It’s been 20 years since special Starbucks cups first began to grace our holiday season. It’s a ritual for many, that’s as beloved as trimming the tree or baking sugar cookies.
The first Starbucks holiday cups made their debut in 1997, though it would be a miracle to find one today. Few were saved and the digital design files were lost in an earthquake in 2001. Even searching online poses few results, as the cups came before the ubiquitous time of selfies and cell phone cameras.
One company designer, Sandy Nelson, having had the honor of designing the first cup, stashed away a full set of subsequent cups.
“It was August, and I had just started with the company,” Nelson said. “We were working on holiday creative for the season to come. We had what felt like a hundred cup designs pinned up on the wall. Then Howard [Schultz] came by, looked at all of them, and picked my design. I couldn’t believe mine was chosen.”
But the first cup wasn’t in the classic red motif most Starbucks coffee customers are familiar with. It was more of a magenta with sapphire, emerald and amethyst alternatives.
It would be two more years before red would become the color of choice.
Over the next two decades, Starbucks holiday cups became emblematic of the holiday with design varying from year to year from coffee beans to snowflakes, simple designs and intricate drawings.
This year the cups feature a a print that invites the consumer to add color.
“We’re inviting everyone to color in the holidays in a way that’s meaningful to them,” said Leanne Fremar, executive creative director for Starbucks.
The first holiday cup had a hand-drawn design with swirls and tiny coffee beans.
The second year brought a burgundy cup with swirling snowflakes.
Red makes its first appearance on the holiday cup with whimsical line-drawings of snowflakes, stocking and other winter items.
A creatively drawn scene depots a village of coffee and tea pots set against a starry sky.
This cup was designed to look like a gift, trimmed with green and red ribbons. This is the also the first year for White Chocolate Mochas and Starbucks cards.
White illustrations are set against the classic red background.
Hidden shadows dance with shimmering stars and snowflakes.
The Starbucks logo turns into an evergreen wreath.
“It only happens once a year” reminds consumers of the season while a string of holiday lights adorn the top.
Winter white silhouettes make a traditional winter scene.
The cup’s 10th anniversary celebrated with a snowy winter scene.
A cozy patten set behind winter imagery.
Paper ornaments inscribed with the words “joy, hope, love, light and peace” were what customers drank from during 2009, the first year the Caramel Brulée Latte was offered.
A palate of red and grey give the cup a more modern look.
Big characters came to life in 2011.
Bold-sized holiday characters came in for a close-up.
Ornaments get decorated with red and gold touches in 2013.
“Let there be light” was the theme for the seasonal cups.
The most minimalistic design of them all, 2015 say a bright poppy color morph into a darker cranberry color.
Starbucks featured customer-created holiday cups with 13 different designs from six countries.
The 20th anniversary year featured the first white cup for the company, but it allows customers to color in their own vision of the holidays.