The pumpkin hype is real, and it’s happening again. As soon as the calendar flips past Labor Day, the white clothes go away and every shade of orange comes out, as we all start dreaming in pumpkin. Or at least pumpkin spice, the iconic autumn combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sugar that is basically the reason for the season. Of course, Starbucks’ famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) is the torch-bearer of caffeinated squash drinks. It debuted in 2003 to almost instant obsessive success, and only recently (2015) got a makeover that included the addition of actual pumpkin puree. (Previously, the drink was simply made with espresso, steamed milk, and the spices that evoke pumpkin pie.)
Lest you think Starbucks has the ultimate corner on the pumpkin patch, however, we rounded up seven delicious fall-ternatives from other coffee chains around the country. All treats, no tricks, and even a little bit of actual pumpkin thrown in the mix.
Real pumpkin is the name of the game at Caribou Coffee, whose Pumpkin Pie Latte is probably one of the simplest and most straightforward seasonal options. A little bit of pumpkin-based sauce goes into the cup with fresh espresso, steamed milk, and a sprinkling of warm and slightly spicy grated nutmeg. It’s not the flashiest fall drink, but it does a gourd job of fulfilling that craving.
There’s no reason not to stay cool just because it’s fall: This Southern California–based chain knows that just because it stays hotter longer in its home base doesn’t mean Los Angelenos should miss out on the great pumpkin. The drink starts with a smooth cold-brew coffee base, doctored up with a touch of vanilla, pumpkin, and cool almond milk.
Nothing goes better with Au Bon Pain’s seasonal pumpkin croissant (filled with pumpkin sauce and topped with cinnamon sugar) than a drinkable pumpkin pie. A little cinnamon is sprinkled on top of this chain’s hot-or-cold drink (which features pumpkin pie spice but no gourds were harmed in the making), and it’s perfect for decadent dunking.
While this awesome-sauce canned confection is only available online, it’s absolutely worth the shipping and handling. Each can features a perfect blend of the company’s Nizza espresso with frothed milk, spiced pumpkin, and just a touch of sugar. Bonus: Since it comes in a can, you can shotgun it before raking the leaves or during halftime.
This Midwestern chain sweetens the deal with maple syrup and actual pumpkin, as well as the warm baking spices that bring out the warmth in the in-house roasted coffee. The maple brings a depth and dimension to the sweetness that other company’s plain sugar or even HFCS can’t even begin to touch.
Come for the pumpkin-spice cake doughnuts, stay for the brain freeze. This chilled-down latte features pumpkin-pie spice blended with crushed frozen coffee and milk, topped with whipped cream and more spices.
Not the latte type? No problem. Trader Joe’s has been pumping out pumpkin to the beat of a different drummer since 2011, which means you can get your baking-spice on at home without having to change out of your Nightmare Before Christmas pajamas.
Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.
Related Video: Pumpkin Spice – So Much More Than a Latte
Header image courtesy of The Coffee Bean.