Pumpkin Spice Latte Throwdown: Starbucks Versus McDonald's

Which PSL is the best?
Which PSL is the best?
Photo by Molly Dunn

I have always been a fan of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL, from Starbucks. It's the first seasonal beverage to arrive after a summer of iced coffees and frappuccinos, and it always gets me in the spirit of fall.

However, this fall, another contender might be giving Starbucks a run for its money with its version of a pumpkin spice latte. Yes, my friends, the PSL challenger I speak of is McDonald's. Crucify me all you want, but McDonald's knows how to make a good cup of coffee. The McCafé drinks (hot and iced) always satisfy my caffeine cravings. No, it's not the best cup of joe, but it sure is a good one.

After seeing a commercial for the new McDonald's pumpkin spice lattes, I decided to find out who makes the best PSL: Starbucks or Mickey D's.

Let's start with the famous Starbucks rendition. A PSL from the coffee giant is everything you hope for in an autumnal coffee drink. As soon as you bring the cup close to your mouth, you're hit with a sensational waft of pumpkin spices -- the true scent of the season. Even before you take a sip, you can't help smiling -- the aroma of the coffee alone is comforting.

But the best part is the first sip. It's a combination of thick and sweet whipped cream topped with powdered pumpkin spice and smooth, creamy steamed milk perfectly blended with the signature espresso, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. All in all, this drink is pure bliss.

Now let's talk about the McDonald's version. On first whiff, the McDonald's McCafe PSL is strikingly similar to the one from Starbucks. The aroma of spiced pumpkin wafts from the lid's opening, but once you take a sip, you know it's not Starbucks.


The lack of whipped cream and steamed milk in the McDonald's PSL makes the Starbucks version superior.
The lack of whipped cream and steamed milk in the McDonald's PSL makes the Starbucks version superior.
Photo by Molly Dunn

McDonald's, unfortunately, does not top its PSL with whipped cream or extra pumpkin spices, and it seems as though the "latte" is not as creamy as the one from Starbucks. In fact, there is no froth from steamed milk at all in the McDonald's drink.

Even though the McDonald's PSL does not look as appealing as Starbucks' version, the taste is not what you would expect. The drink is smooth and slightly creamy and has more of a coffee taste than the one sold by the "mermaid." So if you want a stronger coffee drink, go to McDonald's. But if you can't live without the creaminess of the steamed milk, then go to Starbucks.

The drink from McDonald's is most certainly the cheaper of the two -- $2.39 for a small PSL from McDonald's, compared to $3.95 for a tall one from Starbucks (approximately the same liquid volume).

But if the approximate increase of $1.50 means nothing to you, then buy the one from Starbucks. McDonald's has good coffee, but it needs to learn how to make a real latte.

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