Pumpkin spice and everything nice: Where to find the best fall lattes

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Kate Riley

The bourbon spice latte from Five and Hoek had an intricate heart design.

Kate: I have been an avid coffee lover for years, and I will continue to be one until the day I die. My favorite time of year is when the seasons change and I get to try every single seasonal drink known to man. The excitement is pretty comparable to Christmas morning for me.

As a recently certified barista (not to toot my own horn), I look for a lot of technicalities when trying new drinks. However, the best fall lattes should make me feel excited about the season to come. In my opinion, the perfect fall latte will make me feel comfy and cozy and instantly put me in the mood to go to a pumpkin patch.

Kira: Ever since I was two years old with my first sip of coffee, I have been hooked. It was used to bond with my family, get a jump start to the day, or serve as a pick me up when I was down. Though it may have stunted my growth, I have almost two decades of latte indulgence under my belt, meaning I know good coffee when I taste it. 

A proper fall latte should have a good espresso to milk ratio and be true to the story it’s trying to tell. Simply put, if I’m drinking a cinnamon pumpkin latte, I feel like I’ve been whacked with autumnal spirit. 

The best fall lattes: ranked

Owl and Lark: Pecan spice latte

Kate: This latte was extremely delicious; the coffee was good quality plus the pecan flavor was concentrated in the toppings, so it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. The flavor was a bit more like brown sugar, but I wasn’t complaining. I want nothing more than to drink this latte on Thanksgiving morning, although sadly,I’ll be making dozens of drinks per hour because of the Bonfield Express.

Ranking: 1st

Kira: This latte set the bar extremely high. Aesthetic wise, it was adorable. Sprinkled with raw sugar and decorated with latte art, this pecan latte set the scene upon arrival. It harbored a kind of smoky, sweet flavor I’ve never had in a latte before, being closest to a brown sugar-y taste. The coffee flavor was present but not overpowering, mixing well with the sweet undertones. Though there was a glaring absence of pecans, the experience of this drink was well worth it. 

Ranking: 2nd

Owl and Lark: Pumpkin pie latte

Kate: This flavor of this latte was very reminiscent of molasses as well as pumpkin pie. Just like the pecan spice latte, most of the pumpkin flavor was concentrated on the topping of the latte; you could smell the pumpkin pie flavor before you even tasted it. Drinking this latte felt like I was walking through the holiday section of a Michaels craft store, which perfectly suited the seasonal pumpkin pie theme.

Ranking: 3rd

Kira: Upon first smell, I was reminded of the ginger molasses cookies my family makes around Christmas. To say the least, I was intrigued. The top was loaded with pumpkin pie spice, congregated on one side of the mug. The actual flavor was not very strong, and reminded me vaguely of an autumnal candle. Besides light notes of straight pumpkin, this latte was a soft whisper into the void of fall coffee. 

Ranking: 4th

Five and Hoek: Bourbon spice latte

Kate: This was a high quality latte that had a bit of an afterthought of bourbon and nutmeg, but it didn’t give me the same fall vibes like some of the other lattes. The drink was very espresso forward, which is how I like my lattes, but if you like a bit more milk this probably isn’t the latte for you. Nonetheless, it was still a very good drink.

Ranking: 5th

Kira: Though the concept was intriguing, this latte tasted very generic in terms of fall spirit. It’s quality coffee, topped off with a little cinnamon, accompanied by a smoky, nutty flavor. All in all, it was significantly more bitter than I was expecting. It doesn’t really scream seasonal, but that shouldn’t ward off anyone from trying it. If you’re a legitimate coffee person, one who enjoys refined “adult” flavors, this one is for you. 

Ranking: 5th

Five and Hoek: S’mores cappuccino

Kate: This cappuccino truly tasted like melted s’mores, which I thought would be a good thing, but my nostalgia of the treat and the actual quality of the cappuccino were at war. With the high-quality espresso that you tend to find at indie coffee shops, I expected high-quality ingredients like a toasted marshmallow or artisan chocolate, but all they did was melt Hershey chocolate and toss a few mini-marshmallows on top of the cappuccino. The high-quality cappuccino just didn’t pair well (in my opinion) with the quality of the s’more ingredients. 

Ranking: 6th

Kira: Upon hearing this concept drink, I was instantly intrigued. A throwback to those campfire nights with gooey marshmallows and good friends but in a latte? Sign me up. However, my complaint is very similar to Kate’s: the execution was underwhelming. I would have thrown a Hershey bar into my coffee home. The only standout features were a thicker texture and occasional mini marshmallows. Though a quality roast, the overall experience was average at best. 

Ranking: 7th

My Half of the Sky: Toffee nut latte

Kate: The toffee flavor of this latte was present but light at the same time with a bit of a buttery-walnut aftertaste. This drink seemed more espresso forward and leaned towards a flavored coffee than it did as a toffee-flavored latte. It had the right qualities to be considered a “fall drink” but seemed to just fall short of the proper seasonal requirements.

Ranking: 7th

Kira: To me, this latte smelled like a straight Werther’s Original. The toffee, caramel taste was blatantly apparent, and was a little darker than expected. There were some nutty undertones, I’m guessing nutmeg or walnut, that complimented the latte well. This was not your typical fall drink, but for me, was a welcomed surprise as far as variety goes. 

Ranking: 6th

My Half of the Sky: Pumpkin spice latte 

Kate: I sincerely wished that I could place this drink higher up on this list because it was truly delicious. However, I ordered a pumpkin spice latte and the drink I received was clove-flavored milk with absolutely no espresso located in the beverage at all. I kept on thinking that if I got past the weirdly thick layer of milk-foam, then I would finally reach the coffee underneath; but the pumpkin flavored milk never ended.

Ranking: 9th (sadly)

Kira: The fact that I have to put this near the bottom guts me. Smelling like clove and with a thick, foamy texture, I for sure thought this one would be a knockout. However, with the missing espresso, it really was just festive milk. With the addition of actual coffee, I’m sure this would be higher, but for now it must reside on the low end of our list.

Ranking: 9th 

Peet’s Coffee: Pumpkin chai latte

Kate: To me, chai lattes always remind me of fall, so the addition of pumpkin just rounds out the drink. The latte isn’t too sweet since there’s already a bit of sweetness from the chai and pumpkin, which was perfect. The chai latte was a very pleasant surprise after drinking so much espresso. 

Ranking: 2nd

Kira: I’m going to be honest, I’m very particular about chai. Growing up as an avid espresso drinker, it’s been something I’ve had to acquire a taste for. This Peet’s latte, however, was delicious. Not too bitter and not too sweet, this drink welcomed me into a pumpkin patch with open arms. Its calming, smooth texture is perfect for any fall day and is a nice alternative for die hard coffee fans. 

Ranking: 3rd

Peet’s Coffee: Honey harvest latte

Kate: I really liked this latte because it reminds me of those crisp autumn nights, especially with the smokey flavor of the tea-based syrup that’s included in the latte. The honey adds just the right amount of sweetness and the smokey profile of the latte evens it out. Overall, the quality is excellent and has a good espresso flavor.

Ranking: 4th

Kira: There’s something about this latte that I just can’t shake. It’s a smooth, slightly sweet experience that is warm and inviting. The honey flavors remind me of golden sunshine through falling leaves, and compliments the actual coffee flavor nicely. I’m not a fan of super sweet coffee, and this cup did not disappoint. I would definitely make this my regular order, at least until the holiday flavors roll around. 

Ranking: 1st

Starbucks: Pumpkin Spice latte

Kate: The classic PSL from Starbucks has always reminded me of a caramel macchiato, except the sugary caramel flavor is replaced with sugary pumpkin. This latte had a lot more vanilla flavor than I remembered, so kudos I guess. Although the flavor is more rounded than I remember, the sweetness of the drink is still overwhelming to me. 

Ranking: 8th

Kira: A staple of the fall experience, it would be wrong to not include the PSL on this list. In the first sip, I was slapped with what could only be described as sugar overload. It was every kind of fall flavor imaginable in a single beverage. The blend of the drink itself has changed since years past, and though it is lighter on the pumpkin, it is still the sickly sweet latte I remember from middle school. The spice seasoning on top was appreciated, but everything else was a little too overwhelming for me. 

Ranking: 8th