What do you mean it’s bonfire flavour!?


I am by no means a coffee aficionado, and I’ll admit that I drink far too much – I write this as I’m on my third cup before noon. But, I know absolute jack about it. I’m one of those many, many people who has been sucked into the realm of quick corporate coffee. As such, I claim to really enjoy it. Yet, when faced with ‘real’ or ‘artesian’ or ‘genuine’ coffee I’m struck by how awful and bitter it is.

I’m not stupid though; I know why. It’s not that I like coffee, but rather the many sugars, syrups and sweeteners hiding in my drinks. It’s addictive and therefore really enjoyable. The seasonal drinks which get added to menus each year and the new ‘crazy’ things you can do to make your drinks just that little bit different (coconut milk instead of regular milk? madness) bring honest joy to my day. It’s like the adult version of a candy shop fuelled by tiredness and addiction.

Yet, I experienced enlightenment recently. The past few weeks I’ve been trying to be healthier, so sugar had been none existent to me. Cut then to me walking into Costa and seeing they’d brought out a Bonfire Spiced Latte – which we all know is Costa’s attempt at rivalling the ever so popular Pumpkin Spice Latte. To put it lightly, I was shook.

You might judge me, but there’s something so trivial yet genuinely exciting about seasonal drinks that you just can’t escape from. Therefore, I obviously got myself one. However, when drinking this latte, I didn’t get the same feelings of autumn with the warmth the drink creates and the spices which make it just that bit special. Rather, it was just sickly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the coffee just tasted like pure syrup. I couldn’t even honestly say that there was coffee in that cup. Instead, I just experienced an indeterminable mix of spices which are classified under the vague headline of ‘bonfire’.

So, my question…what the hell was in that cup?

On my quest to discover in-depth ingredients I travelled to Costa’s website, only to discover that there’s nothing there. I wanted percentages and crazy sounding words which I’ve never heard of. But, alas – there was nothing. The only thing I found was a vague rumination on what ‘bonfire’ is supposed to be:

“Delicious notes of rich caramel toffee with smoky, toasted spices topped with crunchy caramel vermicelli.” the website reads.

So, I needed to look deeper. One awkward conversation later with a memeber of staff and I had the answers I needed. To be honest…I didn’t think it would be this easy. For all they know I could be the human equivalent of Plankton trying to steal the Krabby Patty Formula. Nevertheless, Costa were surprisingly open about sharing their ingredients – just not open about having them easily accessible online. But, now that we have it, let’s take a look at these ingredients…

There’s the standard steamed milk and espresso coffee but then we get to the titular bonfire syrup. The Bonfire Syrup contains water (I hope you already know what this is). It also contains sugar, a Primo Bonfire Spiced Latte (340ml) contains 24.9 grams of sugar per portion; this is just over 6 teaspoons worth of sugar in one drink. According to the NHS, anyone over the age of 11 shouldn’t consume more than 30 grams of sugar a day. So, this drink alone is practically all of your daily recommended intake. It also contains ‘natural flavourings’ this is quite literally flavour which is derived from an actual food source. As for what this food source is? I don’t know. But there are a lot of scary articles which suggest that natural flavourings may not be as natural as we’d hope they’d be.

The drink also contains honey, this is another thing I hope you’d already know. Interestingly, honey also contains sugar and contains more calories per teaspoon than sugar. Smoked Sugar Syrup is in there too, hey, look at that! More sugar! There’s seemingly harmless ingredients too like tea extract, cinnamon and citric acid. This bonfire concotion contains potassium sorbate, a widely used preservative in the food industry, which one should be wary of. Looking at a 2014 study, potassium sorbate has been found to damage DNA when combined with  nitrates. But, so far, the long-term effects are unknown as there needs to be further study into regularly consuming the ingredient.

The sheer amount of sugar hiding in this drink is enough reason to just stick with regular coffee. And, the ambiguity as to whether certain ingredients are bad or good for you is slightly alarming. To put it lightly, it wasn’t fun trying to figure out what terrible things my lovely seasonal drink was doing to me. Even though I got the information easily, it’s still slightly alarming how we’re able to consume things without even knowing what’s in them or what they do. Even now, having all these ingredients in front of me, I’m still not 100% sure what effects they’ll have. And, without reading this article or asking Costa yourself, you’d be none the wiser as to what was in this drink too.

After Pret-gate (where at least two people have died from allergens not listed in Pret A Manger food) is it really wrong to be wary of what we’re consuming? I’m not trying to be the Grinch who stole Autumn here. To all those people who genuinely enjoy a good seasonal coffee – have at it! But in today’s climate, it’s probably best to know before we buy.

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