As fall extends its reach further across the land, we’re going to start seeing some iconic, seasonal items again: Halloween decor, brightly colored leaves, and the return of pumpkin spice flavored everything, to name a few. Although we’re now swimming in everything from pumpkin orange juice to pumpkin cream cheese, it’s really the pumpkin spice latte that started it all.
Coffee chains everywhere now realize the power of the PSL, and have taken strides to incorporate the fall flavor into their coffee lineups. So what does that mean for you, the average coffee drinker and pumpkin spice-lover? Well, it means you have a lot of choices in regards to where you’d like to take your PSL business.
Don’t worry, we went to six of the biggest coffee chains in America and tried each of their pumpkin spice selections. We even ranked them from worst to best so you don’t have to waste your time on sub-par coffee this fall. After all, there’s a lot of pumpkin spice to enjoy and only about two appropriate months in which to do it. We better get drinking.
Photo: Honeydew Donuts
Ordered: A medium, hot pumpkin spice coffee, cream only ($2.50)
Disclaimer: This selection from Honeydew Donuts was a pumpkin spice coffee, not a pumpkin spice latte. And, no matter what you want to call it, it was truly one thing: bad. Which is why, sadly, Honeydew will be starting off the list in dead last place.
The coffee itself was poorly made; very watery, with almost no indication that it was, in fact, coffee I was drinking. There was a hint of pumpkin in the coffee, but it tasted sour, almost not like pumpkin at all.
Photo: Food and Wine
Ordered: A medium, hot pumpkin spice latte, cream only ($2.39)
Going into pumpkin spice season, the McCafe was pretty hyped up. People were praising McDonald’s for releasing the McCafe so early and were even speculating that McDonald’s might finally pull ahead of Starbucks this year with a superior PSL.
Sorry guys, this year is not that year. As is the common complaint with McCafe lattes, the drink was way too sweet, even despite the fact that I ordered the drink with no sugar. The latte had a nice pumpkin flavor to it, and even a hint of cinnamon, but it was almost impossible to taste through what can only be a metric ton of artificial sweetener.
Honestly, I couldn’t finish the latte.
To be fair, McDonald’s lattes have an unbeatable price, especially compared to Starbucks and Coffee Bean. If you enjoy super sweet coffee, this might be the latte for you — but I will not be drinking this fifth place latte for the rest of the season, thank you very much.
4. COFFEE BEAN & TEA LEAF
Ordered: A hot, medium pumpkin spice latte with skim milk only ($5)
Similarly to the McCafe was the PSL from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. But let it be known that this was still a delicious latte, one I definitely finished. However, this latte had a few drawbacks that kept it from the Top 3.
What I loved about the latte was the mix of fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. If I could have come up with a smell to perfectly capture fall, that would be it. But pumpkin? Pumpkin was not the star of this drink. The flavor was not really pleasant and left more of a sour aftertaste than anything. The more I drank, the easier the sharpness was to ignore, but those first few sips had me wondering what I had just spent $5 on.
The presentation of the latte, with honey cinnamon sprinkles on top of perfect whipped cream, was gorgeous and that spicy aroma was to die for. But if you’re in search of a true PUMPKIN drink, this may not be your go-to. For gingerbread or other fall flavorings though? This is a must-try.
3. DUNKIN’ DONUTS
Photo: Food Network
Ordered: A hot, medium pumpkin spice latte, skim milk only ($3.19)
I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised Dunkin’ didn’t score higher with me! Like Coffee Bean, Dunkin’ Donuts had a delicious latte to offer, but it was far from perfection. In fact, my biggest complaint with Coffee Bean is the same complaint I have with Dunkin’ Donuts: the sharpness of the beverage.
While the latte was amazing, it had a slight acrid taste to it. The fall spices of cinnamon and clove were obviously present, but maybe not as abundant as they were with the Coffee Bean latte. The biggest difference of all, there was a clear pumpkin taste to this latte; in fact, it may have been even a bit too overwhelming.
The latte itself was creamy and didn’t have an artificial sweetness to it. Overall, Dunkin’ may have gone a little overboard on the pumpkin, but this is a latte I will be ordering for the rest of pumpkin season.
2. PEET’S COFFEE
Photo: Locale Magazine
Ordered: A hot, medium pumpkin spice latte, skim milk only ($3.60)
For me, Peet’s was a true underdog contender, but it’s clear by the excellent ranking that this coffee chain blew me away! Peet’s latte was one of the most well-blended coffee drinks, with the perfect balance of autumnal spices and pumpkin flavor. The latte also had a perfectly steamed layer of foam on top, that stayed intact throughout the entire drink.
The only reason Peet’s came in second to the number one contender (big shocker there) was because it was just a touch too sweet for my liking. If sweeter coffee is for you, though, then Peet’s should be your choice… maybe even over the number one pick below.
To the surprise of no one, the inventors of the PSL and the reigning champions of this fall favorite came in first place. They’ve perfected it, what can we say. The latte had the best balance between spiciness and sweetness, by far. With the perfect fall smell and a pumpkin flavor that has no superior, this drink has a smooth, creamy finish without it being too sweet.
Only downside? When the whipped cream melted in my drink, it crossed the line and became a little too sugary. Admittedly, that was my fault for not eating the whipped cream faster.
What do you think of this ranking? Do you disagree with anything we’ve said? Share your PSL favorites in the comments section.