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Ranked: The best Starbucks drinks to get this fall that aren't a Pumpkin Spice Latte

Starbucks fall drinks close-up
My lineup of Starbucks fall drinks.Melissa Wells/Insider
  • Starbucks is known for its Pumpkin Spice Latte, but it has a menu full of fall drinks worth a try.

  • As a regular Starbucks customer who's not a huge PSL fan, I wanted to find a new seasonal favorite.

  • After trying 11 drinks, the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte came out on top for me.

This might sound strange coming from a Starbucks fan, but the Pumpkin Spice Latte has never been one of my go-to orders.

There's no denying how much other people love the chain's iconic fall-themed beverage. In 2020, Starbucks called its famous drink a "catalyst" for a record-breaking fourth-quarter performance that year — success that increased 17% year-over-year by fall 2022, CNN reported.

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However, Starbucks has many other options on its menu this time of year — and, personally, I'd opt for some of them over a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I prefer the sweet and salty taste of the Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew, or, if I want something with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove, I'll go for its new Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte.

I decided to try 11 fall-inspired drinks that aren't PSLs, and after tasting them, I ranked them from my least favorite to my favorite. Keep reading to see my final list.

Unlike most Starbucks die-hards, I never choose a Pumpkin Spice Latte to get me in the fall mood.

Melissa holding Starbucks drinks.
Melissa holding a Venti Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brew (left) and a Grande Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte (right).Melissa Wells/Insider

As the weather begins to cool and the leaves begin to change, so does my ideal drink for the upcoming fall season. This time of year, I always want something creamy and cozy, with the warm flavor of cinnamon, the richness of salted caramel, the spice of chai, or the sweetness of vanilla mixed with coffee or a good espresso.

And while Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte, which turned 20 this year, is essentially a pop-culture phenomenon at this point, another year goes by that it has yet to grace my personal fall-drink menu at Starbucks.

I do enjoy pumpkin-flavored products and, after trying Starbucks' fall offerings for this taste test, many of my favorites were pumpkin-flavored. But even though Starbucks' drink does contain real pumpkin, as the Associated Press reported, I also find it syrupy and artificial-tasting.

So I decided to try out the fall drinks on offer to find my seasonal favorite: some new, some returning, and others that just felt fall-inspired to me.

My least favorite of the drinks I tried was the Caramel Apple Spice, but if you're a fan of the crisp tang of apple cider, this might be for you.

Caramel Apple Spice
Starbucks' Grande Caramel Apple Spice.Melissa Wells/Insider

The Caramel Apple Spice is a steamed apple-juice drink topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle. While it might seem quintessentially fall, it's actually on the Starbucks menu year-round. A grande, which is 16 fluid ounces, cost me $5.05 at my local Starbucks.

I found the drink super sweet and cloying. While I'm by no means looking for a healthy option every time I go to Starbucks, this drink is definitely packed with sugar. A grande contains 70 grams of sugar, 380 calories, and no caffeine, according to Starbucks' website.

To me, the taste was just not worth the calories and it's unclear how Starbucks maintains a drink like this on the menu all year long — but it does, so someone is drinking and enjoying it. Perhaps give it a whirl if you're feeling adventurous.

Sorry, Shaken Espresso lovers — the Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso also came in at the bottom of my list.

Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso
Starbucks' Grande Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso.Melissa Wells/Insider

The Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso is blonde espresso combined with apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar shaken together and topped with oat milk, according to Starbucks.

"The warm, gooey taste of apple crisp paired with a cup of coffee" creates the ultimate "cozy beverage customers have come to know and love at Starbucks each fall," said beverage developer Billy Altieri.

I wanted to like this drink — and expected I would because I'm a fan of Starbucks' shaken espressos — but I thought the apple-crisp flavor took over everything. Even after giving it a quick stir in an attempt to evenly distribute the flavor, I could taste nothing but a bitter, strong apple flavor with hints of cinnamon.

Unfortunately, it meant the blonde espresso was lost too, even though I felt the slight zing of caffeine a bit later.

Ultimately, the $6.25, 180-calorie grande drink was just too rich for my tastes, and I won't be ordering it again.

I found the mix of apple purée, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a spicy caramel-apple drizzle on the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato to be overwhelming.

Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato
Starbucks' Grande Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato.Melissa Wells/Insider

After Starbucks discontinued its Salted Caramel Mocha — which I'm still bitter about — in 2021, it introduced the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato, its first non-dairy drink for the fall.

It features "layered flavors of apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar combined with a spiced apple drizzle," according to Starbucks, and it's mixed with oat milk and blonde espresso.

The chain calls the drink, which is 320 calories and $5.95 for a grande, a "nostalgic autumn pick-me-up."

I opted for the hot version as a change of pace and found the blend of apple purée, cinnamon, and nutmeg overpowering. It also had a very strong aroma of apples that I couldn't help but inhale with every sip. While I typically enjoy caramel macchiatos, I thought this tasted of spiced apple and hot milk and not much else.

If you're a fan of apple-pie flavors over pumpkin-pie flavors in the fall, this may be worth trying — after all, it has its fanbase. After trying it in 2021, Insider's Anneta Konstantinides said "it tasted like fall in a cup," and she preferred it to the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I thought the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Frappuccino simply wasn't memorable, so I had to rank it pretty low.

Apple Crisp Oatmilk Frappuccino
Starbucks' Grande Apple Crisp Oatmilk Frappuccino.Melissa Wells/Insider

The Apple Crisp Oatmilk Frappuccino is described as "apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar blended with coffee, oatmilk, and ice topped with spiced-apple drizzle and whipped cream" by Starbucks. At my Starbucks, it cost $6.25 for a grande, which is 420 calories.

In my opinion, if you want an apple-crisp drink where the taste of apple doesn't overpower the coffee, this is the drink for you.

The creme base of the frappuccino is thicker than the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato, so the flavor is still quite sweet, but it's milder. To me, it basically tasted of mashed-up apple pie, espresso, and milk blended with ice — in a good way.

Ultimately, it wasn't my favorite of all the drinks, but the apple flavor was more enjoyable, so it is my top-ranked Apple Crisp Oatmilk drink.

The Pumpkin Caramel Macchiato is a pumpkin variation of the traditional Caramel Macchiato, but you won't find it on Starbucks' main menu.

Pumpkin Caramel Macchiato
Starbucks' Grande Pumpkin Caramel Macchiato.Melissa Wells/Insider

I'm a fan of Starbucks' Caramel Macchiato — the combination of vanilla, espresso, and caramel mixed with steamed milk always hits the spot. But did you know Starbucks' secret menu has a pumpkin variation?

The Starbucks secret menu is a collection of customized drinks created by customers and shared through social media and word-of-mouth. If you know how to order it, you can essentially make almost any secret-menu drink, although there is no official endorsement from Starbucks, and some employees have expressed their frustration over the increased customizations from customers.

The Pumpkin Caramel Macchiato replaces the vanilla syrup with pumpkin sauce and adds pumpkin-spice topping. While I love that I can get a seasonal twist on one of my favorite Starbucks' drinks, without the vanilla syrup I thought the pumpkin and caramel were very sweet. And at $6.75 — a higher price than other drinks due to the customizations — I'm not sure it's worth it.

For me, it's the last of the pumpkin-inspired drinks on this list I would go for, but if you find the PSL mild and love a caramel macchiato, this might be the best of both worlds.

 

The Pumpkin Hot Chocolate is another secret-menu beverage that may sound odd, but I thought it retained the creamy richness of Starbucks' original Hot Chocolate.

Pumpkin Hot Chocolate
Starbucks' Grande Pumpkin Hot Chocolate.Melissa Wells/Insider

I'm not the only one who loves Starbucks' Hot Chocolate. Insider's Erin McDowell reviewed five different chains' hot chocolates and named Starbucks' "rich, creamy recipe" her personal favorite.

To create this order, ask to substitute the mocha sauce that generally comes with the Starbucks Hot Chocolate for pumpkin sauce, as well as pumpkin-spice topping instead of the mocha drizzle. The result, which cost me $5.05 for a grande, is a warm tonic to the autumn cool without the buzz of caffeine.

This drink is a unique spin on a staple but retains the richness of the original Hot Chocolate. Don't be alarmed if you open your cup and it's bright orange — that's just the pumpkin syrup. The color might be off-putting, but I think the taste is worth it.

The flavor of the cold foam on the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew was what made this drink unique for me.

Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew
Starbucks' Grande Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.Melissa Wells/Insider

We're now into my top five drinks, and it may come as a shock that they are all iced, but it's actually not surprising trend-wise. CNN reported that cold drinks at Starbucks made up 75% of its beverage sales last quarter in the US. Lizzy Freier, director of menu research and insights at food-industry consulting firm Technomic, said, "It's no longer a seasonal thing."

Drinks with cold foam, in particular, are the fastest-growing customized orders, the company said in May 2023, another article by CNN reported.

This drink consists of Starbucks signature "Cold Brew sweetened with vanilla syrup and topped with pumpkin cream cold foam and a dusting of pumpkin-spice topping," according to Starbucks. A grande sells for $5.25.

If you're a coffee lover, I don't think you can go wrong with a cold brew, so I went into tasting this drink with high hopes. To me, it wasn't as good as the Salted Caramel or Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brews I will mention next, but the pumpkin cream cold foam is what makes this drink stand out.

With a dusting of pumpkin-spice topping to complete the drink, it's just enough of that hint of pumpkin-spice latte you want if you're not a fan of the PSL itself but want to enjoy some of what everyone is raving about. That, and you want the kick of caffeine only a good cold brew can deliver.

What really set the Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew apart was its smooth cold brew, the sweet kick of caramel, and the salted cold foam.

Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew
Starbucks' Grande Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew.Melissa Wells/Insider

I was devastated when Starbucks retired its Salted Caramel Mocha in 2021. Thankfully, this concoction stayed on the menu, and it's available year-round.

With the signature, smooth cold brew, this drink is sweetened with caramel and topped with a salted cold foam. It's similar to the Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, but with caramel. A grande cost me $5.25.

I recommend giving the drink a good swirl so the foam begins to settle into the rich coffee — or else you'll just taste the salt. But once all three flavors begin to meld, it's a cold variation of the mocha I miss, without the chocolate.

Although it's a cold drink, the creaminess of the rich cold brew and the sweet-yet-savory salted caramel is like the soundtrack to fall for my taste buds.

The Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brew is like salted caramel and cinnamon dolce had a love child.

Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brew
Starbucks' Grande Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brew.Melissa Wells/Insider

The Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cold Brew is the coffee giant's newest cold-brew drink, according to Starbucks, having come out in early March.

Inspired by salted caramel and "gooey sticky buns," the creamy foam topping and cinnamon caramel syrup — plus cold brew — make what Starbucks beverage developer Erin Marinan called a "fresh take on the fan-favorite caramel flavor," according to Starbucks Stories & News.

I am a die-hard fan of all things caramel, but also cinnamon, and if I could have thought up my dream beverage, it would be something along the lines of this drink. It had a creamy, sweet cinnamon taste and caffeine, so I think this was worth the $5.25 for a grande.

 

I felt like Starbucks' special pumpkin-spice mixture was amplified in the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino.

Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino
Starbucks' Grande Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino.Melissa Wells/Insider

This frappe is formed by a blend of pumpkin, traditional fall spice flavors, coffee, milk, and ice, topped with whipped cream and pumpkin-pie spice.

If you want a creamy texture closer to that of pumpkin pie, you have to try this frappuccino. Despite the $6.25 price tag for a grande, I thought it was the perfect balm for the end of a record-hot summer (as reported by Reuters) to jump-start your taste buds for the fall season.

To Starbucks' point, it really is the ultimate fall care package.

In my No. 1 spot is the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte — it wasn't too strong, and it wasn't too sweet.

Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte
Starbucks' Grande Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte.Melissa Wells/Insider

Swinging hard for the top spot is still a pumpkin drink, but I felt like this cold variation didn't have the heavy sweetness of a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

This rich and creamy Iced Chai Tea Latte is "a blend of black tea infused with cinnamon, other warming spices and milk, topped with a sweet pumpkin cream cold foam and a dusting of pumpkin spice topping," according to Starbucks. It cost me $5.95 for a grande.

According to Starbucks Stories & News, this beverage came to fruition as a result of a popular customer and barista customization combo. Altieri said its "warm spice flavors of chai and pumpkin" create "a creamy and comforting iced beverage."

If you're not a fan of chai, this specific combination might not be for you. But if you are, I think this twist on a favorite is just right for the season. It's not too strong, and it's sweet but not too decadent. I think it balances hints of a pumpkin puree that I feel is missing in the Pumpkin Spice Latte and the beloved spice of the chai – and the result is delicious.

I'll definitely order this drink again as the fall season comes into full swing — but I'd also probably order many of the drinks on this list again, too.

I may miss some of the drinks Starbucks has discontinued, but I love that the company keeps innovating both its pumpkin and fall-inspired drinks so that there are ways for non-PSL fans to still dabble in its menu. I also appreciate that it takes from customer customizations, as the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte has.

I hope that for Starbucks fanatics and PSL cynics like myself, this list has plenty of other options to get you in the seasonal spirit.

Read the original article on Insider