So, in recent years, I became a coffee drinker. Usually, I just have it black with nothing in it, I only have something “frou-frou” on rare occasions. A purist, if you will. Anything made with syrups and milk is generally not even on my radar. Though, there is one drink that has garnered my interest. Despite our better judgement, as well as our triple-digit-weather, Starbucks officially says it’s Fall due to the commencement of their annual PSL craze.
That’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, to the layperson.
Just like my recent Donut/Doughnut adventure, I decided I needed an educated opinion on the subject. As a black coffee
addict drinker, I was skeptical of how good one of these drinks could be, but I decided to go in with an open mind. In the end, I tried 7 different drinks. I decided that, when ordering the drink, I wouldn’t request anything special. I wanted to get what, according to the barista, was “A Pumpkin Spice Latte” without influence or interference. I ordered the medium size when given a choice. So, let’s begin!
I decided to begin with Starbucks; I’m not sure if they built the bandwagon, but they for sure strapped rocket boosters to it and made the craze take off. I figured they could provide a baseline to judge all Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
It was….well…I like to stay positive, so let’s say it wasn’t completely offensive. The cold whipped cream at the top of the drink was a satisfying contrast with the warm latte. However, after finishing the drink, I couldn’t shake this nasty aftertaste I can only describe as “mild coffee brewed from old sweaty socks.”
I was ready to quit, but then I thought of you guys (you loyal readers, you! Hi mom….mom? Are you there? ) and found the strength to persevere. Perhaps PSL’s really are delicious and Starbucks is just the Americanized Taco Bell version?
Peet’s Coffee and Tea:
So, at first I thought I was at Coffee Bean because I can’t read good. I was halfway through my drink when I looked at my cup and saw Peet’s staring back at me. Weird. I didn’t intend on coming here, but I just went with it. I consider them somewhat comparable to Starbucks, anyway, so it’s good to get a taste of the competition.
Better. Adequate. I was disappointed there was no whipped cream, but overall the drink was better. I braced myself for the “brewed socks” flavor, but it never showed up. The pumpkin “spice” was definitely noticeable, but not overpowering. It was good, I’d never get it again, but it wasn’t bad.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf:
Even though I had intended on coming here the night before, I played it cool and the barista never knew the difference. Whew, that was close! Or maybe he did…is a male barista still a barista? Baristo? oh no….he knew…all along…panicking….don’t panic….ok….composure!
I was surprised at the option of receiving the drink in a glass mug. Pumpkin Spice Latte in a glass mug? Why–yes! Yes I would! I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it, but after the first sip of this drink…wow! I felt a sensation come over me, like huddling next to warm fire on a cold evening (despite being outside in the heat). Is this is? Was this the feeling everyone gets? Did I finally understand? I sat for a moment, an unstoppable grin on my face, enjoying a small moment of pure bliss.
Unfortunately, the feeling was fleeting and lasted for less than half the drink. And yes, I was savoring it, not chugging it. The flavor quickly become bitter and overbearing. The spice was visible through the glass so I had been concerned about it settling in the bottom. Despite my best efforts of continually stirring, I walked away with a frown and smacking my lips, trying to get rid of the bitterness. I almost considered getting a black coffee to chase it with.
Damn…so close. If I ever get one from here again, I’ll try to only drink half of it, or share it with someone.
Lavender and Honey:
Lavender and Honey is a shop that I’d describe as….now, I try to save this word for when it is truly warranted, but…cute. It’s a very cute shop. I guess you could call it a boutique cafe? They have lots of coffee drinks as well as a “Toast Bar” and a sandwich counter. Plus, most of the girls working there are pretty cute…I mean…not to me, but one could…they…I could see how….awkward….
Haha, anyway, I was surprised it wasn’t packed (which it normally is) so I got somewhat lucky. I ordered the Pumpkin Latte and it was good, if not somewhat plain. Technically, I don’t think this one counts….It was a latte, I could detect a slight pumpkin flavor, but was overwhelmingly normal. To their credit, they were fairly upfront, calling it Pumpkin Latte and not Pumpkin SPICE Latte. So yeah, I was disappointed, but it was my own fault. Again, another case of me being unable to read good (yes, I’m saying that way on purpose). Overall, it was a great latte and I would get it again, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
You know…man…sometimes…just don’t judge me, OK? To be fair, this drink was priced about 1/5 of all the other shops and smelled phenomenal. It was also exceptionally tasty, which is also where the problem lies. It’s more sweetener than coffee, and even then, tasted strongly of French Vanilla. Their latte machine claims that they have all these different flavors, but I’m not actually convinced any of them are different. I suspect they have a “Sweet Latte Syrup” flavoring that they mix with a tiny bit of coffee, then rub some Pumpkin Spice (or a powder of whatever flavor it’s supposed to be) on the inside of the nozzle.
I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting. If I was on a road trip or a cross country trucker (that’s got to be one of the toughest jobs ever, by the way), I’m sure I would have loved it. However, I’m not doing any of those things and failed to finish the drink due to mild sugar shock.
This store kinda fulfills the same role as Lavender and Honey did for me, just less cute, more hipster. Plus, it’s a little larger and busier, but has to be considering it’s location in Old Town Pasadena. It’s for more serious coffee drinkers. I once went in and ordered “black coffee, please.” I’m pretty sure I head a record scratch and everyone immediately froze in their tracks. They don’t “do” that. Like I said, it’s for serious drinkers. Conoissuers, even. You have to select your roast, then they brew it into your cup with individual filters for maximum freshness. Haha, re-reading this makes it seem like I’m being critical. I’m not, you just gotta come in with your A-Game here.
Not wanting to make the same mistake as before, the Specials menu explicitly mentioned “Spice” on the PSL, so I indulged.
It was…good. I was surprised at how small the default size was, though I wasn’t given an option. Again, it was good. You could taste the pumpkin, but I never had any sort of reaction like I did at the Coffee Bean. I should mention, this was also the most expensive one yet breaking past the $5 mark.
I want to say more, but I mean, there’s…yeah. It’s a latte. With pumpkin spice. It’s good, not great. To the store’s credit, I think they only serve it to keep up with the demand or to attract fools like myself. One of their main competitors is Intelligista, a shop with a similar coffee roster but they don’t seem to serve one, at least according to their menu. I’d probably never get it again, but, as mentioned, PSL’s don’t really seem to be their scene.
The Pie Hole:
The seventh and final location in my quest. This place is somewhat unique as it’s more of a sweets/dessert co-op or food court. You can walk in and order an ice cream/cookie sandwich from Cool Haus, get something that’s actually good for you from Pressed Juicery, and in the back get some coffee and pie from The Pie Hole.
One thing I had forgot to mention from Lavender and Honey was the nice
onion pumpkin design they made with the steamed milk. Pie Hole does this as well…it’s dumb, but at the same time, I have no concept of how you’d actually do this so I can appreciate the craftsmanship/womanship here. Essentially, I’m trying to acknowledge that magic is real and is performed on these coffees.
This one…dare I say it…was the best? The best, the best Pumpkin Spiced Latte I had out of the whole bunch. Now, easy there, let me quantify this for you. It avoided the “sock-brew syndrome” from Starbucks, had better presentation than Peet’s, gave me the same “Fall Incarnate” feeling from Coffee Bean, if somewhat more mild, tasted better than Lavender and Honey, was…coffee…better than 7-Eleven, and was also bigger, better, and cheaper than Copa Vida.
I feel the comparison to Coffee Bean needs the biggest clarification…I didn’t have as strong as a reaction from the Pie Hole Latte, but it was still there. I felt it, though my grin was a little easier to conceal. Bonus points, it never got overpowering like Coffee Bean’s did.
I will say, though, this was a struggle for me to complete. I’m not made for this much sweetness. I have a beard. I eat grapefruits like I eat oranges. I wear puffy vests. I may or may not own gun(s) that are properly secured at all times. I’m a man, gosh-dern-it! It was kinda fun and it feels good to “broaden my horizons.” But…my coffee budget kind of exploded, though…So yeah, back to black coffee for me!
I enjoying this ridiculous food comparison business. Keep an eye out for the next one!