Pumpkin latte showdown: Starbucks vs. McDonald’s vs. Dunkin’ Donuts

It’s that time of year when people go nuts for pumpkin everything. With McDonald’s entering the pumpkin latte game, it was time for a showdown between the big three.



Let’s be clear. I like my coffee like Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes his holes, black. I don’t mess around with lattes, frappuccinos, or ridiculous strings of adjectives. I’m a man of fake science though, and if I was going to talk about pumpkin spice lattes, I was going to do so with authority. I ordered a small PSL from Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, and in addition to caffeine overload, I also came up with an order of excellence that couldn’t have been more clear.

McDonald’s is a master of limited-time offerings, so it’s surprising that it took them this long to get in the fall drink game. They came in guns blazing though by offering their Pumpkin Spice Latte for $2.49 ($2.75 w/ tax). McCaf√© is notorious for making pretty good drinks at a significant discount to the yuppies 2nd favorite store, Starbucks, and that’s exactly what they did with the PSL. The flavored syrup highlighting pumpkin spices (some combination of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves) is spot on. It’s subtle but effective, and nothing like the pumpkin bomb I expected it to be.

Starkbucks is entirely responsible for the pumpkin latte craze, selling hundreds of millions of them in just a few months each year. They’ve somehow convinced the world that it’s not fall unless you’ve had a pumpkin spice latte, and people are happy to accept that as fact. The Starbucks PSL involves cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, but the real kicker is pumpkin pie spice sprinkled atop the whipped cream. Your nose gets right in there when you take a sip, and it truly smells like fresh pumpkin pie. It might just be heaven in a cup. It also cost me $4.14 after tax though. I might take up smoking instead to save some money.

Finally, there’s Dunkin’ Donuts. Their coffee is a surprise hit for many people, and I can be counted among those that are runnin’ on Dunkin’. They don’t hype their pumpkin spiced latte as much as the others, with it looked at as just another flavor option. It’s on the in-store signage but only as part of a full array of pumpkin themed items. That might be because it’s not very good. The pumpkin flavored seemed off, with a combination of weak spices and bitter coffee making for a sub-par experience. It was only $2.09 ($2.31 w/ tax) though, so I couldn’t be too disappointed. Part of the problem also could have been that it was 5pm, and everyone just wanted to go home.



After a full day of frothy pumpkin drinks, I’m shocked that any of these places sell as many pumpkin spiced lattes as they do. I can’t imagine someone wanting more than one in a month. It’s definitely a dessert beverage more than it is a cup of coffee, and I rarely see people walking around eating dessert at 9AM.

Were I to drink them aggressively, I would opt for McDonald’s over Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Starbucks is far and away the best drink, but it’s a price point that I couldn’t justify paying with regularity. McD’s is not far behind in terms of quality, so the lower cost takes the pie. If you hate money though, go right ahead and treat yourself.

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