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Starbucks PSL v. Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew: Which Is Better?

Have you ever experienced palate fatigue before 10 am? I’m used to my tongue getting destroyed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at afternoon wine tastings, but sipping back and forth between a Starbucks Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte and a Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew to try to decide which is “better” annihilated my taste buds like never before.

Pumpkin Spice Latte mania hit Starbucks earlier than ever this year, returning to stores on August 27. Now, I’m no PSL snob. I usually get at least one a year when the season rolls on in, though, thanks to living in SoCal and being from New England where iced coffee is Queen, I never get the hot version.

This year, Starbucks added a new cold Pumpkin Spice beverage to their arsenal: Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.

While the Pumpkin Spice Latte is made of espresso, milk, and pumpkin sauce, the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew is a combination of cold brew sweetened with vanilla syrup then topped with a thick layer of pumpkin cream cold foam and a sprinkle of actual pumpkin spice.

But we know the real reason you’re here: which one is better?

It’s honestly hard to say.

Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew

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Image: Justina Huddleston/SheKnows. Justina Huddleston/SheKnows

When I got the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, the pumpkin cold foam had already started to blend with the cold brew below, making it taste more like a regular PSL than I was expecting. The foam itself is thick, creamy, and luxurious, with a definite pumpkiny sweetness. The cold brew below wasn’t overly sweet, though if I were to reorder, I think I would skip the vanilla syrup altogether — the contrast between the roasted coffee flavor and lightly sweetened foam would be highlighted in a more interesting way. The only downside to the foam is that it left a strange film in my mouth after sipping on it.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

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Image: Justina Huddleston/SheKnows Justina Huddleston/SheKnows

Then there’s the iced Pumpkin Spice Latte. While I do think the PSL has gotten better over the years (it’s made with real pumpkin now, for starters!), it has some issues. Four pumps of pumpkin sauce, the standard for a grande PSL, is just too sweet for my tastes, and the milkiness of the beverage totally overwhelms any actual espresso flavor. It’s not an unpleasant drink, but the flavors at the forefront are milk and sugar with a very, very vague essence of nutmeg and spices, making it taste more like a dessert drink than something that actually resembles coffee (especially when you get whipped cream on top!).

The difference in price between the two drinks was minimal — at my location in Los Angeles, a grande Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew was $4.45, and a grande iced Pumpkin Spice Latte was $4.95.

So, which is better, the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew or the Pumpkin Spice Latte?

If you usually stick to regular coffee or unsweetened espresso drinks but want to try something festive, I’d recommend the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. Ask them to reduce the vanilla syrup so the cold brew isn’t quite so sweet.

If you usually take your coffee with cream and sugar and want to get into the fall spirit, then go for a classic iced PSL. It’s really not a bad drink if you aren’t expecting something with a coffee-forward flavor.

Haters gonna hate, but sometimes you just need to pretend that autumn is actually on its way, even that means chugging a seasonal iced drink in the 90-degree parking lot of your local SBux surrounded by bougainvillea and wearing a tank top. Ahem, not speaking from personal experience or anything.

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