Ranking Penn State Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Fall is once again upon us, folks.

Between the beginning of cooler weather and leaves changing colors, perhaps one of the most visible parts of the start of the fall season is when Starbucks brings the Pumpkin Spice Latte back to its menu.

This year, Starbucks brought its Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSL, as we Starbucks Rewards snobs call it) back on Thursday, August 24, for the drink’s 20th anniversary within the coffee chain. Of course, I ventured out into the streets of State College to find out which location did it the best.

Before getting started, let’s first set some ground rules for this comparison:

  1. I’m ordering these drinks hot. The hot PSL has been with Starbucks the longest and is the drink that first rose to fame to become closely associated with the fall season. It was almost 90 degrees for some of these taste tests, so, pain. For the record, I like iced better, too.
  2. No modifications. Whatever I receive when I say “I’d like a tall, hot pumpkin spice latte, please” is what I’m going to use to compare. According to the app, what I should receive is a drink with 2% milk, one espresso shot, and three pumps of pumpkin sauce. Oatmilk supremacy, but I’ll consume the extra lactose #ForTheBlog.
  3. Tall sizes only. Look, even just a tall is 300 calories. It’s common for me not to finish a venti, let alone four of them. For the sake of my waistline, tall is the size I’ll be ordering.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it. Here’s what I found from my trips to all the Starbucks locations in and around campus.

No. 4: “Figment Of My Imagination PSL” From Paterno Library Starbucks

Starting the list off strong damn horrible: the PSL I received from Paterno Starbucks.

Almost with the joy of a kid on Christmas, I made my way up to the counter to place my order. I was one step closer to knowing the definitive answer behind who on campus could produce the best PSL. That was until my eyes were met with one of the worst array of words I’ve ever had to read:

“We are out of Pumpkin Spice and Apple Crisp syrup until Friday. Sorry.”

Joe Pa, what the hell?

The Paterno Starbucks is my favorite Starbucks on campus. It has never let me down in my undergraduate career thus far, except now, when the stakes have never been higher. It was my city upon a hill. Now, I’m not so sure.

After waiting in line for all that time, begging for the absolute best pumpkin concoction a Fortune 500 company could muster, it was all over. All of the fall spirit, the changing colors of the leaves, the flannel in the pumpkin patch Instagram photo, all left on the table by the Paterno Library Starbucks. Put the out-of-stock sign closer to the start of the line next time. Please.


No. 3: “What Dunkin’ Thinks A Starbucks PSL Tastes Like PSL” From Pugh Centre Starbucks

Pugh Centre Starbucks has big shoes to fill in a few ways. One: please actually give me a drink this time. I didn’t realize I’d have to ask a business to take my money, but please. Take it.

To be completely honest, I am still bitter about the relocation of this Starbucks up the road from Garner Street to Pugh Street. The Garner Street Starbucks was a vibe, an experience, and the new Pugh Centre location has enormous shoes to fill.

Unfortunately for me, Pugh Centre Starbucks undeniably left a lot of the fall atmosphere on the table with this one.

This was not a good latte, sorry. The PSL itself was very muted overall, including both the flavor from the espresso and the pumpkin syrup. What I can only describe as what I think was an improper milk ratio made the drink both overtly sweet from the milk and diluted because of the milk flavor. The flavor from the espresso was nearly impossible to taste as a result.

One positive thing, though, was the temperature of this latte. It was perfectly drinkable right from the second it left the barista’s hand and made its way into mine. Major props for this from Pugh Centre so that I could allow the sweet nectar of the fall to hit my lips right away.

Let me be very clear: if I had been trying this latte with no other point of reference, it would’ve been an absolutely fine drink. There is, however, an absolutely perfect-tasting PSL in my mind, and Pugh Centre’s offering was off the mark.


No. 2: “What I Thought Would Be The Winner PSL” From West College Ave. Starbucks

I have nothing but praise for the College Ave. Starbucks for a stellar PSL offering.

This PSL was everything that Pugh Centre Starbucks did well, while also improving on some important areas for a superior latte. The temperatures of both drinks were almost identical and completely drinkable right away. I really do appreciate a good temperature.

However, where College Ave. Starbucks shined was in its actual pumpkin flavor. I don’t know what it was about this drink in particular, but the pumpkin was pronounced, so much so that the fall spirit was palatable in this latte, not just milky sadness. It also did a good job of blending espresso, pumpkin, and 2% milk (ew) flavors together. I could taste the individual components of the drink that I couldn’t with Pugh Centre Starbucks.

I walked out of West College Ave. Starbucks completely convinced that it had created the best PSL I was going to try throughout this endeavor.


No. 1: “Crème De La Crème PSL” From HUB Starbucks

Honestly, I was shocked by this one. The HUB Starbucks was so unbelievably busy that, even with only one working espresso machine, its PSL managed to upset every other latte in this comparison.

After picking up my tall PSL and looking absolutely psychotic for ordering a hot coffee when it was 89 degrees outside, what resulted was nothing short of miraculous. Temperature? Check. Milk ratio? Stellar. Cinnamon? Tastes like it’s straight from the tree, y’all. This drink had, hands-down, the most pumpkin flavor I’ve tasted out of any of these lattes. Seriously, put a cornucopia out on the table and let me jump in a pile of leaves because fall is here, baby.

My only real complaint is that my name is, unfortunately, not “luth.”


Final Thoughts

Those are my findings from Penn State’s Starbucks locations. Your mileage will vary, and I hope it does. Shoot me an email when Paterno Starbucks gets its act together, and maybe I’ll have to revisit that location. Until then, I’ll stick with iced drinks until snow starts to hit the ground in State College.

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About the Author

Luke Pieczynski

Luke is a junior accounting major hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, and is Onward State's social media manager. He can often be found sipping on a cold brew or skipping through his Spotify playlist to find a song that's just right. Please send your best take on why VLOOKUP is better than INDEX and MATCH to his Twitter @lukepie11 or his email [email protected].

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