Ask certain people, and they will tell you autumn is defined in three words: Pumpkin. Spice. Latte.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the famous Starbucks beverage — now affectionately branded as "PSL" — and more than 200 million have been sold since its debut a decade ago. Starbucks executives who were part of the development team revealed this year that the beverage almost never happened — initial market testing placed it far below other seasonal concepts like cinnamon spice and chocolate caramel.
But that tepid response was overwhelmed almost immediately with consumer love once the drink hit stores, and the craze hasn't faded. It's a corporate dream — a product that not only gained a loyal following, but became synonymous with an entire season. It's become such a phenomenon that even local non-Starbucks coffee shops have given in to customer demand. (And they've made some great concoctions — more on that in a minute.)
"We hear from our customers year-round that drinking their first Pumpkin Spice Latte is when they know fall has arrived," Starbucks executive Cliff Burrows said in a press release heralding the drink as the "most popular seasonal beverage of all time."
Last year, aficionados panicked when it was reported that some Starbucks locations were running short of the coveted seasonal syrup. This year, Starbucks' pumpkin spice empire has been threatened in another way, with McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts rolling out their own versions. But Starbucks needn't worry about loyalty — when the company released 600 limited-edition commemorative mugs decked out in pumpkin-colored Swarovski crystals this year for $150 apiece, the mugs sold out in less than two hours.
The drink is like a personal pumpkin pie in a cup — silky and golden-colored, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkled with spice. Take a sip, and it's hard to imagine a pumpkin spice latte any other way. But Starbucks isn't the only place to get a pumpkin spice latte in this town, and we visited a handful of local shops that craft their own pumpkin spice lattes for the fall season.
At Coeur Coffeehouse (701 N. Monroe), the pumpkin spice latte makes Starbucks' polished version seem a little too perfect. The blend of local whole milk and housemade sauce tastes like a homemade pumpkin pie — the type with a thick, hand-rolled crust, toasty around the edges. It caused a minor scandal when Starbucks confirmed its pumpkin spice latte contains no actual pumpkin, but you can rest assured that Coeur's version does.
The version at Boots Bakery & Lounge (24 W. Main) also includes pumpkin, along with molasses, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spices. Lightly sweet, it's also available in a chai or a steamer for those who want their PS sans L. Owner Alison Collins says they didn't have any ready when Starbucks rolled out its pumpkin spice latte earlier than usual this year, but people immediately started asking about it.
"So of course we made it, and we've been making it ever since," she says.
Up on the North Side of Spokane, custom syrups are becoming a signature touch at the Maple Street Bistro (5520 N. Maple) where the pumpkin spice lattes aren't too sweet, but carefully balanced between a warm spice mix and bitter espresso. (For those who gag at the idea of a sickly sweet coffee drink, try this). Though its syrup contains pumpkin purée, that flavor is mostly masked by the accompanying spices. Still, that cozy, rich taste the PSL has become known for definitely is present.
Maple Street Bistro co-owner DeAnna Woodard says the café's growing list of housemade coffee syrups debuted about six months ago, including non-seasonal flavors like agave cinnamon and brown sugar. Since Maple Street's pumpkin spice showed up on the café board several weeks ago, it's been noticeably popular, and Woodard says the flavor should stay on the menu until early spring.
Handmade syrups play a big role in Revel 77's (3223 E. 57th) stripped-down coffee philosophy. Even though the young South Hill coffee shop is making a name for itself by shying away from major corporate-chain fads, owners Mike and Deb Nelson still realize there are some trends customers just won't let go of. Yet Revel 77's pumpkin spice latte syrup sticks to the basics, too. It's low in sugar and incorporates real pumpkin purée alongside the collection of signature spices.
In yet another twist on the classic, Atticus Coffee & Gifts' (222 N. Howard) version of the fall drink doesn't contain any pumpkin, instead getting its flavor from a combination of vanilla syrup and several good shakes of dry pumpkin spice stirred in. Despite the absence of actual pumpkin, the spices create those ideal flavor notes that make this fall beverage so... well, fall. ♦
What's in pumpkin spice?
It would be hard to perfectly replicate any locally created PSLs, yet you might already have the ingredients in your spice rack to make your own pumpkin pie spice. Sprinkle a bit into your coffee with some sugar and cream to create a simple (non-latte) pumpkin spice coffee.
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. ground cloves
Whisk together all spices and store in an airtight container.
Recipe from Parade.com