#ProjectPumpkin: The Quest To Find Fall’s Best Pumpkin Spice Coffee

ProjectPumpkinOne week. Two girls. Five Pumpkin Spice Coffees from five different shops. Only one cup can be crowned the winner.

To officially celebrate the start of fall, my good friend Rachel and I decided to embark on a tasty experiment to determine which coffee spot serves up the best pumpkin spice coffee.

Every day, for five days, we tested out pumpkin coffee at five local spots: Dunkin’ Donuts, 7-Eleven, Panera Bread, Starbucks and Wawa. We documented the experiment on Twitter using the hashtag #ProjectPumpkin and at the end of the week…we settled on a winner.

Keep in mind: this was by no means a scientific experiment. Naturally, there are more than five spots that serve pumpkin coffee, but we selected the five most popular (in our opinion). We also taste-tested a mixture of both hot and cold pumpkin beverages; no discrimination there.

Let’s see how our #ProjectPumpkin contenders stacked up:

Day 1. Dunkin’ Donuts

#ProjectPumpkin- Jessica Lawlor

Day 1: Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Iced Coffee and Pumpkin Munchkins.

Rachel:

The flavor of Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Iced Coffee is excellent. You get smooth pumpkin taste with just the right amount of spice- like they blended up pumpkin pie and somehow made it into coffee.  My preferred blend is Pumpkin Iced Coffee with skim milk. I don’t like my coffee overly-sweet, and I find that the syrup alone gives the perfect amount of flavor and sweetness to the coffee. Bonus points for simplicity in the ordering process!

Rating: 4/5

Jessica:

Ah, Dunkin’. I have to admit I was a little biased before this experiment even began because I happen to be a Dunkin’ Donuts superfan. Like Rachel, I also ordered the Pumpkin Iced Coffee, although mine had skim milk and two Splenda; I like my coffee on the sweeter side.  The pumpkin flavor in DD’s iced coffee is just right- it’s definitely there (and delicious) but it’s not too overpowering or syrupy. Oh, and major bonus points for the incredible pumpkin munchkins we also enjoyed.

Rating: 4.5/5

Day 2. 7-Eleven

Rachel:

Despite the nostalgia I have for 7-Eleven as a brand from my Temple University days, I am well aware that consistency is lacking when it comes to their cappuccino. My go-to combination is a 16 oz. cup with ½ Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino, ½ regular coffee. If the machine is having a good day, the flavor can be nice. Today, it smelled pretty good but tasted like a hint of cinnamon in watered-down coffee. This is Pumpkin Spice Coffee for people who really only care about getting a caffeine fix  but want to pretend to be Pumpkin Spice-fanatics. Sorry, Sev.

Rating: 2.5/5

Jessica:

I was definitely skeptical about trying Pumpkin Spice Coffee from 7-Eleven. With so many awesome coffee options around my work, Sev isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I need a caffeine jolt. However, I was pleasantly surprised by their coffee and my entire 7-Eleven experience. Rachel clued me in to her little trick of  ½ Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino, ½ regular coffee, so I gave that a try. We both agreed that the coffee tasted more cinnamon-y than pumpkin-y, but I happened to really enjoy it. I wanted to give Sev a 3/5 because I genuinely liked the coffee, but since this is #ProjectPUMPKIN and this coffee wasn’t very pumpkin-y, I’m going to have to go with a 2.5

Rating: 2.5/5

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Day 3: Rachel is NOT happy with her Panera Bread Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Day 3. Panera Bread

Rachel:

Well, I am sad to say that Panera Bread’s Pumpkin Spice Latte did not live up to my expectations… not even a little bit. I’m not even sure that the Pumpkin Spice flavor ended up in my cup-it just tasted like warm milk. Definitely would not try that again.

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Day 3: I may be smiling in this photo, but that Panera Bread Coffee is definitely NOT the reason.

As a side note to baristas everywhere- when people order skim milk, there is usually a reason. If you do not have it, just let me know. I was disappointed to watch the Panera employee preparing my coffee put 2% milk in without batting an eye (I did check my receipt, it said skim). I know this sounds pretentious, but when you have dietary issues that can be avoided by
drinking skim milk, you shouldn’t have to worry about sneak-attacks from employees who just do not care (or who possibly don’t know the difference).

Rating: 1/5

Jessica:

YIKES. I really did not want to have to slam any of the #ProjectPumpkin contenders, but Panera Bread’s Pumpkin Coffee was a huge disappointment. At Panera, I asked the barista to give me a little bit of the Pumpkin Spice syrup in a cup and then I filled the rest with regular coffee. I took three sips and unfortunately had to dump the rest. It was barely drinkable- way too processed and tasted like cough syrup. No, thank you.

Rating: 0.5/5

Day 4. Starbucks

Rachel:

Today I tried a Starbucks Nonfat Pumpkin Spice Latte (hot). The flavor was excellent-it had the perfect amount of spicy, pumpkin-y flavor that warmed both my hands and my spirits on a cool Friday morning! If Starbucks was not so expensive ($4.82 for a Grande), this would be a beverage I’d savor more often!

Rating: 4/5

Jessica:

I was in the mood for iced coffee on this crisp Friday morning, so I went with Starbucks’ Nonfat Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee. I ordered a tall (whoa…when did those cups get so tiny?!) but truly enjoyed every sip of my drink. The pumpkin flavor was clearly there with just the right blend of coffee. I really love Starbucks, but their coffee tastes very rich to me so I like to savor it every so often, on special occasions or on days where I really need a treat to get me going!

Rating: 4/5

Day 5. Wawa

Rachel:

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Day 5: Rachel tries Wawa’s Pumpkin Latte.

I love the variety of flavors that Wawa offers, but the pumpkin department was a surprising letdown. I ordered a Pumpkin Latte from the touch screen (meaning that an employee makes the drink, rather than pouring it yourself from the coffee station), and while it had good coffee flavor, it was not very pumpkin-y. I will give Wawa a 3 out of 5 for their variety of pumpkin offerings (cappuccino, coffee and latte) but they get points off for the weak flavor.

Rating: 3/5

Jessica:

People in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area seem to LOVE Wawa coffee, but to be honest, it has never done much for me (although I am a HUGE Wawa fan and feel bad for all you people who don’t have one near you!). I found that sentiment to hold true when testing their Pumpkin Spice Coffee flavor (from the regular coffee machine, not the touchscreen with fancier drinks). I can’t exactly pinpoint WHY I didn’t fall in love with this coffee, but it just tasted pretty average to me, especially compared to some of this week’s other contenders.

Rating: 2/5

And the winner is…

***Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Iced Coffee!***

Both Rachel and I agreed that the great flavor mixed with an affordable price (plus, Dunkin’ almost always has amazing coupons!) makes this our #1 choice! If you haven’t tried their delicious Pumpkin Coffee yet, run (don’t walk) to your nearest Dunkin’ to try it for yourself.

Happy Pumpkin Spice Coffee season!

Weigh in! Who makes your favorite pumpkin-flavored coffee? 

PS- We had so much fun live-tweeting this experiment throughout the week! Kudos to the brands who played along and chatted with us on Twitter. In case you were wondering: Dunkin’ Philly and 7-Eleven both jumped in and and joined the conversation. Sadly, Panera Bread ignored our comments on Twitter. Starbucks favorited one of our tweets and Wawa didn’t interact at all. It was interesting to see which brands “get it” and have fun engaging with their superfans!

  • Oh! A little tip – you can get a grande bold with pumpkin spice syrup for WAY cheaper than a latte. Then I top it with half and half and it’s like a PSL!

    It’d be interesting to see how the calories & sugar compare among all the the drinks, too!

    This is so fun! Such a great idea! 🙂

    • Jessica Lawlor

      You are a GEM! Thanks for this great tip- that sounds delicious.

      On one hand, I’d love to know the nutrition facts for each drink, but on the other hand, it was kind of fun to just indulge and enjoy! I’m just going to pretend that pumpkin-everything has zero calories 🙂 A girl can dream!

  • Meg

    I did a big taste test last fall, and it’s some of the most pumpkin-fueled fun I’ve had! 🙂 Now that it’s actually cool out, my hot beverages are all the tastier! My favorite is still the Starbucks hot classic, but I do love DD drinks. I got an iced coffee with pumpkin syrup from Dunkin’ last week and did not want that drink to end! I don’t know if you have an Einstein’s Bagels nearby, but their pumpkin beverages are also fantastic. I love the hot and cold versions.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I thought I remembered you doing a taste test! I’ll have to go back and search for that one. It was DEFINITELY a fun week, although I’ve taken a little break from pumpkin this week 🙂 Ohhh, I haven’t give Einstein Bagel a try- will have to do that!

  • I have a new favorite from Starbucks. A soy chocolate chai with pumpkin. I saw it was one of the barista suggestions. Nice mix. And not too chocolatey.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Ohhhhh, now THAT sounds DELISH! I will have to give that a try! Thanks for the tip.

  • I have never tried DD’s Pumpkin Spice, but will definitely have to now. I’m not surprised at your Panera score… Frankly, I don’t think they are good at making specialty coffee.
    And, yes, I miss Wawa all the time. Nothing up in the Buffalo area compares! Great job on this important research project! 🙂

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Like I said on Twitter, this comment made my day! I loved the last part…this certainly was an important research project!

      Definitely let me know your thoughts when you try DD! You’re right about Panera- I’m not a fan of their coffee, in general, so I’m not sure why I thought I’d enjoy their pumpkin!

  • Got my first Pumpkin coffee of the season yesterday from Dunkin’! Totally agree with Dunkin’ taking 1st place, and Starbucks coming in at a close second”” their drinks are great, but I visit them for special occasions only.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Glad I’m not the only one who thinks that way! Starbucks is so delish, but it tastes so rich, it feels like a special occasion treat 🙂

  • This is hilarious. I don’t even drink coffee or milk-based drinks (I’m lactose-intolerant), but I read this whole post because it was so intriguing. It’s also interesting that your scores are pretty close to one another. Y’all must be coffee soul sisters!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Glad you liked it! This comment made me so happy 🙂 Rachel and I usually hit up DD every Monday together before work, and our coffee opinions definitely seem to be pretty closely aligned!

  • Love this! I’m a huge fan of pumpkin spice coffees (and pumpkin anything, really). I’d be all over the Dunkin’ coffee if they only had soy milk! I’m lactose intolerant so unfortunately I can’t drink their coffee since they don’t have soy. I tend to stick to Starbucks for that reason. Luckily, their PSLs are really yummy!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Oh no! I’m so sad (and pretty surprised!) to hear that DD doesn’t have soy milk! You are right though; Starbucks is still a great choice!

  • What a fun project! Next up, you ladies have to do a #projectgingerbread or #projecteggnog!

    It’s so funny that you guys picked DD as the winner because I tried their pumpkin coffee (hot and iced) and was so disappointed!! I usually like their pumpkin coffee and I feel as though, this year, the flavoring has been changed and it’s entirely too sweet. (I even tweeted this yesterday).

    My personal pump-KING is starbucks’ PSL (hot or cold), although I think it has more of a cinnamon-y taste.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thank you! 🙂 It was definitely a fun project…and good idea with #projectgingerbread!

      So sad to hear you were disappointed in DD’s pumpkin coffee! It is sweet, but that’s how I like it 🙂

      Definitely love Starbucks too! Great choice!

  • Considering the only ones of these I have locally are Dunkin and Starbucks I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. Although the one Dunkin we have just opened in the past year and is a little out of the way for me, so I haven’t been yet. But having it open was big news and it was hard not to notice. Funny enough it opened right around when our first Dairy Queen opened. But given your results, I just may need to make a detour to a Dunkin in the next few weeks!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Wow! It’s so crazy to hear about what shops people have around them! Dunkin’ is my absolute favorite but Starbucks is definitely a close second. Dairy Queen is great too! 🙂 What coffee shops are popular around you?

  • This is the first year I even tried pumpkin coffee – I was intrigued by Jessica’s tweets and had to taste for myself. Starbucks has been my fave thus far with Dunkin following at a VERY CLOSE 2nd.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      So glad my tweets convinced you to give pumpkin coffee a try! Starbucks and Dunkin’ definitely came VERY close in the rankings for me, but at the end of the day. Dunkin’ felt more like an every day type of coffee 🙂 Hope you love pumpkin now as much as I do. Thanks for your comment!

  • What a cool idea! I’m not a coffee drinker but I’m afraid if I ever try something pumpkin-y, I might fall for it. ha. I’d be curious to see how a local non-chain coffee shop would stack up. Next time!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thanks Janelle! It was a really fun experiment! 🙂 I’d love to try some more independent, local coffee shops! For the sake of this blog post though, it seemed to make the most sense to try what others are familiar with!

  • If you’re ever in the Midwest this time of year, you’ll have to give Caribou’s pumpkin drinks a try! They’re my favorite of any I’ve tried because they don’t use pumpkin syrup; it’s an actual pumpkin puree sauce. I’m sure there’s still plenty of processed sugar stuff going on in there, but it tastes pumpkin-y without being too sweet! And now I’m really glad I didn’t give in to the temptation to try Panera’s pumpkin latte the other day. Thanks for the warning!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I would LOVE to try Caribou- I hear their coffee is great! Wonder where the closest one to me is…Thanks for the tip!

  • I love this idea. I have been wanting to try the Pumpkin Coffee at Peet’s (the ones in Columbus have taken over the Caribou Coffee shops!) As for my favorite…it’s actually at a local coffee house in Columbus 🙂 Stauf’s Coffee Roasters!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      We don’t have any Peet’s or Caribou’s near me! 🙁 I would love to try them though!

  • RogueAnthropologist

    I don’t like coffee but Grand Central Bagel in Lancaster, PA makes a pumpkin chai latte that involves actual pumpkin, not just syrup, and it’s SO GOOD.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      YUM! Great to know if I get to Lancaster in the near future. Not THAT far from me 🙂

      • RogueAnthropologist

        Yep there are lots of good fall things to get out and see in the rest of PA! And plenty of gutsy things to do 🙂

        • Jessica Lawlor

          Oh absolutely! 🙂 Love exploring our gorgeous state!

  • HoardersFan

    I like that you referenced 7/11’s monopoly on Temple University’s campus! I moved to upstate New York where nobody has ever even seen 7/11, but I miss the nostalgia of their pumpkin latte’s and the convenience of Starbucks on campus.

  • stacy

    thank you for doing this! i have been on the search for the perfect pumpkin coffee and i’m glad i’m not the only one. I agree with wawa, I have the wawa pumpkin spice K cups and they’re just meh. and i love starbucks but it’s so expensive!

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  • Michele

    I’ll admit that I haven’t tried the pumpkin latte at 7 eleven, but their pumpkin spice coffee is incredible!!! I was skeptical as well, but we were on a road trip, and there weren’t many options. I convinced the manager to sell me a couple of bags of ground coffee so I can make it at home.

    • HoardersFan

      We may be speaking of the same thing. I never payed much attention, because it was the only coffee I ever got from there.

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