom”, while another noted that the bread could have been a little more toasted, as it gets a bit soggy towards the end.

Co-op’s Christmas Market Sandwich

(Co-op)

Average rating: 3.75

The Co-op’s Christmas Market Sandwich made its mark with a combination of fried and sliced pork sausage, curry-seasoned cheddar cheese, mayo, cabbage, spinach, gherkins, mustard and black pepper, all nestled between slices of dark rye bread. The panel was mostly impressed. Geordie, with an generous 4, praised the sandwich’s size, appearance and flavours. He found it spicy, wholesome and very filling, and would come back for seconds. Maanya, also giving it a 4, declared this sandwich her favourite. She appreciated the healthier feel with the inclusion of more vegetables than the others and an interesting flavour. She, too, wanted more. Hannah, with a conservative 3.5, said: “This is a good looking sandwich.” While she said it didn’t feel particularly Christmassy, she found the pickle punch from the cabbage and gherkins and the curry-spiked cheese a welcome addition. Harry, initially sceptical, surprised himself by giving it a 3.5. If this is what a Christmas market tastes like, it tastes pretty good.

Subway’s V.I.Brie SubMelt

(Subway)

Average rating: 3.5

Verdict:

The panel’s reactions to Subway’s newest melt, available for a limited time only, were as diverse as the ingredients themselves. Geordie, with an enthusiastic 4.5, described the sub as huge, enticing and delicious. He was impressed by the right balance of fillings and the warmth of the sandwich, and said: “That’s my lunch sorted.” Hannah, a self-declared “cheese fiend”, gave it a more reserved rating of 3, finding that the bacon and cheese didn’t shine as expected and there was an overwhelming amount of caramelised red onion. Maanya, rating it a 3.5, drew a comparison with Starbucks’ entry, noting that the Subway creation was sweeter and felt more decadent. A fan of Subway sandwiches in general, she appreciated this melt’s Christmassy flavour. Harry, coming in at 3 out of 5, thought that the “big boy’s” size alone made it good value for money. “You could knock someone out with that,” he suggested, though we definitely don’t. While he enjoyed the sharp flavour and Christmas theme, he felt that the star ingredient brie was lacking in punch, leaving the name somewhat misleading.

Pret’s Brie, Pistachio and Cranberry Baguette

(Pret)

Average rating: 3

Verdict:

Given brie and cranberry is now a year-round sandwich flavour, our panel found Pret’s version, with added rocket and pistachio, didn’t deliver enough of a Christmassy twist. While it didn’t fall into the trap of adding too much cranberry and the overall flavour was pleasant, we thought the pistachios, which were dotted in whole, could have been crumbled across the whole sarnie for a more even crunch. The port and orange in the cranberry sauce weren’t discernible, and the bread was a little bit tough. That being said, one of our reviewers finished the whole thing off, saying it was a very good sandwich regardless. We give it a solid 3, marked down purely for the lack of Christmas cheer.

Starbucks’ Festive Feast Panini

(Starbucks)

Average rating: 3

Verdict:

Starbucks’ Festive Feast Panini, filled with chicken breast, mature cheddar cheese, smoky bacon, pork, bacon and caramelised onion stuffing, cranberry chutney and turkey gravy, has returned for the 2023 Christmas season but was met with mixed reviews from our panel. The sourdough ciabatta panini went down well with Geordie, who handed out a solid 4 for the sandwich’s warm embrace and crisp bread – he’d happily come back for seconds. Maanya, on the other hand, was less impressed. It was “super cheesy” but just “fine” and lacking that Christmas sandwich sparkle. Hannah had high hopes but landed at 2.5, calling it “a bit nothingy” – not a flavour fiesta but the bread was a solid plus. Panini pundit Harry gave it a 4, welcoming the good consistency, generous filling and sauce that hit all the right notes.

Asda’s Festive Feast Sandwich

(Asda)

Average rating: 2.75

Verdict:

Asda’s Festive Feast Sandwich, bringing turkey breast, sausages, smoked bacon, gravy mayo, stuffing and a spread of cranberry chutney to the table, earned mixed reviews from the panel. The sarnie’s highest score was 3.5 from Geordie, who said it “fills a hole” and appreciated the bread but found it a bit too sweet for his taste. Maanya, ranking it 3 out of 5, found it vastly improved after the first bite, with the cranberry giving it a good Thanksgiving or Christmas vibe. Hannah, less than impressed with a 2.5, likened it to the “bog standard” roast dinners you get at school, and found it too heavy on the stuffing. Harry, with a 2, was charmed by its good looks but suggested the cranberry sauce might be masking some shortcomings. Despite having a lot going on, it fell short of his expectations.

Waitrose’s Pigs Under Blankets

(Waitrose)

Average rating: 2.5

Verdict:

Despite being the sandwich that’s “so good we’ve brought it back”, with pork sausage, smoked bacon, cranberry and redcurrant chutney and mayonnaise in sliced malted bread, Waitrose’s Pigs Under Blankets fell short of our panel’s expectations. Geordie, with a rating of 3, praised its substantial and firm structure but found it a little bland, falling short of becoming his favourite filling. Maanya, more optimistic with a 3.5, expressed excitement for the “pigs under blankets” concept, appreciating its one-dimensional charm, but noting that it was a little bit messy. Perhaps not the best choice for a date. Hannah, surprisingly impressed with a 4, found the sandwich better than expected. She appreciated the flavour of the sausages and the balance of ingredients, a departure from the overwhelming nature of some Christmas sandwiches. Harry, however, with a resounding 1, declared the Waitrose entry “pretty grim”. It didn’t meet the expectations associated with Waitrose, and, in his view, even had the potential to dampen the Christmas spirit. Ouch.

Tesco’s Chicken, Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce Sub

(Tesco)

Average rating: 2

Verdict:

Tesco’s offering, with chicken breast, sage and onion stuffing, smoked bacon, mayonnaise and cranberry chutney, faced a tough crowd – and our panel didn’t hold back. Geordie, with a rating of 2, felt the sub had an imbalance, with too much bread and not enough filling, leaving it to fall short of the festive mark. Maanya, initially predicting a bready experience, adjusted her expectations with a 2.75. While noting the bread’s softness, she, too, couldn’t get the right bite and found it lacking in festive flair, deeming it “just a normal chicken sandwich”. Hannah, giving it a 1.5, was firmly part of the “nope” camp. The visual appeal didn’t win her over, with a critique on poor proportioning and a congealed, cold filling; nor did the overall taste experience, which she described as “just not good”. Harry, with a rating of 2, asked: what are we even doing here Tesco? The bread wins points for softness, but it sorely needs a flavour overhaul.

Drinks

Pret’s Merry Berry Hot Chocolate

(Pret)

Rating: 5

Verdict:

Pret’s Merry Berry Hot Chocolate is the only entry on this list to have earned 5 out of 5 from our panel so far. We thought the raspberry syrup was a welcome edition to the drink, bringing a big punch of dark berries that we thought tasted more like glace cherries and cranberries. It was still big on chocolatey flavour, but not too sweet. Top marks, Pret.

Starbucks’ Hazelnut Crunch Hot Chocolate

(Starbucks)

Rating: 4.5

Verdict:

The Hazelnut Crunch Hot Chocolate is the only new addition to Starbucks’ festive drinks menu this year. With an ingredients list that includes chocolate flavoured whipped creamy, sprinkled chocolate on top and a hazelnut brittle topping, you might expect it to be too rich or too sweet. But our reviewer Harry described it as “like drinking a Kinder Bueno”. Plenty of nutty and chocolatey flavours and not too much of either.

Caffe Nero’s Panettone Latte

(Caffe Nero)

Rating: 4

Verdict:

Do coffee and panettone go together? It’s not an age-old question but it is one Caffe Nero is trying to answer with their Panettone Latte. It went down well with our reviewer Maanya, who described it as “Christmas in a cup”. With cinnamon and plenty of spice, it’s instantly warming and a great addition to the seasonal offerings.

Starbucks’ Eggnog Latte

(Starbucks)

Rating: 3

Verdict:

Starbucks’ Eggnog Latte is another festive favourite to make a return in 2023. While not an eggnog fan, our reviewer Hannah was pleasantly surprised by its aroma. It was thicker than a normal latte, and “exceptionally sweet”, but if you’d rather swerve the cinnamon and caramel that so often permeate Christmas drinks, this is a good alternative. It could do with some booze in it, though, she added.

Caffe Nero’s Millionaire’s Hot Chocolate

(Caffe Nero)

Rating: 3

Verdict:

With salted caramel syrup, chocolate cream and an extra drizzle of caramel, Caffe Nero’s Millionaire’s Hot Chocolate might prove too sickly for even the sweetest of tooths. For our reviewer Hannah, the aroma and flavour didn’t quite nail the brief. It goes big on chocolate, but one too many of these and you’ll have to pay a visit to the dentist.

Caffe Nero’s Florentine Mocha

(Caffe Nero)

Rating: 2

Verdict:

Speaking of unusual pairings, do florentine biscuits and mochas go together? According to our reviewer Harry, perhaps not. “That’s a pretty bog standard mocha,” he says of Caffe Nero’s Florentine Mocha. It’s not a bad drink, with salted caramel syrup, panettone syrup, whipped cream and chocolate chips, but it doesn’t feel very Christmassy.

Pret’s Gingerbread Latte

(Pret)

Rating: 2

Verdict:

Pret’s Gingerbread Latte, a combination of their signature organic coffee with “the warming flavour of gingerbread”, didn’t land with our panel. Not only did we think it simply wasn’t a good coffee and not thick enough to be a latte, we couldn’t detect any distinct gingerbread flavours. One reviewer said it tasted a little bit malty, while another thought it would actually benefit from a bit more sweetness. “A bit nothingy,” they agreed.

The results

Of the sandwiches, Pret’s Boxing Day Toastie was the clear winner. It was praised for its generous amount and good balance of ingredients, and distinct Christmassy flavours. Well done Pret!

Co-op’s Christmas Market Sandwich, which brought pops of colour and unusual flavours to the table, came in close second. The diverse ingredients tick a lot of boxes and the chunky size means you’re getting bang for you buck.

In last place was Tesco’s Chicken, Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce Sub. The reviews ranged from criticising the imbalance of ingredients to a plain “nope”. The panel agreed that it just didn’t have enough festive flair.

On drinks, Starbucks’ new Hazelnut Crunch Hot Chocolate was the clear winner, packing in plenty of chocolatey and nutty flavours without overdoing it.

Meanwhile, Caffe Nero’s Florentine Mocha is proof that not all flavours are a match made in heaven. This one might keep the sweet tooths happy, but it won’t keep the Christmas vibes going.

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