Coffee Wars: Holiday Edition Part 3 – Pumpkin Spice Latte

It feels like I’ve been neglecting my blog lately.  With juggling two jobs, getting prepared for a new school year in January, the impending doom that is Christmas shopping, starting a new relationship, and trying to see my friends and family, I haven’t been doing much for myself lately it feels like.  Between feeling fatigued all the time and getting over a cold that just won’t leave me the hell alone, my “me-time” consists mostly of me sleeping or vegging out for half an hour before sleeping.  I haven’t had time to write, and when I do it feels like a chore.  I haven’t had time to read, whether it be one of the many books I want to read (I’ve been itching to read We Need to Talk About Kevin before I see the film, as well as finish Under the Dome and read 11/22/63), as well as the many blogs I like to keep up with.  So now that I the house is empty, I have the day off, I am going to take some “me-time” and give some attention to my blog.  I got my home-made latte-esque coffee (I’ve perfected microfoam at home, yay me!), and my playlist blaring, and I’m ready to roll.  This has been a post I’ve been wanting to write since the beginning of October, and now that November is half over, I think it’s time to get it done before it’s rendered useless. 

What is that you may be asking?  Well for those of you didn’t read the title…it’s…

DUN DUN DUNNNNN!

It’s been a year since my previous installments of Coffee Wars, which was originally going to be a little series on my blog.  But due to laziness, and then being busy, it got pushed away and forgotten about for a little while.  But coffee is a huge part of my life, even more-so now that I work at a coffee shop, so Coffee Wars has never been too far from my mind.  During a short time around the fall, all of my favourite coffee shops enjoy a Fall themed holiday drink list.  What’s nice about it is that every shop tends to have a wide variety of drinks, and nothing is ever carbon copied from the other store.  There is one drink in particular that seems to make its way into every store though, and that is my favourite seasonal drink: The Pumpkin Spice latte.  I adore this latte, mostly because I love pumpkins.  I love seeing beautiful carved pumpkins, eating pumpkin seeds, The Great Pumpkin, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, just about everything pumpkin.  This is probably because pumpkins are associated with my favourite holiday: Hallowe’en.  I didn’t get to enjoy Hallowe’en this year, but alas, I did enjoy the lattes.  Now it is time to judge them, to find out who has the best Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Starbucks

First off, I apologize for the blurriness of the image – shaky hands comes with the caffeine lover territory. 

An issue I always encounter with Starbucks is the sweetness of their beverages.  They use a lot more sugar-syrup (used to give the drinks their distinct flavours) than most other coffee shops I find.  This can be really great if you really want something sweet, but if you aren’t a huge sweet-tooth, it can make the drinks a bit overbearing.  Despite this usual occurrence, I didn’t find this drink disgustingly sweet like a lot of their flavoured lattes can be.  It was sweet of course, but perhaps it was extra spice flavours of their pumpkin flavouring that distracted from the sweetness.

This drink to me did remind me of pumpkin pie, it had a nice balance of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  The whipped cream on top reminded me of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner, so I think with that in mind, it gave the drink a nice edge compared to some other shops.  It was also the only latte that had an orange tinge to it (once you got passed the whipped cream that is).  That may be in part to how much sugar they add to it, but I thought it was night, it suited the “pumpkin spice” image.

Overall, I really enjoyed Starbucks latte.  It was presented nicely, and had a decent flavour.  Though if I had it on certain days were I just wanted a bit of sweetness, this one wouldn’t really “do it” for me.  I find I have to be in the right mood for a Starbucks drink, they just add too much stuff to their espresso and coffee.  That may be in part to a lot of people not liking the flavour of coffee, which is a shame, because that’s what it should be about.

Overall Score:
Appearance – 5/5
Flavour Balance – 4/5 
Overall Enjoyment – 4/5

Second Cup

Anyone who knows me knows that Second Cup is my favourite place to get coffee.  Mostly that’s because if I want a latte, I find even their sweetest lattes aren’t as sweet as Starbucks, and I prefer my lattes to have a nice balance between the sweetness and the coffee. 

One thing I noticed this year though, is that Second Cup is using a different type of flavouring for their pumpkin spice latte, it’s not much different, but there was just enough of a difference that I noticed it.  I found this flavouring to be a bit stronger in the nutmeg flavour, which isn’t a bad thing, but I found that it made the latte have a slightly earthy flavour.  I enjoyed this, but on occasion when I was in a different mood, it wasn’t giving me the dessert types of flavours that I usually associate with the a pumpkin pie.  It reminded me more of a pumpkin soup – which would have more of a nice balance between savoury and sweet.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy the latte, it was just…different. 

This year they added a caramel topping, which I didn’t enjoy as much.  Usually I wouldn’t get it with it on it, instead opting for a sprinkling of cinnamon, but for the sake of this post I got the caramel.  It did add a very nice appearance to the drink though, and for those hoping for a bit more sweetness, it does add a nice richness to the drink.  It’s just not something I was particular fond of.

Overall Score:
Appearance – 4/5
Flavour Balance – 4/5
Overall Enjoyment – 4/5

Williams Fresh Cafe (Formerly Williams Coffee Pub)

I have a love/hate relationship with Williams.  I don’t generally like their coffee, at least when compared to other places.  However I will admit, it does depend on the time of day – they don’t use carafes like Starbucks of Second Cup, so their coffee tends to get a burnt flavour as the day goes on.  Because they serve food and lots of other products, it does take them a while make drinks and bring them out, and it can be a little annoying if you just want it to go.  But despite that, I keep going back.  Mostly because once in a while I’m very pleasantly surprised.

I ordered their pumpkin spice latte and was very surprised.  Their latte had a really nice balance between sweetness and the savoury flavours of pumpkin pie and the spices attributed with that.  I didn’t find that it was overpowering with one spice or another, but everything was married together very nicely.  It was just sweet enough, but not too sweet that I couldn’t enjoy it. 

Appearance wise, I was also impressed.  Often the latte is rushed over, and is spilling half down my cup.  But on this particular time it looked perfect, or at the very least almost perfect.  The whipped cream was a nice finish, and the light dusting of cinnamon completed the drink.  Now, some may say it may have just been that I was having a good day, or was in a  good mood.  But after looking at this picture, I can recall when I ordered this – it was on a first date.  I remember that day I had a headache, I was nervous, and when I got there I wasn’t in the best mood.  So if I can enjoy a drink when I’m in a bad mood, and distracted by trying to impress someone, then that speaks a lot for the drink. 

Overall Score:
Appearance – 5/5
Flavour Balance – 5/5
Overall Enjoyment – 5/5

So, judging by the scores, Williams Fresh Cafe is the victor for this edition of Coffee Wars.  To be honest, I’m a little surprised.  Williams tends to disappoint me, but judging by their Pumpkin Spice Latte, they obviously still have a few tricks up their sleeves. 

Original photo curtousy of the blog “Foodie, Eh?”

 Before I end this post, I wanted to mention that on December 11th I will be participating in the Second Annual Community Networking Meme.  For rules of participation, check out the original post here.  To see my entry for last year’s post, click here.

Coffee Wars: Holiday Edition Part 1 – Gingerbread Latte

Just incase that it was never quite 100% clear, I have an unhealthy addiction and obsession with coffee and coffee related beverages.  To me there’s no greater place of comfort than my favourite coffee shop, with a hot drink of my choice between hands, enjoying the “mood” lighting, the familiar faces, and the warm atmosphere.  With my adoration for this fine beverage, I have become a bit of a coffee snob so-to-speak.  And with great caffeinated snobiness, comes great responsibility – responsibility to shove my views on what makes a good caffeinated beverage onto my readers.  I must bear this burden alone, for I am the chosen one.

Hmm, sounds like I’m becoming a cross between Spider-Man, Frodo Baggins, and Neo.  So an emo, short, dull person?  That’s not a good combination…

Anyways, with this great burden that I must bear alone for I am the chosen one, I will determine which place of caffeine serves the greatest beverage – and something so important can only be determined in a great battle – TO THE DEATH!

Well, not literally to the death.  I don’t really know how one would go about “killing” coffee, or how different drinks would literally fight.  That would just be weird.

This time of year, many coffee shops begin selling special holiday drinks.  It happens around different times of the year, but with Christmas coming, there is usually a large list of drinks that are only served for a short time.  In the spirit of the season, I shall judge two different holiday drinks from three different coffee shops.  Because my location, I’ve decided to choose Starbucks, Second Cup and William’s Fresh Cafe (formerly William’s Coffee Pub) for the first installment of this epic holiday battle. 

So without further delay, let us begin Coffee Wars!

For the first part of the Holiday Edition of Coffee Wars, I shall be judging three different Gingerbread Lattes, which are by far my favourite of any special holiday drink around.  I will be basing my judgements on these parameters: balance of flavour, appearance, overall enjoyment.

The first beverage I will be judging will be the first gingerbread latte I had of the season, which was from William’s Fresh Cafe.

This is a large gingerbread latte from William’s Fresh Cafe, and as you can clearly see, the mug is the size of a soup bowl.  So an avid coffee and hot beverage drinker like myself will be pleased with the serving size of this drink.  I have to say, William’s has been hit and miss with me for the past few years.  I used to come to this spot with my friends a lot more when I was in highschool, but ever since I’ve been living back in Burlington, I haven’t been as impressed with this place overall like I used to be.  With that in mind, I was skeptical to even order something that was over the $2 price range, because I didn’t think it would be worth my money.  That being said, I was very satisfied with this drink, and part of that may be because my expectations were so low to begin with.

The William’s gingerbread latte is very sweet – and it is served with an abundance of whipped cream and a crap-load of cinnamon on top.  On certain occasions, this is a good thing for me, and if you have a sweet tooth or want dessert, this is great.  However, I don’t have a large sweet tooth, so I found this drink to be a little overwhelming.  It wasn’t intolerable, but it wasn’t necessarily spectacular either.  By the time I got passed the whipped cream, the espresso and milk were luke warm, and to me, that defeats the purpose of a drink like this.  I want it to be at least somewhat warm when I drink it.  As for appearance, it was served nicely, I always love getting my caffeinated beverages in a china mug, it makes me feel like I’m on the show Friends, sitting in Central Perk.  The whipped cream was pipped nice enough, a little lazily, but I don’t expect rosettes on top of my latte either.  As I said earlier, there was a lot of whipped cream, and because of this, it kind of overflowed the drink a little – that mixed with less than careful carrying of my beverage by the server caused it to kind of spill and topple over the edge.  I’m not really picky, I just don’t like my hands sticking to the mug.  Yes, I’m one of those people who likes to hold their drink in both hands, I say “fuck you” to the handle.

Overall Score:
Appearance – 3.5/5
Flavour Balance – 3/5 
Overall Enjoyment – 3/5

Second Cup’s Gingerbread Latte

I just want to say excuse the photo quality, I was having trouble getting the camera on my phone to work, so it was a bit blurry when I took the photo.

Second Cup is definitely one of my favourite places to get a coffee, so because of that I’ll try really hard not to be biased.  This was the second gingerbread latte I got this season.  What I enjoy about this gingerbread latte is that it has a nice gingery flavour, and is just sweet enough, but I can actually taste the espresso.  I don’t put too much sugar in my coffee, so I like getting this one often because it’s “fancy” enough that it makes me feel special, but it is not too “fancy” that it tries to win me over with extreme amounts of sugar.

There isn’t any whipped cream on this latte, but for anyone who really wants it, it can be added easily enough.  What I enjoy about Second Cup’s gingerbread latte too is that there is a sugar topping that you can add-on top that is a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and ginger – but it’s a very light type of flavour, and really tastes like a gingerbread cookie.  In the image to the left I actually added my own nutmeg to the top, because I felt like it damnit.  I think one of my only complaints of this drink is that sometimes it feels a bit heavy, and that may just be the milk that is being used, because I don’t always ask for skim milk because I forget or I just don’t care.  I found it to be heavier than William’s and Starbucks’ latte, and that may be because of the foam.  I am always pleased with how this drink looks, it is always well presented and well prepared, so I have no complaints.  Sometimes they forget to add the topping, but it’s right there at the counter so I can add it if I want it myself. 

Overall Score:
Appearance – 4/5
Flavour Balance – 5/5
Overall Enjoyment – 4/5

Starbucks Gingerbread Latte

Ah Starbucks, sometimes I love you, sometimes I can’t stand you.  Again, another place that is very hit and miss with me.  I think it all really has to do with location.  The one at my work I really enjoy because I know the people very well, however, the one at the mall nearby I don’t like much because it’s always so busy and it just ruins the atmosphere.  Despite these facts, I still enjoy the occasional Starbucks drink from time to time.

As you can see the Starbucks near my work doesn’t often serve their drinks in a mug, which I suppose goes for most Starbucks, but the one at work has less space and I wouldn’t expect them to offer this type of service as much.  I don’t really hold it against them though, their paper cups are always very nicely decorated and they change them frequently, which I think is nice.  I always think that Starbucks has nice looking drinks, they really know how to prepare them in a delicious looking way.  What really surprised me when I had this drink is that I think it’s actually sweeter than the William’s gingerbread latte.  It probably has to do with the number of gingerbread sweetener pumps they add to the drink, but I found it a little overbearing.  One thing I love about drinking any type of coffee-like drink is tasting the coffee.  I could barely taste the coffee in this drink.  However, it did taste the most like a gingerbread cookie out of all the drinks.  This is definitely something I would get in the smallest size, and probably after I’ve had dinner, it’s really the most “dessert-like” of all the lattes.  I found that even though there was whipped cream on the drink, when I finally got down to the latte, it was still decently warm.  Maybe Starbucks heats their milk longer, or William’s is slow at delivering their drinks. 

Overall Score:
Appearance – 5/5
Flavour Balance – 3/5
Overall Enjoyment – 3.5/5

After looking over all my scores for these drinks, I’ve decided to make the victor of this edition of Coffee Wars to Second Cup

It had the best balance of flavours, and overall it’s the drink I find the most enjoyable out of the three.  I have to say it was a hard decision because they are all so friggen tasty, but out of all of them, Second Cup is the only one I’ll keep buying. It is just sweet enough to be special, but it is regular enough to not be off-putting.  If you enjoy disgustingly sweet beverages like some people I know *coughRyancough*, then the other ones may be more to your liking, they are tasty after all.  But if you’re looking for something a little different from your normal cup of coffee, the gingerbread latte is a nice alternative that will make you feel like you are getting a treat, without ruining your appetite for the rest of the day.

I hope you enjoyed the first rendition of Coffee Wars, check the coming soon page to see when Part Two will be going up!