- Few drinks get people as excited as pumpkin spice lattes.
- We decided to pit the pumpkin lattes at Starbucks and Dunkin’ – the two biggest coffee chains in the US – against each other.
- Starbucks was way more expensive than Dunkin’, but also better. The PSL uses real pumpkin purée, and was less sweet.
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While many look to the end of summer with sorrow, for others this only means one thing: it’s pumpkin spice latte time.
As part of an ongoing taste test series at Insider – we’ve tried fast food chocolate chip cookies, coffee, and apple pie, to name a few – we decided to pit the two biggest coffee chains in the US against other, and sampled pumpkin lattes from Starbucks and Dunkin’ (formerly known as Dunkin’ Doughnuts).
While the latte at Dunkin’ was substantially cheaper, Starbucks is still the reigning pumpkin spice champion.
Keep scrolling to see why we prefer the PSL from Starbucks over its Dunkin’ counterpart.
You know what fall means: sweater weather, apple picking, Halloween… and pumpkin-flavored everything.
Some say the pumpkin craze has gone too far.
We decided to pit the pumpkin lattes at Starbucks and Dunkin’ (née Dunkin’ Doughnuts) against each other.
Starbucks and Dunkin’ are, in fact, the two biggest coffee chains in America respectively, according to Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report. There are 13,390 Starbucks locations in the US, and 9,141 Dunkin’s.
To face off these coffee rivals, I bought a medium pumpkin latte from Dunkin’ and a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks.
The famed PSL made its return this year on August 27, the earliest launch by Starbucks ever.
Dunkin’ had an even earlier launch of its fall products: pumpkin coffee, plus pumpkin munchkins, apple cider doughnuts, and pumpkin doughnuts and muffins all made their debut on August 21.
My Dunkin’ pumpkin latte was the expected colour of a latte, while my Starbucks coffee could be considered pretty orange — though definitely not the colour of a pumpkin.
Starbucks’ orange colour was a little off-putting, though not having a pumpkin latte look any different from a regular latte was also strange to me.
Both Starbucks and Dunkin’ this year debuted new pumpkin drinks. Starbucks released their Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, which Insider’s Meredith Cash determined was even better than the PSL. Dunkin’ on the other hand, released a more direct competitor to the PSL: the Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Signature Latte.
I tried the grande Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks first. It cost a frankly astronomical $US5.93 after taxes.
PSLs have been around since 2003, but didn’t have any real pumpkin in them until 2015. Before that, it was just caramel and spices that are included in pumpkin pie, like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Today, it features a “Pumpkin Spice Sauce” that is made with sugar, condensed skim milk, and pumpkin puree. It also has a “Pumpkin Spice Topping” consisting of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte is one of the most popular Starbucks drinks — it was unsurprisingly delicious.
The default Pumpkin Spice Latte uses whole milk and whipped cream, and contains a whopping – though unsurprising – 420 calories in the grande size.
The drink is pretty sweet, of course, but the small amount of real pumpkin puree is definitely noticeable. You can also taste the spices that are mixed in, which elevates the drink from your typical fast food coffee to an almost luxe treat.
Something that stood out to me was that I was able to taste the coffee – the pumpkin taste wasn’t totally overwhelming.
I tried the Dunkin’ pumpkin latte next. It cost much less than the PSL did, coming in at $US3.91 after taxes.
The pumpkin latte at Dunkin’ is actually a regular latte with a pumpkin-flavored “swirl.” The brand introduced the swirl concept back in 2014: it is essentially just a couple of shots of intensely flavored syrup.
Originally, hazelnut and vanilla were the only swirls available, but they have expanded their offerings to include pumpkin.
I thought the Starbucks coffee was sweet, but the Dunkin’ latte might have put me in a sugar coma.
The Dunkin’ coffee was slightly less caloric, with a still-high calorie count of 340.
However, it was sickly sweet to the point of being almost undrinkable. And it was very clear that the drink was flavored with syrup, not real pumpkin. However, since this drink doesn’t claim to be a pumpkin “spice” latte, I can’t fault it for lacking those flavours, though they were sorely missed.
However, this latte was significantly cheaper, for roughly the same amount of coffee.
Overall, these two drinks are good for different things — if you’re looking for a true pumpkin coffee, Starbucks is the way to go. But if you prefer sweeter coffee, or aren’t looking to spend $US6 every day, Dunkin’ should be your choice.
Both coffees are definitely on the sweeter side – black coffee aficionados, these pumpkin-flavored lattes are not for you. But if you’ve got a substantial sweet tooth, both of these will more than satisfy your cravings.
Dunkin’s coffee is cheaper, but sweeter and more syrupy, with a powerful aftertaste. If you’re looking for more of an actual pumpkin flavour, and don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, Starbucks is the better option.
- Read more:
- Starbucks is releasing a Pumpkin Spice Creamer so you can make your favourite fall drinks at home
- 21 pumpkin spice-flavored foods every fall lover needs in their kitchen, from liquor to peanut butter
- Starbucks is rolling out Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, and it reveals how climate change and a fundamental shift in the chain’s strategy are transforming the menu
- Why Americans are so obsessed with pumpkin spice everything, according to science
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