Official Pumpkin Spice Latte Tournament 2022

Bella Inman

          In September when the leaves start to change and the weather gets cooler, there’s only one thing that matters: pumpkin spice lattes. International coffee chain Starbucks may be the place in mind when you hear the words pumpkin spice latte (PSL for short), but is Starbucks the best place in Bloomington to enjoy the spicy, warm, nutty flavors of fall?

    As an avid coffee drinker and lover, I felt urged to truly test all of the PSL’s I could get my hands on and put them through rigorous tests in order to find the latte that catches the flavors of fall the best. To keep things consistent, all lattes competing are made with whole milk, iced, and size small. The seed of the latte in the tournament will be based on popularity of the coffee shop and how long it has been in Bloomington.

    The drinks in the PSL tournament are judged on three criteria. First and most important is the pumpkin spice flavor. I’m tasting for the flavor of both pumpkin and pumpkin spice, which is a spice made of mostly cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and ginger. These two flavors should be clear and balanced in the beverage. 

    Next is the flavor of the espresso. This is more of a personal preference, so it isn’t as important in the final score. I will judge espresso based on strength, bitterness, and what notes I can taste in it. 

    Lastly is the latte’s overall score. This is the combined pumpkin spice and espresso score as well as taking into account factors such as the price (all prices are after tax), extra additions on the latte, and the presentation. 

#8 seed- Parlor Doughnuts

    The coffee in Parlor Doughnuts is more of a hidden gem on this list. I have previously enjoyed their lattes in the past, so I was hoping to really enjoy their PSL. The flavor of this one is faint, but the pumpkin spice flavoring is there. I wish there would’ve been a stronger pumpkin spice flavor, so they get a 3.75/10 for pumpkin spice. As for espresso, it was too strong of a flavor in this drink. The espresso at Parlor is very smooth and compliments a sweet doughnut well, so it gets a 6.5/10. This latte cost $5.53, so it’s leaning on the expensive side. Overall, I would give this PSL a 4.5/10.

#7 seed- Poindexter

    Poindexter is the cafe on the ground floor of the Graduate Hotel on Kirkwood. The flavor of this latte was unfortunately not pumpkin spice at all. It was very sweet with a vanilla flavor, but it was more of an artificial vanilla which I am not a fan of. Since there was absolutely no remanence of pumpkin or spice, it is a 0/10. The espresso in this one (although it was hard to taste through the sweetness of the vanilla) had a nice sweetness to it and had some spice to it. The espresso gets a 4/10, I think the sweetness of the espresso and flavoring together was too much for me. The small latte at Poindexter is also $5.13, but smaller than other smalls I purchased. Overall, it gets a 2.5/10.

#6 seed- Morgenstern’s

    Morgenstern’s cafe is another newer spot to grab coffee. The flavor of this PSL isn’t strong enough to call it a “pumpkin spice” latte. The latte mostly tastes like vanilla, there’s a hint of another flavor in it as well but I wouldn’t describe this flavor as sweet. I rate the pumpkin spice a 2/10. The espresso in this latte is stronger than some of the other lattes, and it is also very sweet and almost fruity. It isn’t bitter or overpowering at all. This latte was $5.13 which is about the median price of all the lattes. I would give this espresso a 6/10 just because it didn’t stand out among the others. Overall, Morgenstern’s gets a 5.5/10. 

#5 seed- Crumble

    Crumble’s PSL was another latte that I was very excited for. This latte had a pumpkin spice flavor that was more spicy than pumpkin. It had so much spice in it that it was difficult to drink due to the overdone amount of spice. When the drink settled, there was a large layer of spices (presumably a pumpkin spice blend) at the bottom of the cup. When it was stirred together, I was getting large chunks of spice in my throat that was getting stuck. Due to this, the pumpkin spice rating is a 1/10. Like Soma, the espresso in this drink was the best part. It had a sweet flavor and was nutty and warm. When I wasn’t getting spice chunks in my mouth, this was a good latte. It was $4.81 for a small, which is the least expensive local latte. Overall I give Crumble’s PSL a 2/10, the price and espresso raised the overall score but I wouldn’t drink this one again.

#4 seed- Soma

    I had high hopes for Soma’s PSL since last season it was my favorite. However, the PSL this year didn’t meet the expectations I had. As for the pumpkin spice flavor, there was none. I have to give this a 0/10 for the flavor. The espresso in the latte was the saving grace. It had a very smooth and non-bitter flavor and I really enjoyed it. For espresso, it gets an 8/10. I wish I could rank this one higher, but there just unfortunately was no pumpkin spice in it. A small pumpkin spice latte was $5.30. Overall, this latte gets a 3/10.

#3 seed- McDonald’s

    The McDonald’s latte I knew was either going to be a wonderful surprise or disgusting. The pumpkin spice in the drink was a thick sauce that settled at the bottom. There definitely was a pumpkin flavor, but it was hard to taste through the overwhelming flavor of artificial sugars. The taste of sugar stayed in my mouth to the point where I used a different PSL to wash it down. Because of this, the pumpkin spice rating for McDonald’s is 2/10. This latte was made with iced coffee not espresso, and I truly didn’t taste much coffee in the latte, so the espresso rating is a 1/10. Another note is that there was a slimy beige substance on the outside of the cup which was quite unappetizing. A small latte was $3.99, which is the cheapest in the tournament so the overall score for this latte is 3/10.

#2 seed- Dunkin

    Dunkin isn’t as known for their lattes, but with it being newer to Bloomington, I figured this one would be a good contender. As for the pumpkin spice flavor, it was pleasantly surprising. I could clearly taste pumpkin in the drink, and there was a good amount of a cinnamon flavor. The pumpkin spice rating on this drink is a 7.5/10 since it could be a little bit more strong. When ordering, the barista asked me if I “wanted to add a shot of espresso.” This threw me off because I thought all lattes were made with espresso, so upon researching I learned that Dunkin makes their “lattes” with iced coffee and espresso is extra. After adding a shot, the latte’s espresso flavor reminded me of Folger’s coffee and it wasn’t too strong so it gets a 6/10. It also came with whipped cream and caramel drizzle toppings. A small latte with espresso came out to be $7.00, so that reduces the overall score to 6.5/10. 

 #1 seed- Starbucks

    The Starbucks PSL is the classic latte I think of. This latte is a dark orange color and has whipped cream and pumpkin spice toppings. The pumpkin spice flavor in this latte is very strong, there is a clear flavor of both a sweet pumpkin and the warmth of cinnamon and allspice. For the strong flavors, I give the pumpkin spice a 9.5/10. This latte comes with Starbucks’ classic pike roast espresso. It is a woody flavor and may be an acquired taste for non-Starbucks drinkers, but I enjoy the amount of bitterness and give it an 8/10. Overall, this latte gets an 8.75/10 for it’s strong flavor of pumpkin spice, and I really enjoyed the pumpkin spice topping that added extra flavor. However a small latte costs $5.67 which is a little on the higher end, so points were deducted for that.

Final Thoughts

    At the beginning of my reviews, I was hoping to find a latte that would knock Starbucks out of the #1 spot. I figured everyone knows about their PSL already and wanted to give a different coffee shop a time to shine. But I learned that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The Starbucks PSL encompasses all of the fall feelings and flavors into a drink, and it is perfect to sip on an autumn morning. Although the price is slightly higher compared to others, it’s the price you have to pay to get the perfect pumpkin spice flavor.