During the past week in Lincoln, the average temperature was about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a far cry from the average 78 degree-weather that is supposed to accompany the approach of autumn. Whether the climate crisis has finally affected girls who wanna wear chunky sweaters or Mother Nature just forgot to turn down the heater, one thing remains a reliable indicator of the approach of autumn — the pumpkin spiced latte.
Every coffee establishment has come out with its own version of the popular drink, and that begs the question — who has the best PSL? With the myriad of trendy coffee shops in Lincoln, here is a comprehensive ranking of both the best and worst pumpkin spice lattes found in the Lincoln area. Hopefully with the recent passing of the autumnal equinox, the weather will take a hint from the coffee shops and figure out what season it actually is here in Nebraska.
Scooter’s is a great quick stop for sugary, sweet, blended coffee drinks. The coffee tends to be vaguely smokey and weak, and this egregious lack of flavor is compensated with ungodly amounts of creams, syrups and sugar. However, they have nabbed themselves an exalted place amongst coffee establishments for their superior cold and blended drinks that are ready at a moment’s notice.
I don’t know why I had such high hopes for their version of the pumpkin spiced latte. When the barista handed the coffee to me, the only way to describe the drink is that it’s pretty. The buck stopped there as far as quality.
As I sucked the drink down, the most horrendous blend of synthetic pumpkin syrup and sugar hit my palate with the force of a Category 5 pumpkin pie hurricane.
The point of getting flavored coffee is not to disguise coffee as a milkshake, but to accent the subtle flavors found within the particular brew of coffee. This remains true with a PSL. Scooters’ flavoring was reminiscent of synthetic nutmeg and caramel being passed off as pumpkin with a pump of hazelnut syrup. The espresso was so concealed by the amount of additives that, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that there wasn’t any in the drink.
All and all, this PSL might have been the worst coffee drink I’ve ever had, thus winning itself the worst ranking on my list of five.
4. Crescent Moon
With its cozy interior of brick and distressed upholstery, Crescent Moon Coffee has become a go-to study spot for many Lincolnites. They are known for their open mic nights, creative seasonal drinks and art showcases.
I love Crescent Moon for the aesthetic, but I have yet to find a coffee drink that I genuinely love. For the most part, it’s because the coffee isn’t as strong as I would like, and I haven’t tried enough of their drinks to settle on a favorite.
Their PSL measured up to my mediocre expectations— better than Scooter’s, but not by much. The coffee is thankfully less sweet, and the traditional making of the latte makes it a much more enjoyable experience than the synthetic taste of Scooter’s.
However, the flavoring for the pumpkin tasted almost like plastic. It tasted something like the smell of Play-Doh, but liquified, steamed and pumped into my coffee. Probably due to a nutmeg imbalance, the strange flavor was overspiced in such a way that it clashed with the actual coffee.
The quality of the latte itself was good, but because of the terrible flavoring, it remains a low man on the totem pole.
3. Dunkin’ Donuts
If it hasn’t been glaringly obvious yet, I consider myself a bit of a coffee snob. So, when I ambled up to the resident “cheap coffee” option located in the Adele Coryell Hall Learning Commons, my pride may or may not have taken a hit.
When I received my small, hot cinnamon and sugar pumpkin latte, I wasn’t as morbidly disappointed as I was with the previous two coffee options. While the uber-sweetness of the drink was overpowering to a certain degree, the pumpkin flavor used was marginally less distracting. The cinnamon flavoring and spice balanced the pumpkin out to create a sort of nutty, candied taste that wasn’t inherently bad. The espresso wasn’t very detectable, but the superbly balanced flavoring made it a decent experience.
The cinnamon and sugar pumpkin latte at Dunkin’ Donuts was definitely an unexpected surprise. Because of the interesting and somehow delightful taste of the drink, I could see the Dunkin’ version of a PSL being an enjoyable drink for people who enjoy a strong cup of joe and also those that regularly enjoy candy-coffee milkshakes. With it’s sweetness and subtle flavor, it is conceivable to imagine enjoying this drink on a cool autumn night while studying in the Learning Commons.
Certifiably, Starbucks was the first major advertiser of this popular fall drink. Dozens of memes and jokes have been made at the expense of this coffee conglomerate about “basic white girls” ordering the iconic pumpkin spice latte.
While Starbucks doesn’t contaminate their latte with such deplorable flavoring found at Scooter’s or even Crescent, they do remain subject to oversweetening the drink with poor flavorings of pumpkin and a lack of complimenting notes of cinnamon or nutmeg.
The point of a pumpkin spice latte is not to be assaulted with the entire inside of a jack-o’-lantern. It is to enjoy the soft flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and actual pumpkin spice found in grocery stores all across America.
Very few coffee houses have gotten this memo, so the bar remains pretty low. This being said, there is a level of nostalgia that Starbucks has over a lot of the other coffee shops. Going to Starbucks and ordering a PSL on a rainy autumn day, clutching said drink with cold hands on the way to class and boisterous laughs with friends at local shops are all part of the unique experience of the Starbucks PSL.
This level of nostalgia, coupled with the slightly stronger espresso used at Starbucks and the more heady pumpkin flavor used, earns this classic rendition the runner-up spot. While it is far from my favorite, it remains a nostalgic hot beverage necessary to the full autumnal experience.
It is safe to say that The Mill is a staple, of sorts, of Lincoln culture. On game days, Husker fanatics can be seen traversing the streets of the Haymarket with those familiar rigid cups in hand. During finals week, that cafe is crowded with all sorts of stressed out college students.
This being said, I have never actually enjoyed a cup of coffee here. The beans they use tend to not have a smooth finish and the hardened flavor doesn’t please my palate very often. This is the only grievance I have had with this establishment, and I will admit I have returned on multiple occasions with hope in my eyes that maybe a cup of coffee I order will be tolerable.
This was the mindset I had when I waltzed into the Haymarket Mill on P Street one sunny and hot weekday afternoon. Ironically, I was pleasantly surprised. The latte was flavorful, but in an organic way that aided to the coffee’s flavor. There were hints of cinnamon, other spices and even a touch of pumpkin puree. Everything about the drink tasted authentic.
Taking this into consideration, the nondescript and classically simple way the PSL was made at The Mill allowed it to nab the number one spot in this ranking of pumpkin spice lattes. The next time the temperature dips below 60, I would highly recommend a calming walk to your local Mill to order their seasonal pumpkin spice latte.