Fall menu returns: is it worth the (Star)bucks?

Caitlin Beard

As summer fades into fall, sweaters emerge, leaves transform to shades of crimson and sharp spices like cinnamon and nutmeg return to the front of spice drawers there is another seasonal tradition to look forward to. In Marin’s temperate climate, with summer lingering, it can be challenging to capture that fall feeling. Thankfully, indulging in a warm drink infused with quintessential autumn flavors can place you right in the harvest-time spirit.

Sugar and spice but not everything nice: Starbucks’ fall drink menu returns and is definitely a mixed bag! (Photo by Sam Kimball)

Although the first official day of fall is not until September 22nd, Starbucks released its seasonal fall drink menu on Tuesday, August 24. This year, they debuted the Apple Crisp Macchiato and brought back the beloved Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew and Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Apple Crisp Frappuccino: 1/10

Before you pay $4.95 for the Apple Crisp Frappuccino, you should know that this drink is a sorry excuse for the classic apple streusel dessert. Although Starbucks typically caters frappuccinos to major sweet tooths, the Apple Crisp Frappuccino delivers an overwhelming rush of sugar that rivals even the sweetest Starbucks beverages. There is no evidence of apple or fall spice; the ingredients are overpowered by what tastes like a whole bag of pure brown sugar blended with milk and ice. 

 Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino: 1/10

Though different from the Apple Crisp Frappuccino by name, the identically priced Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino has a suspiciously similar taste as well. So similar, in fact, that it’s possible Starbucks conveniently used the same ingredients. Try ordering both; you just might be convinced they gave you two of the same drink.

Apple Crisp Macchiato: 5/10

 Also new this year, the Apple Crisp Macchiato has a cozy quality. While much less overbearing than its frappuccino counterpart, the drink fails to deliver on the apple and brown sugar flavors it promises. Instead, you get a mouthful of bland espresso and an artificially flavored steamed milk mustache. Definitely not worth $4.75.

Overly sweetened, the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino is not nearly as tasteful as its latte counterpart. (Photo by Sam Kimball)

Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew: 9/10

The Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew is the go-to order for someone who wants a taste of autumn but doesn’t have a sweet tooth. The pumpkin cream on top adds a fall twist, and the classic cold brew is smooth, creamy and perfectly unsweetened. Though the same price as the fall frappuccinos, at $4.95, the overly sweetened drinks can’t compare to this cold brew. It’s the simplest fall drink on the menu, but a classic that never fails to deliver.

Pumpkin Spice Latte: 10/10

 A tried-and-true drink on the fall menu for almost two decades, the Pumpkin Spice Latte proves itself yet again as being everything an autumn beverage should be. Not to mention it’s 25 cents cheaper than several of the other drinks at $4.75. The hype on this one is entirely justified: the classic pumpkin pie spices mingle gracefully with Starbucks’ beloved silky espresso, leaving you with a warm afterglow.


If you’re craving a pumpkin treat to accompany your beverage, try a Pumpkin Scone, Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin or Pumpkin Loaf. All three are moist, flavorful and delectable.