As we enter September, food and beverage brands are wasting no time telling us summer is officially over. And although I’m being dragged into this next season kicking and screaming, there’s a small perk to shifting from summer to fall: autumnal flavors. Like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear, the cult fans of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte can finally celebrate the return of this essential fall beverage, as well as a suite other pumpkin-flavored additions to the menu.
Today, August 30, Starbucks has rolled out its annual lineup of pure fall vibes, per a press release sent to The Takeout. The autumn 2022 menu includes the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato and a new Owl Cake Pop, but due to the popularity of the PSL, it’s a menu dominated by pumpkin. We tasted all of this year’s pumpkin stuff—two pumpkin drinks and three pumpkin pastries—and ranked them from worst to best below.
The Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew consists of cold brew coffee and vanilla syrup topped with a pumpkin cream cold foam and pumpkin spice topping. Unfortunately, this iced drink is not worth trudging through the fallen leaves for.
While the cold foam does provide a strong, sweet hit of pumpkin spice essence in those initial sips, the foam is slurped up pretty early on, leaving you with straightforward vanilla cold brew. Not to say that vanilla cold brew isn’t tasty; it just doesn’t shout “fall” as loud as it could. I’m still sitting in the pumpkin patch waiting around for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.
The Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin was the most disappointing food item on the fall menu, not because it didn’t taste delicious (it did) but because, in terms of standout fall flavoring, it was underwhelming. The muffin is made of a spiced pumpkin cake with a cream cheese center filling and chopped pepitas.
The combination sounded like the most promising of the lineup, and it was definitely moist and light, but was only slightly spiced, bordering on bland, especially in comparison to the other food items.
The cream cheese added some flavor and textural variety to the muffin, but the filling didn’t actually go as deep into the muffin as I thought it would. When I sliced into it, the cream cheese looked like it mostly sat at the top. The seeds that topped the muffin failed to add much crunchy texture to offset the caky nature of the muffin itself.
The Starbucks Pumpkin & Pepita loaf, though very emblematic of fall, is actually offered year round at the coffee chain. The loaf is made of spiced pumpkin bread and topped with pepita seeds. Sound familiar?
Yes, in terms of ingredients, texture, and flavor, the loaf and muffin look almost identical, minus the muffin’s dollop of cream cheese. The loaf is dense and very moist, which makes it more filling than the muffin, and the bread is more heavily spiced too, evident from its deeper color. If the loaf had some cream cheese on it, it would rank even higher on the list.
Though the loaf is a strong contender for being a fall favorite, it’s offered all year long, taking away some of the excitement.
I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed the scone. Starbucks straightforwardly describes this offering as “a spiced pumpkin scone topped with sweet icing—a marvelously flavorful fall treat.” Perhaps its simplicity is what makes it stand out from the rest of the pumpkin offerings.
The scone was closer to bread than cake (unlike both the loaf and muffin). This made for a less chewy bite, but it was still moist enough to enjoy. The icing was also just sweet enough and thin enough to balance with the earthier pumpkin spice profile of the actual scone. This is the exact type of treat I would want to bite into alongside a steaming cup of cider in a pumpkin patch. I might even wear flannel. That’s how much this scone feels like fall.
We simply must admit that sometimes you just can’t beat the original. The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, the PSL, reigns supreme in its encapsulation of the most flannel-draped fall enthusiasm—it’s an embodiment of everything we look forward to this time of year.
With a table full of half-eaten pumpkin items, this was the one I went back to the most. I returned for one sip after another, and before long I had finished it off; I left more than half of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew sitting in its cup.
At this point, my body is filled with too much fall, and August isn’t even officially over. I don’t want anything pumpkin spiced for at least a few weeks, otherwise I risk drowning in autumnal vibes. Then again, I can hear that Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato calling my name. It would probably pair great with a Pumpkin Scone.