Spurred by the intense criticism following the Pumpkin Spice Latte uproar in 2015, Starbucks finally added actual pumpkin to its most popular fall beverage. We’re all for using real ingredients, but we can’t help but feel frustrated at the stagnation of the PSL since this “innovation.” The trend toward plant-based options has continued to thrive year after year, and yet the PSL remains as one of the few drinks that are virtually impossible to veganize because the star ingredient, Pumpkin Spice Sauce, contains dairy. We’ve done a significant amount of sleuthing, but even the most experienced barista cannot offer a secret hack to get around this dilemma—you simply can’t make a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks without Pumpkin Spice Sauce. So, we’re opting out and sticking with these vegan-friendly seasonal beverages while Starbucks figures it out.
1. Peet’s Coffee Pumpkin Latte
Peet’s has reliably served PSL-starved vegan patrons for years with this iconic beverage. It’s made with espresso, steamed milk of choice, and a vegan-friendly pumpkin syrup reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The beverage is topped with a sprinkle of warm baking spices. Because no whipped cream is involved, all you have to do is ask for the plant milk of your choice. The chain carries the Pacific Foods brand of almond, oat, and soy milk. Note: while Peet’s once carried vegan whipped cream, this item was discontinued in 2019. To the management, we say, “No time like the fall and winter months to bring this back!”
2. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Pumpkin Latte
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf PSL rendition is not quite as straightforward as Peet’s, but it is still entirely possible to order a satisfying and vegan pumpkin-flavored espresso beverage here. If you order it hot, just swap out the dairy milk for your preferred plant milk (soy, almond, oat, or coconut) and ask for no whip. The drink is topped with nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple crunchlets (a Fountain Valley, CA store employee confirmed these are vegan). If you opt for the iced variety, ask your barista to use the pumpkin syrup in lieu of the powder, which contains dairy.
3. Whole Foods Coffee Bar Pumpkin Latte
The coffee bar at Whole Foods is often overshadowed by the tantalizing array of vegan-friendly food stations, but come fall, it’s an excellent option to quell a pumpkin latte craving. The syrup is vegan-friendly and plant milk is always available (check your local store for options). Take advantage of the cinnamon shaker to add a bit more spice to this sweet drink.
Note: Starbucks is not alone in pairing pumpkin with dairy. We searched far and wide and found that it’s a common trend amongst chains. Be aware that the pumpkin-based espresso beverages at Dunkin’ Donuts, Dutch Bros., and Caribou Coffee all contain dairy-based pumpkin syrups and sauces. Independent coffee shops may provide a more vegan-friendly atmosphere, but when pumpkin is involved, it’s always best to check the ingredients before ordering this cozy fall beverage.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and runner living in Orange County, CA.
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