Review: Starbucks Reserve Goes Boozy And Takes The PSL To A Whole New Level With Its 2023 Fall Lineup

Unless you only drink tea, you're well aware of what autumn's return brings with it to Starbucks. Yes, it is time once again for the treasured onset of pumpkin spice season — even in August. 

Goodbye, summer coffee specials; for the 20th year in a row, Starbucks has released its pumpkin spice latte. To celebrate the anniversary, the coffee company has boosted its presence by debuting the seasoning at its six U.S. Starbucks Reserve locations, where its flavors will be used for the first time in conjunction with the premium Starbucks Reserve blend. But that's not all. The coffee chain is also selling specialty drinks at Starbucks Reserve that can't be found in regular locations.

So, which ones are worth trying? We took a stroll down to the Empire State Building flagship location (not to be confused with its Chelsea roastery) to try it all. Below, a breakdown of the results.

How does Pumpkin Spice Reserve compare with the standard Starbucks PSL?

First of all, the biggest question needs to be addressed: Yes, that Starbucks Reserve blend really does make a difference in how it hits, with a much richer, darker flavor. There might even be a fattier feeling to each sip of this brew, but without falling into greasiness. If you're chasing that dragon, there's still the Starbucks Oleato LTO to pursue. (Though fair warning: not everyone loves the Oleato, and some customers find it to be oleaginous in their stomachs.)

Love or hate Starbucks, it's tough to debate the point that they know coffee, and the Reserve blend is what in-house experts consider the very-most desirable expression of their offerings. It's an upgrade worth making, especially if you're open to having your distaste for the regular edition changed. Whether the elevation in quality translates to the one in price is another matter. 

Starbucks Reserve Pumpkin Spice Latte

This so-extra version of the 20-year-strong Pumpkin Spice Latte is made with Starbucks Reserve espresso, mixed in harmony with the usual PSL combo of steamed milk and spices (cinnamon, clove) and shrouded beneath pumpkin-whipped cream, which is itself spiced. It kicks off at 209 calories for $8, though add-ons can increase both price and calorie count.

Taste-wise, this drink hits like mocha at the front, before yielding to the softer, buttery flavor of whipped cream in combination with the waxy pumpkin taste. After that fluffy, vanilla goodness and spice gives way to a butterscotch flavor on its very rich finish, it might be finished quickly. It hits a lot of the same satisfactions as a mug of hot chocolate, so if you can't wait for Black Friday to pretend it's already winter, the PSL will carry you through autumn and give you that hot, heartwarming fix.

Pumpkin Spice Whiskey Barrel-Aged Iced Latte

For those looking to crank things up, or simply kick their midday coffee up a notch, this pumpkin spice whiskey barrel-aged iced latte blends that Starbucks Reserve espresso into a Guatemalan grind whose beans were aged in barrels that once housed Tasting Table's top tippling distiller Knob Creek.

Sippers won't get a buzz from the boozy boards that kissed these beans, but will draw some beautiful notes of chocolate and peach, as well as the nuttiness of the oak enhancing the coffee's own inherent taste of wood. Its chilled traces of whiskey flavor will put the body in a mood for a nice bourbon cocktail after work. May we suggest picking one of the best bourbons to drink in 2023? Or just keep floating on Knob Creek.

Thirteen bucks buys you this elegant latte at 237 calories (and up). Pricey for a latte, yes, and maybe a bridge too far for some. For $13, you could probably get an actual espresso whiskey cocktail.

Starbucks Reserve Pumpkin Spice Espresso Martini

This is a great cocktail. This is also a $23 cocktail. Yes, the Empire State Building Reserve location is meant to be as much a bar as it is a café, store, restaurant, and workspace. But any way you slice it, that is Rainbow Room prices for a martini. More, in fact. An espresso martini at Bar SixtyFive will currently cost you a mere $20.

This is a fun nightcap for anyone who likes their coffee black and doesn't intend for the evening to end after this gigantic digestif. It comes in pumpkin strong before smoothly rolling into a very, very dark coffee taste that is smoky on the back of the tongue, then sticks the landing with something like goji berries. It's an interesting journey, and it's kind of funny how, for all the orange whip atop this cocktail, the pumpkin is a supporting actor, not the star.

Starbucks Reserve pumpkin spice drinks: the overall verdict

While all three drinks are quite good, only the escalated pumpkin spice latte feels like enough bang for the buck to get hyped for more than just an occasional special visit. A 12 oz. pumpkin spice latte can be had elsewhere in the same building, but here it is simply so much better. This truly amplifies what's great about the drink, making a memorable sip from the first to the last. It might even address the concerns of those who insist Starbucks tastes unnecessarily bitter and burned. 

As for the other two drinks, buy them with points. They sure do taste better when it isn't necessary to feel guilty about working an hour to earn a single cocktail. Better yet, buy the barrel-aged latte and ... "enhance" it with Knob Creek from home. Voila, it's the best of both worlds, and about ten bucks cheaper.