This love story begins rather simply.
When I was in college, loading myself up on caffeine was the only way to make it through endless classes and shifts at my local bookstore. I discovered something powerful then: coffee. That divine beverage was responsible for getting me through many a late evening . . . though I couldn’t always stomach the straight stuff. I need lots of milk and sugar. Enter the latte.
I began consuming espresso-pumped drinks in my early twenties, and that’s around the time the pumpkin spice latte — or the PSL, to those of us in the Cool Kid PSL Club — appeared in my life. Never one to shy away from anything pumpkin flavored, I started ordering them at my Borders cafe. That amounted to one per shift — and it’s just gotten worse since then.
Eh, and I wonder why I’ve gained weight.
As we all know, the yearly appearance of the PSL deserves a ticker-tape parade in Meg Land. My sister and I marked the time of its arrival and set a coffee date. Since it was still 90 degrees in Maryland in early September, we got frappuccinos — extra whip. I don’t do things halfway.
It’s been weeks since the PSL arrived in cafes and coffee shops across the land. I’ve made it my goal — nay, my mission — to try every pumpkin-themed drink in the Washington, D.C. area. Though I once declared Dunkin’ Donuts to have the best PSL, I’m going to contradict that. In three years, my horizons have expanded. But because I’m just one thirsty woman, I know there are many I’ve missed — including Panera’s PSL, which is surprising; I probably owe rent to my local branch. But the fall is young, my friends!
Any devoted PSL consumer knows their favorite drink comes in at least two varieties: hot and cold. You could get into even more gradations of this, based on whether or not you like whipped cream (I do) and spice (yep), plus whether your cold PSL is blended (like a frap) or simply on ice (like Dunkin’ Donuts’ drink). I’ve tried to sample as many varieties as possible, though my budget and stomach don’t always cooperate. Just know this sampling is not comprehensive.
To the nominees, I’d like to say what a difficult decision this was. Know that, in my eyes, you’re all winners — and you should be so proud of your deliciousness. Know that even the fifth best PSL is still a darn good drink, and I hope there are no hard feelings. You know I’ll be back.
the taste tests
5. Dunkin’ Donuts — cold (over ice)
Dunkin’ Donuts’ PSL is on ice, meaning it’s not blended like a frappuccino or milkshake — and that’s why it’s in fifth place. Because I drink it entirely too fast. It’s basically iced coffee with pumpkin syrup (in fact, that might be exactly what it is . . .), and I usually consume the whole thing before I’m even back at my desk. This saddens me — but also keeps me coming back for more. So well played, Dunkin’ Donuts.
4. Einstein Bros Bagels — cold (blended)
The blended PSL at Einstein’s is very much like Starbucks’ PSL frap — only more pumpkin-y. There’s no mistaking the autumnal awesomeness (like that?) of this one. My sister offered me a sip of hers — and I took three. It’s addictive. It’s sweet without being cloying — less sweet than, say, the Dunkin’ Donuts iced PSL. It lacks any of the distinctive coffee taste I expect from a Starbucks PSL, which might work for you.
3. Starbucks — cold (blended)
So rich, so creamy . . . so cold and fattening. It’s hard to beat Starbucks’ pumpkin spice frappuccino, which is easily my sister’s favorite. (And our PSLs, pictured above, are twins.) It’s dessert in a cup, and the filling nature of the drink might have you wanting to skip dinner — but it’s worth it. Promise.
2. Einstein Bros Bagels — hot
Of every beverage on this highly scientific list, I find the hot PSL at Einstein’s to be the most pumpkin-y. It’s also melt-in-your-mouth delicious and has less of a “coffee” taste and aftertaste than Starbucks’ version. It’s sweeter, lighter and creamier — for fans who prefer their espresso drinks with less espresso. I can respect that.
1. Starbucks — hot
The first. The classic. I’d never known love until Starbucks’ beloved PSL came into my life. Still the best-loved of all the beverages, the hot PSL has a special place in my heart — though I tend to order the iced version from DD more often these days. Mostly because it’s still hot in Maryland, and I sweat like a pig on a good day. But, you know. Mariah Carey and I know Starbucks’ hot PSL will always be my baby.
honorable pumpkin mentions
7-Eleven’s pumpkin coffee (with pumpkin creamer)
My mom told me she’d seen pumpkin coffee at her local 7-Eleven one morning last week, so I drove my little self over there at lunchtime to investigate. To my delight, both pumpkin coffee and pumpkin pie spice creamers were available . . . so I loaded up. And overdid it. Three creamers might have been a bit excessive, but whatever — I was really excited.
Though not technically a PSL, 7-Eleven’s brew is delicious — and the creamers add fantastic (and truly pumpkin-y) flavor. Just skip the sugar; you won’t need it. And you’ll be jet-fueled enough to empty your email inbox and your coworker’s before they’re even back from break. 7-Eleven pumpkin coffee will get you a raise, basically. So go you.
Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Though not a drinker, I can appreciate an occasional brewskie (case in point: I say “brewskie,” and I have no idea how to even spell that). Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale is quite refreshing, though it lacks the signature pumpkin flavor I’d expect from a drink with the gourd in its name. I can occasionally get a whiff of the nutmeg Blue Moon promises is in the brew, but mostly? It’s just a good beer. Or ale. Or whatever. But I like it.
Do you have a favorite? Are you a PSL fan, or do you run screaming away from my favorite drink? (That’s fine — I mean, we can’t be friends anymore . . . but it’s all right.) Feel free to share your thoughts or personal taste tests below.