Fall is my all-time favorite season. I swear once you get past the city smog and car exhaust the air smells like cinnamon. Corn mazes, apple cider and absolutely anything pumpkin-flavored make these next few months that are colored with red and orange leaves well worth the wait every single year.
Among those seasonal necessities, of course, is the beloved pumpkin spice latte, or PSL as some avid drinkers might refer to the spicy, creamy, caffeinated beverage. For those who have somehow managed to get through the crisp autumn months without experiencing this heavenly beverage, it is in essence an espresso drink. Espresso (concentrated, bold, sweet coffee) is mixed with steamed and then frothed milk and complemented with pumpkin flavored syrup. In some establishments, the pumpkin syrup is homemade from actual pumpkin puree.
As fall descends upon us, I wanted to sample all of the pumpkin spice lattes in an attempt to find the best one. Most sane people would do this over the course of a week or two, or at least a few days. But I enlisted two of my roommates, and we embarked on a two-hour tour of every area coffee shop we could think of. I made a chart and created the “perfect pumpkin rating system” which is 100 percent subjective. Each latte was rated on a scale of one to five, one being not enjoyable and five being excellent, in four categories: pumpkin flavor, spice, price and presentation. Please note that I am by no means a real expert (although the mass amounts of caffeine I regularly consume make me darn close). So what started out as a crazy idea turned into an obnoxious, fun, caffeinated and at times disheartening venture in pursuit of the perfect pumpkin latte.
First place I went to, the king of all coffee, hailing from the far west reaches of Seattle: Starbucks. Starbucks’ pumpkin drink is almost an icon of the season. It appears that fall is actually here when the chalkboard menus behind the green-aproned baristas are illustrated with fall’s seasonal drink menu. As a gold card holder, I really wanted to be proven wrong in my epic love and devotion for the coffee powerhouse, and while it did not receive perfect scores on my “perfect pumpkin rating scale,” I have deemed it the No. 1 choice for a classic PSL. At 31 cents per ounce, the latte got a four on pumpkin flavor, a four on spice level and a three on presentation.
Coming in second was Cup O’ Joe. It is one of the coffee shops that produces its own pumpkin syrup, which gave it a four on the pumpkin flavor scale. It didn’t beat the mighty Starbucks because it only received a two on the spice level, but it did receive a five on its presentation. It was also the only place that offered to put whipped cream on the top, and was pleasantly dusted with flecks of cinnamon. At 29 cents per ounce, it was a slightly better deal monetarily as well.
To round off the top three we have Crimson Cup. Yes, you read that correctly. The official coffee of the Ohio State University produced what might be the most delicious concoction to appease even the biggest sweet tooth. That being said, you might ask why it was not granted the No. 1 position in PSL competition. The biggest reason was that it was not just pumpkin; it was pumpkin caramel pecan, which is delicious but did not adequately fit the bill for the “perfect pumpkin latte.” Also, it was just a little too sweet for everyday drinking. The Crimson Cup latte received a five on pumpkin flavor, a two on spice and a four on presentation. At 23 cents per ounce, it also definitely fits the bill for the budget-conscious college student.
In two hours, my roommates and I sampled eight pumpkin lattes. I must say that I will never recommend that to anyone. But after such in-depth searching, I can fill you in on the five places that I, in a subjective manner, do not recommend ever going. Panera Bread and Brennen’s Café each produced a beverage that resembled something to the likes of warm milk. On an unrelated sidenote, the pumpkin pie bagel at Panera was superb and did help make up for the subpar latte experience. Surprisingly, Caribou Coffee and Stauf’s in Grandview also did not deliver drinks that any of us really enjoyed. This was surprising on two counts: I usually do enjoy Caribou’s coffee and Stauf’s is the same company as Cup O’ Joe, which means it has the same pumpkin syrup recipe. Finally, at the bottom of the list, we have lowly Tim Horton’s. I must say that at 19 cents per ounce it was a steal, but it did not taste like pumpkin. It actually resembled chocolate, which might not be a total turnoff to some, but clearly disqualified it from my mighty pursuit.
Fall has so much to offer and so many fun activities that can be planned. Apple picking, cider making, bonfires and leaf crunching are among my all-time favorites. And after consuming nearly 100 ounces of store-bought pumpkin latte creations, I would also add, “latte making” to the list. That’s it folks. While you can get a tasty, warm and pumpkin-loaded beverage from any of these area establishments, I must full-heartedly recommend making your own at home. Buy some canned pumpkin, milk and espresso and look up a delicious recipe. Happy sipping!