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We Tried Every PSL We Could Find. Which Is Best?

It's fall—AKA PSL season. We tried as many pumpkin spice lattes as we could get our hands on. Find out which is best.

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George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

Our hunt for the best pumpkin spice latte

The second the temps start to drop and the leaves start to turn, folks in the Taste of Home office and, well, everywhere, start to get a craving for a pumpkin spice latte. Who can blame us? The PSL is fall in a cup—warm, cozy and filled with all those spices that make us think of apple picking, pumpkin carving and all the best seasonal treats.

Now, we’ve all got our go-to spot for this pumpkin spice treat: Starbucks. It’s only natural—the chain was the first to create this seasonal must-have all the way back in 2003. But since then, more and more coffee shops and fast food chains have tried their hands at fall’s most ubiquitous beverage. That got me wondering if one of these relative newcomers could do better than the original. So I snagged every PSL I could find within 15 miles of Taste of Home HQ. I ended up with five options (though I expected more—neither McDonald’s or Panera were offering them when I was searching at the end of September):

  • Caribou Coffee
  • Corner Bakery Cafe
  • Dunkin’
  • Krispy Kreme
  • Starbucks

Let’s see how these all stacked up in a blind test!

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Cup of Spicy pumpkin latte in Woman's hands in gray sweater on the brown wooden table with red leaves. Cozy autumn mood; Shutterstock ID 472601899; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHShutterstock / Boiarkina Marina

What we’re looking for in a pumpkin spice latte

Before we could start buzzing around town to pick up every pumpkin spice latte we could find, my crew of PSL fans and myself had to decide exactly what we were looking for in fall’s most popular drink.

We decided that first and foremost, a great pumpkin spice latte had to taste of fall with all those great warming spices—we’re talking cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove (all of which you’ll find in our favorite pumpkin spice recipes). We also agreed that if the drink also had pumpkin flavor, not just pumpkin pie spices, that would be preferred. Of course, the magic of a PSL isn’t just in the spice—it’s in the coffee, too. We were also looking for a latte with good espresso flavor that was well balanced with the steamed milk and pumpkin spice blend.

Now, let’s find out how all our pumpkin spice lattes ranked…

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Taste of Home

5. Krispy Kreme Pumpkin Spice Latte

While we love Krispy Kreme for their tasty take on glazed donuts (have you seen them being made—totally mesmerizing), we couldn’t say that we loved their take on the pumpkin spice latte. Instead of rich spice flavors combined with espresso, my crew of testers and I mostly tasted milk. Overall, this PSL was too mild in flavor and caffeine to satisfy us—but may be good for people who aren’t big coffee drinkers.

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4. Caribou Coffee Pumpkin Pie Latte

When it came to Caribou Coffee, we had a similar experience to Krispy Kreme. This was disappointing to all the Caribou fans in the office! The chain’s version of the PSL, called the Pumpkin Pie Latte, was very mild when it came to any espresso flavor. My crew of coffee lovers and pumpkin spice fans could hardly taste it. As for the pumpkin spice, we got a fair amount of cinnamon and clove but it just wasn’t quite balanced for us. Overall it tasted like spiced milk.

We’ll still hit up Caribou for other coffee drinks, though (that is if we’re not whipping some up at home)!

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Taste of Home

3. Dunkin’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

Up next was Dunkin’. (Did you hear it changed its name?) This latte was very middle of the road for us. We definitely got some good fall flavors with this latte—cinnamon, clove and even a bit of caramel—which we all appreciated. The espresso flavor in this option was a bit more pronounced, though one or two testers thought the roast was a bit on the burnt side. Burnt coffee aside, it still was more pumpkin spice than latte.

In all, we might get a small Dunkin’ pumpkin spice latte if we were picking up a dozen donuts.

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Taste of Home

2. Corner Bakery Cafe Pumpkin Spice Latte

When this latte was revealed, many testers were shocked! Corner Bakery Cafe isn’t too common in these parts (though they do have locations coast to coast), so it was definitely under our radar. We were pleasantly surprised with this version of the PSL! We finally got the coffee flavors we were looking for!

As for the spice, we got that too. Testers found that the spices in this drink weren’t just limited to the basic cinnamon but actually tasted a bit like chai spice (one of our favorite ingredients for fall baking). So in addition to classic cinnamon, we got hints of allspice, clove and cardamom—all very welcome guests to the pumpkin spice family. Oh—we can’t forget—we also got a hint of vanilla which really made this a well-rounded coffee treat. 

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Taste of Home

1. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

In the end, the original bested all its competitors. A Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is as good as a pumpkin spice latte will ever be. Every single tester voted this as their favorite drink. A unanimous decision like that rarely happens in taste tests! So what made the original PSL so good?

First off, Starbucks’ option, though flavored, was still distinctively a latte. We got a really nice espresso flavor and the kick of caffeine that we need on dark fall mornings. This was the only drink that really gave us the pep you expect from a coffee drink.

But the star of the show was the pumpkin spice itself. It gave us all those great fall spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. Plus, the mix also gave us a hint of pumpkin—not just spice. And, yep, there is pumpkin puree in the ingredients. We could practically smell the pie baking at home. Sure, the drink was a bit sweet for some (hence the nine out of ten score—not a perfect ten), but it tasted so darn good! We all agreed that a small PSL on a chilly morning—complete with falling leaves and an oversized scarf—would give us all those cozy fall feelings we love.

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Indianapolis - Circa September 2016: Starbucks Retail Coffee Store. Starbucks is Serving Pumpkin Spice Lattes VI; Shutterstock ID 482264938Shutterstock / Jonathan Weiss

The original is still the best

What can we say? Sometimes the classics are classics for a reason. And sometimes chains know what they’re doing! Starbucks makes a mean PSL (and they make a good medium roast for brewing at home too—check it out). Sure, calling the small coffee “tall” or a medium “grande” can be irksome, but for a good seasonal treat, you can’t do much better than visiting Starbucks. Well, unless you order their new seasonal offering!

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.

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