Are PSLs Dying? I Wanted to Try 5, but Could Only Find These 3
The pumpkin spice latte — or PSL — has reigned supreme over autumn since first emerging coffee shops back in the early aughts. Before the autumnal espresso-charged beverage's meteoric rise to fame, "pumpkin spice" was merely known as a blend of spices, typically including nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. But the popularity of pumpkin spice has spread like wildfire since the early aughts, evolving into a phenomena so huge that the term "pumpkin spice" was even given its own entry in Merriam-Webster.
This all began when former Starbucks Director of Espresso Peter Dukes decided it was time to bring pumpkin spice to coffee cups everywhere. According to Food & Wine, Starbucks actually tested possible recipes for its now famous PSL by literally pouring espresso shots onto pumpkin pies. However, after much experimentation, the perfect PSL was born in 2003 — and since then, Starbucks has reportedly sold over 600 million of them, according to CNN.
While Starbucks may have originated the mainstream pumpkin spice latte as we now know it, many other coffee and fast-food chains have since followed suit. Dunkin' debuted its Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte in 2020, successfully slinging this fall drink ever since. Krispy Kreme, Panera, and McDonald's have also jumped on board the fall fanatic train with their own versions of the PSL, in addition to many small, local cafes also brewing up their own pumpkin concoctions. Today, you can even find bottled PSLs in grocery stores.
Given all the hype around PSLs, I figured what better way to celebrate fall than with a taste test of the most popular PSLs from coffee chains. I set out to try different PSLs at Starbucks, Dunkin', Panera, Krispy Kreme, and McDonald's. However, as I tirelessly searched around New York City for these five fall beverages, I ran into a huge roadblock: I could only find three!
Where are all the PSLs?
It was easy to get my hands on some pumpkin spice lattes. But despite what I saw on menus and have had in the past, PSLs at Panera and McDonald's were nowhere to be found.
McDonald's is a bit of a mystery because their McCafe Pumpkin Spice Latte is easily found on their website. Yet, while on the prowl the perfect PSL, I walked into multiple McDonald's locations, and none of the employees had any idea of when — or if — the pumpkin spice latte was going to drop this year.
As for Panera, it released the Cinnamon Crunch Latte in 2021 alongside its version of the PSL. But when Panera released the Cinnamon Crunch for the second time — the PSL was nowhere to be found. According to Thrillist, when the fast-casual bakery-café conducted a survey to measure the popularity of PSLs, it reportedly found that 60% of those who participated believed that pumpkin spice latte was "overrated" and on its way out.
While I was saddened I couldn't get a PSL from McDonald's or Panera, I decided to continue my search and treat myself to a PSL taste test since it doesn't seem like Starbucks, Dunkin', or Krispy Kreme were putting a halt to the PSL trend anytime soon. Here are my results, in order of least favorite to favorite.
Third Place: Krispy Kreme
I'll preface by saying that I actually really liked all three lattes, so there isn't a real "loser" here. That said, Krispy Kreme was my least favorite simply because it was the sweetest of them all. And while none of the pumpkin spice lattes I tried should be considered healthy by any means, the sugary, sweet taste was a bit overpowering. Also, the only customizations you're really able to make to a Krispy Kreme PSL are the size, your milk choice — going from 2% to skim milk, and getting whipped cream versus not.
Runner Up: Dunkin' Donuts
Dunkin' has been in the pumpkin game for a little while now, and their fall season confidence shows. When I walked in, I was overwhelmed by the amount of autumnal options; from the Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte to their New Nutty Pumpkin Coffee to even a Blood Orange Refresher. I also stared at the Maple Bacon Breakfast Sandwich for what seemed like 10 minutes before talking myself out of buying one.
Their Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte (PSSL) comes in second place because of the intensity of its pumpkin flavor. While still being alarmingly sweet, I at least was able to taste a bit of pumpkin. This was less so the case with the Krispy Kreme latte.
Dunkin' also implemented a $3 Medium PSSL promotion through September 13, 2022, which caught me off guard — the medium cost less than a small! This was another reason I put it in the second spot and beat out Krispy Kreme, where my small order cost around $4.50.
The Winner: Starbucks
The classic Starbucks PSL came in at No. 1 for a few different reasons: To start, I truly do think their pumpkin flavoring is the best. But one of the defining characteristics of the Starbucks PSL is how easy it is to alter the creation to cater toward toward your individual desires. You can choose the size, exactly how many pumps of pumpkin syrup you want, how much espresso you prefer, which type of milk (including nondairy options), whether you want whipped cream, and even the type of sprinkles you want on top. It's the ultimate customer customization experience.
Overall, I was a bit saddened by the reality that maybe pumpkin spice lattes really are slowly dying out. While I'm sure will always remain a true fan of the PSL, it also seems like a sign that it's time for me to branch out and try the other fall-flavored lattes around town.