The pumpkin spice latte was new and exciting when Starbucks introduced it into the public consciousness in 2003, but now it’s as old and boring as junior high algebra homework. Although there’s no shame in ordering the occasional PSL, it would be a serious shame to focus on one fall flavor for three months. Instead, consider these other phenomenal seasonal options from coffee chains like Dunkin’, Peet’s and Dutch Bros.
It’s no secret that Dunkin’ is trying to steal away Starbucks’ business, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the legendary Massachusetts-based brand released new fall drinks that feel awfully familiar. To wit: The Apple Cranberry Dunkin’ Refresher (gee, where have we heard that name before?). It’s green tea mixed with apple-cranberry concentrate, though you can’t taste the green tea at all. Adding coconut milk turns the drink into a bright purple beacon perfect for posting to Instagram, and it shockingly tastes as tropical as it looks.
But the real star is the new-to-Dunkin’ Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, a Starbucks knockoff with a whipped cream-like cold foam, loads of pumpkin flavor and 13 more grams of sugar (43 grams total) than the competitor’s version. Would you expect anything less from Dunkin’?
Sure, Caribou has the hookup if you want a pumpkin drink, with its well-balanced Pumpkin White Mocha featuring melted white chocolate chips and a Pumpkin Iced Crafted Press with less than 10 grams of sugar (in a medium). But if you want to mix things up, look no further than the Bousted Apple Blast, which tastes like a liquified caramel apple poured over ice. It tastes a bit more like apple juice than apple cider, but its unique flavor profile and the addition of guarana and ginseng make it a worthy drink to help you power through a post-lunch slump.
If you’ve never been to Dutch Bros, imagine a drive-thru coffee shop that plays energetic dance music while friendly baristas fulfill your caffeine dependency ― oops, coffee order. Some of the drinks are as fun as the vibes, though the milkshake-like Pumpkin Pie Dutch Frost feels like a limited-time dessert that failed to catch on at Sonic and the Pumpkin Chai is a sugary mess. Instead, order an Iced Snickerdoodle Breve, which saves you the hassle of dunking a Snickerdoodle into a glass of milk, or the Iced Cinnamon Swirl Oat Milk Latte, a coffee-inflected knockout that’s like lapping up the cereal milk from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
If you haven’t had the new Apple Crisp Macchiato yet this season, what are you waiting for? (OK, maybe you’ve been ordering the delicious Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, a new favorite that outsold the PSL in 2020.) The revelatory Apple Crisp Macchiato combines flavors of caramelized apples, brown sugar and espresso. It’s worth taking a second to inhale the drink before sipping it. Even though “apple” is prominent in the drink’s name, the espresso is not forgotten, melding beautifully with the apple pie notes. Just make sure to avoid the iced version — unless you find the idea of apple slices sitting in a pool of cold milk appetizing.
In my mind, no chain is better at balancing espresso with additional flavors than Peet’s, which has been perfecting coffee drinks since the ’60s. Take the Iced Maple Latte, which could have ended up tasting like chugging a bottle of maple syrup. Instead, it tastes like actual coffee with a dash of maple and loses none of its creaminess when you sub oat milk for dairy. If you crave even more maple notes, the hot version is a real crowd-pleaser. Sadly, the Pumpkin Oat Foam Cold Brew is a good idea in theory, but the foam melts too quickly into the drink to be savored. The true standout is the Horchata Cold Brew Oat Latte, which smells incredible and has cinnamon sugar notes that pair exquisitely with its espresso. Hot or iced, it’s a winner.
Here’s a fun fact: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was acquired by Jollibee, the Filipino fast food chain beloved for its fried chicken. Regardless of any corporate machinations, CB&TL is still ingrained in the fabric of the SoCal coffee scene. And it’s easy to see why, with a strong fall lineup of drinks that includes a Pumpkin Iced Blended drink (its version of the Frappuccino) and a satisfying Pumpkin Cold Brew. But no chain has nailed the flavor of Speculoos cookies so well in a coffee drink, which makes the Cookie Butter Latte — combining brown sugar cookie and chocolate notes from the espresso into one heck of a package — one of the finer fall drinks out there.