Protein Bar's Pump-Quinoa Treat: a pumpkin spice latté replacement?
Yesterday, I stepped into my safe place frequent lunch destination, Protein Bar, to discover that the store had stopped promoting the summer Baja salad (very good, by the way) and had set up a new poster, this one advertising something called a Pump-Quinoa Treat. Name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but, well, it's a blended drink featuring pumpkin and pumpkin spice.
My mind flashed to the weekend's biggest news: Pumpkin spice latté shortage at Starbucks!!! I would taste the Pump-Quinoa Treat and see whether it could possibly be a replacement in case Chicago becomes the next site of the pumpkin-spice latté shortage!!!
One problem: I've never had, nor had the desire to have, a pumpkin spice latté. Another problem: The Protein Bar version is iced, whereas, judging from the WSJ haikus (my main point of reference re: pumpkin-spice lattés, sorry), the appeal of the pumpkin-spice latté at Starbucks is its steaming, warm, gentle entrée into fall. These severe limitations withstanding, I proceeded, today, with the taste test.
So: the facts. The Pump-Quinoa comes in 12-ounce ($4.79) and 20-ounce ($5.79) sizes. I went with the 12-ounce, which has 210 calories, 18g protein, 3.5g fat, 28g carbohydrates, 20g sugar and 2g fiber. You must also choose a milk (I went with soy), protein (also soy) and free boost (I did multivitamin). As described on the Protein Bar blog, the drink consists of puréed pumpkin blended with pepitas, pumpkin spice and quinoa.
The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latté, per Starbucks's website, is "signature espresso blended with the unmistakable spices of fall—cinnamon, nutmeg and clove—smooth with steamed milk and topped with delectably sweetened whipped cream." A 12-ounce version (made with soy milk and no whipped cream*) cost me $4.15 with tax and contains 240 calories, 9g protein, 4g fat, 41g carbohydrates, 37g sugar and less than 1g fiber. Worse for you than the Protein Bar version, but not by a huge stretch. Also, to be fair to the Pump-Quinoa, I ordered it iced, which apparently is fairly common and, per the barista's approval, "not weird."
Okay, first of all, these both sound terrible. Ordering one at Protein Bar, where there are literally dozens of menu items I love, was pure self-denial. Like most protein-enriched shakes, it's chalky on the tongue. Unlike most protein shakes, it has quinoa and pepitas ground into it, which gives it a chewy thickness. Yet all in all, it wasn't bad. As I sipped it while walking around the corner to Starbucks, I began to enjoy it.
Then, after learning multiple interesting things about Starbucks—you can pay with your phone?—I had a sip of the iced pumpkin-spiced latte. Compared to the Protein Bar shake, which I was still holding in my left hand, it was thin, watery and—most worrisomely—tasted nothing like pumpkin! Was there, I thought, actually a pumpkin-spice syrup shortage happening in our midst? Had they forgotten to put the mysterious cinnamon/nutmeg/clove gel into my drink? Judging from the drink's bright orange color, they had not.
I switched back to the Protein Bar shake but—yuck—after the Starbucks pumpkin-spice latté, it tasted less like a surprisingly thick shake and more like dense, liquified food. I strolled through the Loop, Pump-Quinoa in one hand, Pumpkin Spice Latté in another. I was beguiled and ashamed, but I knew that somehow, I had lost, and the pumpkin blended treats had won.
*Out of some weird sense of embarrassment, I was going to pretend that I ordered this drink without whipped cream. When adding the photo to the post, I realized this would be impossible, but in the interest of calorie comparison, I will leave the "facts" as is.