Here in Concord, we are lucky enough to have a multitude of cafés to choose from to get our caffeine fix, and this fall I set out on a mission to discover which Concord café produces the best PSL. At every store, I ordered the smallest size of their hot pumpkin spice latte and picked up a pumpkin-flavored pastry to accompany my drink.
I began with the big-name international chain: Starbucks. Starbucks has been my go-to establishment in town for a number of years, so I was quite familiar with the space. My coffee and “Pumpkin and Pepita Loaf” were quickly prepared upon my order, and I excitedly took a sip. I was struck by how sweet the drink was even with a reduced level of whipped cream. I noted that my drink tasted like sweet warm milk, with sugar and dairy entirely disguising the coffee taste I was expecting! I could not taste any pumpkin or spice either, which was a major point deduction. The pumpkin loaf was a sufficiently thick slice, and quite delicious, although it was a little dry and crumbly around the edges. I was disconcerted by the texture and salty taste of the pepita topping (it reminded me of eating nutty carrot cake), but it was not a deal breaker as the toasted seeds appeared on only one side of the crust.
Overall, my first pumpkin spice latte experience was a six out of ten.
My next stop was Massachusetts favorite, Dunkin Donuts, notorious for lower-quality, cheaper coffee. Here I paid two dollars and fifty cents for twelve fluid ounces of coffee. While I did not love the taste of this drink as much, I believed it excelled as a PSL. The very first sip I was smacked with a very strong pumpkin spice flavor; there was no mistaking this drink as sweet milk here! However, this drink was noticeably bitter, so I was much more reserved with my sips. While it was not the drink for me, I would recommend it for those looking for a cheaper drink and enjoy strong flavors. However, Dunkin’s pumpkin doughnut is cakey and glazed but not sticky and an all-around fantastic treat.
My rating for Dunkin’s autumnal spirit is a seven-point-five out of ten!
Next, I ventured to Haute, the only local, independent café I visited in this taste test. Haute is incredibly popular among Concordians, and exclusive to our town so I wanted badly to love their pumpkin spice latte. To my dismay, after a thorough search through their available pastries, I found no fall-themed items! I had high standards for the drink, knowing it would be difficult for the store to come back from such an oversight. Haute definitely had the best-tasting coffee, but this joy was overshadowed by an odd, slightly sour taste that was registering at the back of my tongue.
Sadly, because Haute was missing half of the judging criteria, I can only give it a six-point-five out of ten.
My last pumpkin spice latte was from Caffè Nero. When I began this journey, I was devastated to find in my research that Caffè Nero apparently did not have a pumpkin spice latte. I held out until the last day to see if they might surprise me and I am overjoyed to say that they did! Their seasonal pumpkin items were advertised on the board outside, and prominently featured on an entire third of their menu.
This pumpkin spice latte was my overall favorite! It had the distinct coffee and pumpkin spice flavor I was looking for, a healthy balance between bitter and sweet. Caffè Nero also had a variety of pumpkin and fall-themed treats, so I settled on a delectable pumpkin crumble muffin that made for a perfect afternoon coffee snack. The Caffè Nero PSL was more than worth the wait. Nine out of ten!
After consuming a pumpkin spice latte every day, I think it is safe to say I have not become the PSL fanatic that many are, but I have come to appreciate the festivity of the drink, as well as enjoy its autumnal flavors. While the PSL remains on the menu, feel free to use my experience as a guide, or go try them all and completely contradict me! Happy pumpkin season everyone!