Starbucks Pumpkin Spice season has returned! While Starbucks coffee is popular year-round, the beginning of fall rings in the incredibly popular autumn and holiday seasons for the mega coffee company. Returning this year are the classic pumpkin spice drinks that have captivated us for nearly two decades, as well as a few newcomers.
When it comes to autumn flavors and scents, there are typically two kinds of people. It’s the pumpkin pie and spice team on one side of the aisle, and the apple cider and apple pie team on the other side. And this year, Starbucks is very shrewdly catering to both sides. No longer will apple lovers have to settle for a pumpkin spice latte. The new Apple Crisp Macchiato has arrived and is absolutely bursting with apple orchard and dewy morning vibes.
So we decided to try all the fall offerings from Starbucks this year, from pumpkin to apple, hot to frozen, drink to food. It’s all here, and you might be surprised which fall items came out on top and which ones fell flat. Of course, fall is just getting started, so you’ve got a lot of time to try all of our suggestions. Before we get started, we’d also like to note that "pumpkin spice" actually refers to the blend of spices used in pumpkin pies: cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg. Now, It’s time to break out your big slouchy sweaters and head to your closest Starbucks to celebrate the beginning of fall!
11. Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte
This might be a controversial statement, but the iced pumpkin spice latte is probably the least inspired way to enjoy the PSL. It’s got the same exact ingredients that the regular spiced latte has, so it’s hard to wrap our heads around exactly what was so off-putting. We think part of it had to do with the whipped cream not melting into the drink the same way it does with the warm latte, or maybe it’s because the baking spices are noticeably more bitter when they’re cold instead of warm and rounded. But after a few sips, we were so grossed out that we didn’t want to continue. If we do try it again, we’ll probably skip the whipped cream and ask for an extra pump of vanilla syrup to hopefully bring the whole thing together a little more.
With that said, we don’t want to lead you to believe that pumpkin spice lattes are bad. This is the 19th season the pumpkin spice latte has graced the menu board at Starbucks — so it’s obviously got to be doing it for a lot of people. The PSL is also available in several formats, but the iced latte is markedly less enjoyable than the hot and blended Frappuccino versions, which rank much higher on our list.
10. Pumpkin scone
It’s hard not to get excited looking at this pumpkin scone in the case at your local Starbucks. It’s got a thick white frosting topping obscuring much of the scone itself, which if the iced lemon loaf from Starbucks has taught us anything, means it should be delicious. Unfortunately, whatever you thought this scone was going to taste like, it probably doesn’t. Scones aren’t known for being the most impressive breakfast item, they’re basically sweet biscuits that are often dry, crumbly, and best dipped in your coffee or tea. This scone is no exception to that stereotype.
Even though pumpkin is clearly listed on the scone’s ingredients list, it doesn’t have much of an overwhelming pumpkin flavor. As a matter of fact, it’s got more of a gingerbread vibe to it. Which makes sense given that it’s also made with a little bit of molasses, along with the classic baking spices. Strangely enough, we think if you were eating this scone and drinking an iced PSL, both items would be enhanced by the addition of the other. But we can’t really recommend going that route given how disappointing they are on their own. Instead, we’d suggest ordering one of the other fall treats. Or if you really want a scone specifically, both the blueberry and petite vanilla bean scones are nice, if not seasonal.
9. Iced Apple Crisp Macchiato
Before going any further, we must insist that you stir the iced apple crisp macchiato. If you just grab it and take a sip. you’re going to be confused, and probably a little disgusted. It tastes like coffee, burnt spices, and not sweet at all, because all of that caramel apple goodness you were looking forward to is at the bottom. Grab a straw to stir this together if no coffee stirrers are available. In the picture here, you can clearly see the separation of ingredients. Swirling the drink around alone will mix the coffee and milk together, but the syrup will sit stubbornly on the bottom of the cup.
Once you get it all stirred together it’s a nice treat, but very sweet. Some people think the pumpkin spice latte is sweet, and we’d have to respectfully disagree. Especially compared to the new apple crisp macchiato, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you’ve ever enjoyed the caramel macchiato from Starbucks (where the syrup also sits at the bottom of the cold version cup). If you like the caramel macchiato, this is a similar fall upgrade, but the candy apple flavor is very intense. It’s not caramel apple, but an apple brown sugar syrup that’s used in the drink, although the spiced apple drizzle on top does have caramel. Altogether, this new drink is good, but overwhelmingly sweet, and a little fake tasting. We would have been satisfied with half the apple syrup.
8. Apple Crisp Frappuccino
A step up from the iced apple crisp macchiato is the new apple crisp Frappuccino. If you’re a Frappuccino fan, there’s a good chance you’re into icy cold, sugary drinks that aren’t especially coffee forward. While the ingredient list includes both coffee and coffee syrup, it’s hard to pinpoint the coffee flavor in the sea of sugar and apple coming your way. If you like candied apples in the fall, this is really going to appeal to you. And we think it’s a step up from the iced apple crisp macchiato because all of the ingredients are smoothly blended together for you.
The spices and apple flavors are a little more subtle in this drink, likely because they’re blended with so much ice and milk. The more subtle coffee flavor is also fine, because we weren’t entirely sold on the coffee and cider-style mashup yet. The Frappuccino comes with whipped cream, but it’s not an entirely necessary addition if you’re looking to cut some superfluous calories. But we enjoyed the whip as well as the spiced apple drizzle on top. This isn’t a drink for coffee lovers, but that was never really the Frappuccino’s target audience anyway. And since Starbucks went ahead and launched the line of fall drinks at the end of August when it’s still plenty hot in a lot of places, it’s nice to have a frozen drink option for those of us looking forward to fall, but still living in summertime.
7. Apple Crisp Macchiato
The apple crisp macchiato isn’t a visually flashy drink, it just comes in a regular Starbucks cup without much more decoration than a little spiced apple drizzle on top of the thin foam layer. When you lift the lid, the warm smell of spiced apple comes wafting out of the cup, which is sort of nice, but not hot apple pie nice. More like a scented candle, fake apple kind of nice. The smell absolutely sends a signal to your brain preparing you for hot apple cider.
But then you take a sip, and you’re drinking coffee. Apple cider coffee. And it’s unexpected. So much so that at first we couldn’t tell whether or not we liked it. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet at the first sip, like some of the other iterations. And the warmth is welcoming, making you imagine a misty fall morning. It’s not an entirely natural flavor combination, but it’s one that grows on you if you’re open to it. As you keep sipping, the syrupy sweetness builds. Once again, we’d probably ask for fewer pumps of the apple brown sugar syrup, or maybe skip it altogether and just have the spiced apple drizzle do all the sweetening work. This version of the new apple crisp flavor is the one most geared toward coffee lovers, although we think coffee purists will probably be turned off by the new apple crisp macchiato.
6. Casi Cielo Whole Bean Coffee
The Casi Cielo beans from Guatemala aren’t new on the Starbucks fall menu — in fact, this is the 17th year it’s been available, strictly in the fall. But there are a few things that make it a special roast. According to Starbucks, it’s only harvested once a year, which makes its yearly appearance such a celebration. It’s also grown in Antigua, a high-altitude volcanic region in Guatemala, known for its Italian Rennaisance-style architecture and urban design (via UNESCO).
The coffee itself is a comfortable medium roast that will satisfy most people. It’s not overwhelmingly bitter, but strong enough to perk you up first thing in the morning. The official description describes "notes of bright Meyer lemon and cocoa nibs", so we thought that it might have a slightly acidic taste to it. But the bright notes are well balanced with the rounded cocoa notes, for an all-around enjoyable cup of coffee. It’s also nice with milk and sugar if that’s how you like your coffee.
It’s also worth noting that will this is one of Starbucks’ seasonal offerings, it isn’t fall-themed and doesn’t include any pumpkin, apple, or spices. Although if you’d like to use this coffee as a base for an at-home copycat Starbucks recipe, we think you’ll be happy with your choice.
5. Pumpkin Spice Latte
Let’s take a second and talk about all of the commotion surrounding the pumpkin spice latte. There are the people who wait impatiently for it to hit stores every year and mourn the day it comes off the menu at the end of the season. Then, there are the people that shame PSL lovers for having basic tastes and would rather die than take a sip of it, whether or not they’ve ever actually tasted it. Both opinions are pretty extreme, and frankly, we think both camps are overreacting.
Lattes are classically comforting. Steamed milk is poured into a shot or two of espresso and topped with a little foam. For people who like a little sweetness, the vanilla latte is a staple on the Starbucks menu. The company then brilliantly built on the popularity of the vanilla latte, added pumpkin syrup instead of vanilla, and topped the latte with pumpkin pie baking spices. Whipped cream is included, but can be skipped if it’s not your thing.
The thing is, pumpkin isn’t that overpowering of a flavor. There’s a reason so much sugar and spices are added to pumpkin pie. It’s festive and seasonal (in theory), which is the whole point of the PSL. Accordingly, the pumpkin spice latte is neither overpowering, nor is it life-changing. It’s comforting, a little nostalgic, and makes you think about pie — even if it’s still too hot to turn your oven on. And that’s perfectly fine with us.
4. Pumpkin Spice Blended Frappuccino
To be honest, the pumpkin spice latte gets so much attention that we didn’t even register there was a Frappuccino version of it until we read the menu. But of course there is! And just like the original, there’s an army of fans out there claiming that the PSL Frappuccino is the best version of the flavored drink, and making copycat recipes at home.
Like the other Frappuccino drinks Starbucks offers, we can’t really classify this as a coffee drink. Several Frappuccinos aren’t even made with coffee. They’re more like creative coffee shop-inspired milkshakes and the PSL version is no exception. While it does contain coffee, it’s much closer to a sweet pumpkin pie flavor than any of the other PSL offerings. The baking spices are apparent, but not overwhelming, and perfectly accent the creamy sweet pumpkin drink.
Like most of the Frappuccinos Starbucks whips-up, this drink goes down alarmingly quickly, especially if you’re drinking it at the tail end of summer before the temperatures have begun to drop. It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so, and we love the hint of spice. As far as we’re concerned, this is the best way to enjoy the pumpkin spice latte out of all the options. Consider it a little Halloween treat for adults. If you want to skip the coffee entirely and just embrace it as a pumpkin spice milkshake, there’s also a pumpkin spice crème Frappuccino that’s made without the coffee and coffee syrup.
3. Fox Cake Pop
You might be surprised to see that two of the top three spots in this ranking are not for drinks, but food from Starbucks. While coffee is great, we actually think these pastries are so good that we’d go to Starbucks just to get them, whether or not we were in the mood for coffee. Yes, they’re really that good.
We spotted the fox cake pop while waiting in line to order a slew of pumpkin-flavored coffees and were immediately smitten with its adorable little face. Cake pops have been on the Starbucks menu since at least 2010, and remain one of the popular quick snack options. The birthday cake, chocolate cake, and unicorn cake pop flavors are all still currently available. But the addition of the little woodland fox had us giddy like this was the first time we’d ever seen a cake pop. We ordered several.
The cake itself is super moist and delightfully yellow cake-flavored. At first, we thought the chocolate coating might be infused with Thai tea because of the flavor and the color, but an arduous scan of the ingredients list didn’t turn up any mentions of the sweet orange tea. Speaking of the ingredients list, don’t read it. Most of the ingredients are completely normal, but there are a ton of them listed, and there’s no need to worry about it or let that dissuade you from ordering one of these cake pops (in our opinion). Just eat one and be extremely happy.
2. Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin
The pumpkin cream cheese muffin isn’t exceptionally cute like the fox cake pop is, but wow… it’s good! You might just casually grab one for breakfast with your coffee on the way to work, but once you start eating it you might forget about your coffee entirely and fixate on how amazing this muffin is. We weren’t even going to pick one up originally, but luckily for all of us, we did. It’s incredibly mois, which is perfect because a dry muffin is such a disappointment. It’s got a lovely sweet pumpkin flavor, and is generously spiced in all the warm and comforting ways. It’s basically pumpkin cake in a muffin cup, and we are here for it.
As far as the cream cheese center goes, it’s about what you’d expect from a cheese danish. It’s creamy when you bite into it, but not liquidy. It’s not too sweet, but slightly cheesy, and there isn’t much of it. The cream cheese doesn’t extend down into the muffin and will probably be gone in the first two bites unless you ration it. If you’re not into the cream cheese, it’s easy to pull out and toss.
If you’re the kind of person who likes spiced carrot cake and pumpkiny things, but mushy pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving doesn’t really do it for you, this muffin is going to rock your world. Forget the PSL, we hope this muffin stays on the menu all year.
1. Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew
Maybe you’re one of those people that tends not to go for the pumpkin spice latte because you think it’ll be too sweet or have too much going on — but you’re still curious what all the fuss is about. The pumpkin cream cold brew is probably going to be a great entry point for you into the world of pumpkin spice. The drink is primarily cold brew, which isn’t weird at all. The cold brew is flavored with vanilla syrup that isn’t at all overpowering, but if you typically drink your coffee without sugar, it’s fine to skip the syrup. Finally, it’s topped with a pumpkin cream cold foam that’s luxuriously creamy and delicately melts into the cold brew while you sip it, and a tiny sprinkle of pumpkin spice.
The cold cream foam is fantastic in its normal format, but is incredibly enjoyable flavored with a hint of pumpkin. The drink genuinely tastes like a coffee drink, not a coffee-flavored sugar cocktail, which has even the staunchest PSL haters giving it a shot. According to Starbucks, this is the third year that the pumpkin cream cold brew has been on the menu, and we think it’s the best contender to knock the OG PSL off its pedestal. Finally, a drink coffee purists and pumpkin spice lovers can agree on.