Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pumpkin Spice Latte - Can you get the high without paying the same price as a pie?

With much anticipation, the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) is out at Starbucks! This is cause for much joy and much sorrow, since they are so delicious and yet so expensive. My grande cost me just over $5 today (whoa!). So, I tried looking around to see how you can get a discount at Starbucks. Unfortunately, there aren't too many ways to do this. I have yet to see a coupon for $ off of a Starbucks specialty drinks just floating around out there. Last year, I did get one when I made a purchase at Target; it was a BOGO half off coupon for any specialty coffee at the in-store Starbucks that printed out at the register. I shared it with my mother-in-law since my husband is a "black coffee that puts hair on your chest" kind of guy. I have seen coupons for their grocery store products, but those don't get you any closer to the coveted PSL. If you're a Starbucks regular, getting a Starbucks Rewards card might be worth it, but since I have become focused on savings, I pretty much avoid the place at all costs unless they're doing a free coffee giveaway (which is usually just regular coffee when it happens).

Long sentences aside, I started to think about alternatives. So here are some options for all you rebels out there fighting against the Starbucks Juggernaut.

1. Mom & Pop Shops - ok, so maybe these are more like "Mike & Steve" shops nowadays, but you get the idea. Local shops tend to charge less and have "buy 8 and get your 9th cup free" punch cards. In Durham, you can try Joe Van Gogh on Broad St. or Bean Traders on 9th. In Raleigh, I always liked Global Village Organic Coffee on Hillsborough right near NC State - though parking there lately is a B. In Cary, Crema Coffee (shout out to Kevin & Regina, proprietors) on the corner of High House and Davis has always been a favorite of mine. These shops usually do some seasonal drinks that can be pretty close to the precious Starbucks PSL and maybe save you a few cents. Plus, they tend to roast their own coffee so the quality of their beans is incredible if you're into the "hair on your chest" variety or just want to brew some high quality coffee at home. We do this instead of spending $ picking up a cup every day. A final perk - if you stick around you might get to see some local musicians. This, to me, is better than sitting in Starbucks in the uncomfortable chairs listening to the latest John Mayer Album that they just-so-happen to be selling at the counter, but it's a personal choice. Just like being a DJ-person instead of a Live Band-person or a Cat-person instead of a Dog-person. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not how I roll ;-)

2. Other Chains - One of Starbucks' major competitors, Caribou Coffee, also does wonderful seasonal lattes and specialty drinks. Depending on where you are located, these can be cheaper, and they also put out more coupons than SBs - I have found several $1 off a large drink coupons from the newspaper this year, and there were coupons in my Entertainment book. Some locations even have a drive-thru like the one in Cary off of Maynard. Dunkin' Donuts can definitely be cheaper, but if you're a coffee snob you probably don't think of their lattes as "real" lattes. However, I find that their "Vanilla Spice" coffee they have during the Fall and Winter months to be quite tasty, especially "Light and Sweet" - and it's much, much cheaper than the PSL. They put out a lot of coupons and special deals, as well. For a while, my receipt at HT had some coupons for 99 cent lattes printed on the back! I saved a bunch of them since they didn't expire.

3. Non-coffee places - Other places not necessarily known for their coffee but who can do a good job with this type of latte are Panera Bread (whose house latte has always tasted like a PSL to me) and Cosi (don't think we have a Cosi in the triangle area yet). Have lunch, then a latte to go. My latte at Cosi in NJ a few days ago was cheaper than SB, and I used my Cosi card so if I buy 10 I think I get one free. That would probably take me all year to get to 10 even if I lived near a Cosi, but it's the principle of the thing.

4. Beg - If you're really hard up and very picky about the PSL, remind people that your birthday/Bat Mitzvah/engagement/retirement/baby shower/house warming/(insert religious holiday here) is coming up, and that Starbucks gift cards are your preferred method of currency. Wear an "I heart my Pumpkin Spice Latte" sticker on your person at all times and get a bumper sticker to drive home the point. No judgment; there's an SB on literally every corner in most US cities so trying to avoid your addiction may be futile until they build some PSL rehab clinics.

5. Make Your Own - What really makes a pumpkin spice latte different than any other sweet latte at Starbucks is, well, pumpkin spice. You can literally buy it at the grocery store (maybe with a coupon??) and sprinkle it on your homemade latte or coffee. You can even make your own pumpkin spice out of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ground ginger (same stuff they put in pumpkin pie). Here is a recipe if you really want to try to make a pumpkin spice latte yourself - don't know how good it is, but if you try it, let me know!

Many thanks to my friend Emily to inspired this post and from whom I stole the picture... :-)

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