4 Alternatives to the Pumpkin Spice Latte
I Secretly Love PSLs
I am a huge coffee guy; I drink it every day, all day. But something I have never been able to get on board with is the pumpkin spice latte. I’ve had opportunities aplenty - it has been around since 2003 - but I refused to take part . . . until today.
You’re probably thinking, “Corey, what’s taken you so long to get on the PSL bandwagon?” I’ll admit it, I didn’t like the idea of it when it first came out, and over the years, it only got worse. More and more products crammed pumpkin spice into seasonal recipes for every product imaginable and I was convinced that the spice jumped the shark.
To me, pumpkin spice was an uninvited, omnipresent flavor that had burrowed into our palates. I wasn’t going to concede to the marketing teams of every drink, cookie, and snack manufacturer in America who was like, “Who cares if it’s any good, throw in some pumpkin spice and get it on the shelves!”
Just because Starbucks slings 20M PSLs a year didn’t mean I wanted my entire October to be pumpkin spice flavored. Kale chips! Milanos! Dog treats! Even pumpkin spice Peeps. Folks, normal Peeps are weird enough!
But, today I decided to drop all preconceived biases and finally order a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Magic! One sip and suddenly I was awash in a flood of nostalgia, memories of pumpkin carving with my family, a strange desire to nibble on a pumpkin spice Peep, and the feeling of excitement for the coming holiday season. What is in this thing?
I’d always wondered what it would be like if I ate one of my wife’s pumpkin spice candles, and now with a high level of confidence, I know what it would taste like — delicious. Plus, I discovered that PSLs have actual pumpkin puree in them . . . pumpkin is a superfood. Bonus points for PSL!
So, happy 14th birthday PSL, I’m sorry I never gave you a chance. Let the flavor of the Fall spill over me; I’m all in on pumpkin spice. Someone toss me a stick of pumpkin spice deodorant.
Now, back to coffee. If you are like old-Corey, and won’t touch a PSL, or you are like future-Corey, who has gone overboard on pumpkin spice, I have the coffee solution for you: don’t order a PSL. It isn’t the only deliciously comforting cold weather beverage you should be sipping on this fall.
I will deconstruct 4 classics and tell you where to find them so you can order with confidence, and with pride that you have earned your snarky, hipster, artisanal coffee shop barista’s pumpkin-hating respect.
The latte, also referred to as a cafe latte (Italian for milk coffee) is all about the smooth, silky microfoam that sits on top of the espresso and warm rich milk. The texture of the foam is critical since it is what gives the latte its distinct look and mouthfeel. The components of the latte are:
Double shot of espresso (two ounces)
6 to 8 ounces of steamed milk
A layer of foam that is about 1cm thick
So whether your latte boasts artful hearts swirled into the top foam or is injected with pumpkin spice, as long as it has the 3:1 ratio of milk to coffee, it can rightfully be called a latte.
Irish coffees were originally created to greet American travelers landing in the town of Foynes, Ireland in the 1940’s. After the 18 hour flight, the tourists were shuttled by boat to the airport terminal - a frosty ordeal, especially in the winter months. The innovative terminal chef had the brilliant idea of combining something Americans were very familiar with (coffee) with something the Irish were very familiar with (whiskey). This is the perfect winter drink and is appropriate any time of day! The breakdown of the Irish Coffee:
1.5 shot of Irish Whiskey (Tullamore Dew)
8 oz. fresh brewed coffee
2 cubes of brown sugar
1 handsome dollop of fresh whipped cream
Garnish with chocolate shavings (if you’re fancy)
Whether you’re drinking a latte, a cappuccino, a macchiato, or a cortado, the foundation of all of these tasty drinks is espresso. It is made by shooting pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee beans, a process the pros refer to as, “pulling a shot.”
Unlike coffee, espresso has “crema,” a reddish-brown froth that forms when air bubbles combine with the soluble oils of a fine-ground coffee. This crema adds to the rich flavor and alluring aroma of espresso. If you’re really clever, you can tell the quality of your espresso and the skill of the barista by the crema.
In Spanish and Portuguese, the word cortado translates to cut, as in cut the espresso. Over the past 50 years, coffee cup sizes have steadily crept up in size due to consumer demand and the higher prices cafes can charge. But, bigger is not always better, cortados are typically served in a small 4.5 ounce glass. You won’t find the cortado on many cafe menus in North America, but any barista who knows their trade can make it. Here is how to fashion a cortado:
Double shot of espresso
Double shot of steamed milk
In the mood for a coffee? Here are 4 Sidewalks that lead you to the best of the best of these aforementioned coffees in a city near you.
Sidewalk: Open Eyed & Wide Awake: The Artisanal Coffee Crawl of Downtown Seattle
Why: Discover the deconstructed Espresso + Milk at Slate Coffee Roasters. On this Sidewalk, you’ll receive three wine glasses on a tray, one with a shot of espresso, another with a glass of full-bodied steamed milk, the last with a latte. The deconstruction allows you to study the individual components before they are fused together.
Sidewalk: The Insider's Walk of Fisherman's Wharf: Sea Lions, Chocolate, Chowder & Pinball
Why: This walking tour of Fisherman's Warf features Buena Vista Cafe, which is known for one thing: producing the best Irish Coffee west of Ireland. Sit at the bar to witness the white-coated barista assemble a dozen Irish Coffees in mere seconds.
Sidewalk: The Instagram-Worthy, Tastebud-Approved Walk Of Georgetown
Why: This Sidewalk makes a stop at Baked & Wired for an espresso doppio (double shot) and one of their iconic cupcakes. We recommend steering clear of the overhyped “Uniporn & Rainho” cupcake, instead choose the “Elvis Impersonator” - a banana cupcake with peanut buttercream frosting, drizzled with chocolate (you can get it “porked” by adding candied bacon to the top). The bitterness of the espresso and decadence of the buttercream is a match made in heaven. Or Graceland. Or wherever Elvis might be.
New York City
Sidewalk: Healthy Food Tour of Greenwich Village: Vegan Tex Mex, Coconut Froyo & Artisanal Coffee
Why: On this walking tour of Greenwich Village you'll find Stumptown Coffee Roasters, the Portland based boutique coffee shop that serves up one of the best cortados in the city. Enjoy it in the rustic atmosphere that conjures up a Wild West apothecary.