Aside from marriage equality, affirmative action, and tater tots, nothing is so polarizing as the pumpkin spice latte. Those who love it do so with the fervor of tween Justin Bieber fans; those who hate it can't imagine any worse crime committed to an espresso shot.
And though I like the idea behind the pumpkin spice latte--hey, I like pumpkins, and spices, and lattes!--the complete adoration totally baffles me. What do these people drink the rest of the year? This is clearly a drink too far removed from anything that resembles actual coffee for true fans of the beverage, and too caloric for the nonfat, no-whip, sugar-free vanilla crowd. Is it the seasonality that turns people on? The reference to Thanksgiving's favorite dessert? There's not even any actual pumpkin in there!
In honor of it being October 1, I decided to give in to the signs of fall and actually order this sought after espresso drink, from the place that put it on the map: Starbucks. And for the sake of comparison, I stopped by Peet's and Forza as well--a pumpkin spice latte crawl of sorts around Green Lake. (This was perhaps my worst idea ever.) Here's what I learned, besides to never do this again:
Sweet Jesus, all I can taste is sugar. There's espresso in there somewhere, maybe, but I sure can't taste it--this is actually a blessing in disguise, since I generally think Starbucks' subpar espresso tastes something like the bottom of an ashtray. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are vying for attention, but there's mostly just syrupy sweetness and a weird chemically aftertaste. I guess it's fine for a dessert; I'll take a snickerdoodle instead, thanks.
Forza Coffee Company
I'd rather be ordering a glass of wine from the bar. There's an anything-goes sort of vibe here: my barista offers me an extra espresso shot she's got (how long was that sitting around?), eyeballs the amount of Da Vinci Gourmet Pumpkin Pie Sauce she pours in, and steams the milk to approximately the temperature of the sun. With so many inconsistencies, I still appreciate that the pumpkin spice latte here is far less sweet than Starbucks' version, with a subtle cinnamon smoothness.
Peet's Coffee & Tea
Starbucks' was too sweet, Forza's was too hot--I'd like to say Peet's pumpkin spice latte was juuust right; maybe it was, and this just isn't my drink. I like the vanilla undertones in this version without the cloying sweetness, and there's a pleasant nutmeg thing going on, but again, the beverage is lacking its most fundamental ingredient: the smooth, caramely flavor of properly poured espresso shots. I'm probably missing the point, but I think I'll just stick to pumpkin pie--the kind you eat with a fork and not drink through a plastic lid.