Ah, fall. My favorite season and my favorite time of the year. Ordinarily neither too hot nor too cold. The leaves turn from green to gold, red, orange and brown. Women drift back from the beach and take on a more sophisticated look as they return to the halls of business and academia (yet us guys just look as dumb as ever). The nights are a little longer and the sun is less punishing, and spiced drinks fill the smells in the air. Ah, fall. So many choices.
I’m flat broke.
So that means I will not be traipsing down to Starbucks for their $4+ pumpkin latte. Instead I will be hitting up our local convenience stores to indulge my taste of Autumn, at half the price. There is more of a cost however in the realization that these pumpkin spice coffees aren’t really coffee at all, at least not in the traditional sense. They’re pumped out of the hot drinks dispenser, usually based in the coffee kiosk at most of your standard convenience joints, but these just mix hot water with a powdered drink mix not unlike Swiss Miss hot cocoa. Therefore, it is a little misleading to say these are actually coffee so much as they are coffee-flavored drinks.
Speaking of flavoring, you don’t really taste much pumpkin, if any, in them either. It’s all about the spice — primarily cinnamon and nutmeg, and your satisfaction with these will vary depending on your tolerance of them. I like ‘em, which is fortunate because on this day I have decided to try three, from three different Northeast chains: 7-11, Wawa, and QuikCheck. Your convenience stores will likely be different depending on where you are throughout America.
Store One was QuikCheck, and I’ll admit it was first on the docket not because I have any favoritism for their coffee selections (I don’t), but because I have a crush on the girl who tends the coffee kiosk on Saturdays. She’s insanely cute and laughs at my jokes, even when I know they’re horrible (and so far, she has not misread any of my friends’ names as “Swarly”). I would love to say this was the winner of the batch, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Didn’t taste like coffee. Didn’t taste like pumpkin. Didn’t smell like spice. Sun-boiled cat urine, maybe. Ordinarily my breakfast of choice on a Saturday morning would be the drink and either a fruit and nut Kind bar or a Clif bar. I’d drink the drink first so the food wouldn’t overpower the taste, but after drinking this cup of woe I was dying for my tastebuds to be trampled. QuikCheck obviously failed the challenge, but I will return to the place next week because I have no self-esteem.
Store Two was Wawa; good old Wawa. In recent years the chain has experience a massive spurt of growth, which is not a phrase you want to hear when you’re about to drink their coffee. You also don’t want to think about the name of the company’s C.E.O., Mr. Richard Wood (or as their coffee cups used to say, “Dick Wood”). It will make you look immature and giggling will probably cause you to spill hot liquid on yourself…but really? Dick Wood? That’s priceless.
Pretty good, that Wawa. The machine has enough pressure on it to build the drink up to an acceptable froth, there is a discernible spice smell, and it tastes a bit like coffee. Better still, it does not taste like roadkill squeezins. The location I went to used to have a cute coffee attendant, but I think she got fired. Now there’s some dude manning the brewing machines behind the counter and he always looks like he has a massive hate-on for life. I think to try to crack him up by telling him his boss is Dick Wood, but that idea quickly evaporated with good sense. For now, Wawa’s pumpkin spice coffee is the winner, but we have one stop left, and it is the Big Magilla.
Store Three: Strange things are afoot at the Circle K, but in the world of convenience stores, the Circle K can sweep up after the legendary 7-11. Even if you have never stepped foot in a 7-11, you probably have heard of the chain. There are no cute coffee attendants here, but the guy who works the place is a total mensch; a good egg all around. I’d love to tell you his first name, but I don’t know what it really is. His nametag sometimes reads “Bob,” but there ain’t no way that he’s a “Bob.” Even so, he’s a friendly guy, moves the customers along quick, and has never said a cross thing to the clientele even when they deserved it (like the Tea Party dude last Christmas that shouted him down for wishing him a happy holiday. “Yer in ‘Murica! We say Christmas! Christmas!!” Dick Wood, indeed.)
The coffee was okay, but just okay. It gave you your hit of spicy smell but there was no radically different taste to it. What’s more, there was a lingering aftertaste that wasn’t particularly appreciated, like the brew had been on the boil a tad too long, which is impossible for a reconstituted powdered drink. It fills the need if you need a seasonally-influenced caffeine-based fluid but the winner was clearly Wawa’s pumpkin spice coffee.
For the sake of fairness, I avoided McDonald’s McCafe and Dunkin Donuts in this test because, frankly, nuts to them. Nuts, I say.