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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Barista Katy Woodhouse holds a pumpkin mocha breve at The Coffee Garden in Salt Lake.
Taste test: We’re falling for pumpkin spice lattes

Taste test » A look at eight versions of the seasonal beverage around Salt Lake City.

By Michael McFall

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Oct 08 2013 12:13 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

It might not be everyone’s cup of coffee, but a pumpkin spice latte — or PSL — has become a fall staple, from the fast food giants to truck stops to neighborhood coffee houses. Here is an informal taste-test.

At a glance

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Read reviews of four more places that serve up pumpkin spice lattes on Michael McFall’s tumblr page by clicking here.

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Beans & Brews, $3.61 (16 ounces)

The Coffee » They call it a "pumpkin spice fritalia," which, as best I can tell, is a made-up word. Fear not, it is a pumpkin spice latte.

After a worthy first third, the seasonal flavors took a backseat to the coffee and milk, and didn’t return in full until the bottom third with a sweeter combination of coffee, cream, whip, spices and gourd. This might be a little disappointing for those used to the top-to-bottom experience of a Starbucks PSL. But a dynamic drink keeps the accents new and surprising, allowing the last third to stand out. And it’s a unique one at a cheaper rate than some coffee houses.

Location » There are three Beans & Brews in Salt Lake, depending on the mood: 268 S. State, for bustling downtown; 906 S. 500 East, the leisurely park spot; and 1953 W. California Ave. I have only been to the first two, and their respective foot traffic aside, both were decorated with the calm, dark and earthy tones I appreciate from a coffee shop.

Starbucks, $4.04 (12 ounces)

The Coffee » I’m pretty sure Starbucks did not invent the pumpkin spice latte, but in the 10 years since the green siren started selling it, the company’s version has become a cultural norm by which other PSLs are judged — and for good reason.

The first thing that strikes you is the artistry, if you bother to take the lid off. The swirled starburst of whip cream, sprinkled with fall spices, looks the way Starbucks wants you to feel walking around with a cup of their product: stylish and confident. And side-stepping hollow pretension, an easy trap, it backs that style up with substance.

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The pumpkin syrup is the star and it shoves everyone out of the way to get front and center in the mix. The Starbucks PSL trades balance for emphasis, and why not? You did order a pumpkin spice latte.

Starbucks PSL has a top-to-bottom consistency in its flavor, which is true — if you go without whip, which I tend to do to mind my health. But if teeth and calorie count be darned, the whip is quite rewarding. Not only does the PSL get sweeter as you go along, but as the sugary iceberg melts, the extra spices that had been clinging to it lose their footing and slip into the latte. The steady infusion makes the drink dynamic, introducing subtle new tastes until, by the end, the bold pumpkin is the loudest member of a full fall orchestra. Unlike the dynamic quality of the Beans & Brews, the crescendo only builds as you dive deeper into Starbucks’ cup.

And with each cup, you’ll dive deeper into poverty.

There are more expensive PSLs, but they do not share Starbucks’ ubiquitous availability. When the autumn craving hits, chances are Starbucks is your nearest proper coffee house.

Location » It’s Starbucks, you know what’s up. But at the risk of spoiling a favored sanctuary, let me clue you in on something you may not know if you did not attend the University of Utah or spend long nights in its hospital: The Starbucks in its lobby is open 24 hours a day. Despite its singular hours, it’s only been sparsely to moderately filled with people the many times I’ve been there, which has often been around or after midnight.

McDonald’s, $2.98 (12 ounces)

The Coffee » McDonald’s might seem the most ordinary and uninteresting place imaginable to try a pumpkin spice latte. You would be right, except it’s a newish seasonal offering for the fast-food behemoth.

Unfortunately, the McDonald’s PSL, like the rest of its food, is as ordinary and uninteresting as you might imagine.But if you’re traveling this fall, the golden arches could prove the only fast-food option at a given rest stop. An acceptable (if boring) PSL within reach is better than none.

Location » It’s Mickey-D’s. You don’t need me to explain Mickey-D’s to you. But not every location has the latte, if you want to try it. The McDonald’s at The Gateway food court in Salt Lake City did not have the new offering, but the McD at 210 W. 500 South did.

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