Fall simply wouldn’t be the same without pumpkin spice lattes (PSL). These prized beverages seem to be the center of attention this time of year and the recipient of much affection from those in the coffee community. So VALLEY was dying to know who does it better— Starbucks or Dunkin’? In honor of the longstanding Starbucks-Dunkin’ debate, VALLEY conducted a taste test this week to determine which coffee chain makes the best PSL.
For reference, VALLEY ordered a regular pumpkin spice latte with whole milk at Dunkin’ and a standard pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. With no customizations or additional requests, each coffee chain put up their original takes on the classic fall beverage. Here are the results.
While this would have been a bit obvious without the help of VALLEY’s little experiment, Dunkin’ was the clear winner based on price alone. The cost-effective coffee chain gives more PSL for your penny. A medium PSL from Dunkin’ costs a mere $3.49 before taxes. On the other hand, if you would like to order a PSL from Starbucks, be ready to sink almost an additional $2.00 into your drink. A grande PSL from the Seattle-based coffee company costs a grand total of $5.25 before taxes. Claiming to be the OG itself, the Starbucks PSL clearly demands a price premium over its competitors. However, this round goes to Dunkin’.
Quality of Pumpkin Flavor
With high hopes for a flavorful seasonal beverage, VALLEY was sadly disappointed by Dunkin’s execution of pumpkin spice flavoring. To start, VALLEY found Dunkin’s pumpkin swirl syrup to be slightly artificial tasting and lacking a genuine pumpkin spice flavor. The syrup was overly sweet and so sweet in fact that it was difficult to detect a difference between liquid sugar and pumpkin. For this reason, Dunkin’s take on the PSL seemed more reminiscent of a standard latte than a seasonal menu item.
In contrast, Starbucks delivered a subtly sweet and true to flavor PSL, and the proof is in the color! Starbucks’ PSL is slightly orange, thanks to the company’s pumpkin sauce, which contains (guess what?) actual pumpkin puree. In addition, the presence of pumpkin flavoring was spot on. Pumpkins were clearly in the spotlight of this coffee drink and were not covered up by additional sweeteners. Starbucks will take this round for the win.
Presence of Espresso
Masked by sweeteners and generous helpings of steamed whole milk, the espresso component of Dunkin’s latte also seemed to be missing. Whether the milk to espresso ratio favored the milk or the espresso simply wasn’t brewed as strongly, Dunkin’s PSL did not have a strong coffee base. Adding additional shots of espresso would do wonders for this drink!
Starbucks on the other hand continues to prove itself in this category. With a clear coffee flavor in every sip, you know you’re drinking espresso with the Starbucks PSL. The milk to espresso ratio is far superior to that of Dunkin’s, so Starbucks will take the win for this round as well.
Whipped Cream or Not to Whipped Cream
Surprisingly, Dunkin’ chose not to put whipped cream on its pumpkin spice latte. Instead, the coffee chain opted for a thick layer of milk foam, which was a nice added touch., although standard for all of their lattes. In comparison, Starbucks topped of their version of the PSL with a small swirl of whipped cream and an extra dash of pumpkin spice seasoning—containing ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove according to the company’s website. While both toppings were complimentary in their own right, Starbucks’ extra attention to detail combined with the added creaminess of the whipped cream gave them the advantage in this category.
Bonus Points for Presentation
Finally, VALLEY was presently surprised by Starbucks’ overall delivery of the PSL. Serving up their seasonal beverage in holiday themed cups, Starbucks gets some bonus points for presentation as compared to Dunkin’, which presented their PSL in a standard company cup.
The Final Verdict
After sampling and evaluating each alternative along different characteristics, VALLEY is here to report that the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte remains the victor against Dunkin’. With genuine pumpkin flavoring, rich espresso, extra dollops of whipped cream and pumpkin seasoning on top, the Starbucks PSL is crafted thoughtfully and delivers a superior fall beverage experience. While the Starbucks PSL is more expensive than Dunkin’s alternative, VALLEY is here to tell you that it’s worth every penny. Next time you’re looking for your pumpkin spice fix, definitely give the Starbucks PSL a try.