’Tis the season of sugar and spice and everything pumpkin flavored: no doubt you’ve noticed this on your weekly (or biweekly? every day? hourly?) excursions to Starbucks. Fellow caffeine lovers, by stopping by a chain to pick up a Pumpkin Spice Latte, Salted Caramel Mocha or Apple Cider, you are missing out on the potential of autumn flavor. In the middle of these trending seasonal flavors are the off-the-record coffee shops, the places that provide similar flavors and experiences as chains such as Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Personalized with care and handcrafted far differently than the industrialized versions of PSLs worldwide, the craft of a local autumn beverage is incomparable.
Pumpkin Patch Latte, Ipsento 606, Bucktown IL
Ipsento 606 in the heart of Chicago strikes a beautiful balance of a clean modern aesthetic paired with a friendly, comfortable atmosphere. Boy meets girl, bar meets coffee shop: stepping inside Ipsento 606 is a dream come true with nothing but happily ever afters. Their most popular seasonal drink item, the Pumpkin Patch Latte, is made with “real pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, sweetened condensed milk, cloves, nutmeg and local @josnowsyrups pumpkin coconut syrup”. Just close your eyes and the size small, just under $5 drink transports you instantly to the pumpkin patch of your childhood: far less sweet than your average chain PSL, this latte captures the essence of fall in a subtle and sophisticated manner. As Rebecca Tucker of the National Post says, “[The] Spice Latte, broadly speaking, doesn’t even taste like pumpkin: it tastes like cinnamon, nutmeg, milk and espresso.” By eliminating the term “spice”, the latte is not dependent on strong spices to carry the drink, but rather presents the real pumpkin flavor as the highlighted feature. Ipsento 606 takes a wonderful trend and gives it a delightful new spin.
Pumpkin Spice Latte, Brewpoint Coffee, Elmhurst IL
In addition to the three other seasonal drinks Brewpoint offers, the Pumpkin Coconut Latte– a twist on the classic PSL– is prepared with “pumpkin spice syrup, a touch of sweet coconut, espresso, and milk.” Priced at $4 for a small, the pumpkin coconut latte is similar to the latte found at Ipsento 606 in its subtle flavoring: not overwhelming, the pumpkin and coconut balance each other out as harmonizing undertones within the latte. Unlike the other shops I visited, Breakpoint offers a year-round drink called the Vespucci, a blend of pumpkin spice, marshmallow and cinnamon. This drink, sitting at $3.50, could be considered seasonal but is instead on the menu of permanent beverages. So if you’re needing a pumpkin fix in the spring when the memory of autumn is oh, so distant, head over to Brewpoint for an experience similar to the classic PSL.
Pumpkin Spice Latte, Blackberry Market, Glen Ellyn IL
The ever-photogenic Blackberry Market serves two seasonal drinks: the pumpkin spice latte and a honey sage cider. Both small sizes sitting just under $4, these beverages are described as “specialty”, available for a limited time. Presented similarly to the latte found at Ipsento 606, Blackberry Market creates their seasonal latte with local Chicago Intelligentsia coffee, the sweetness minimized and instead contrasted with a bold bitterness. When asked about the popularity of the beverage, the barista laughed and assured me, “Well, we make a lot!” The pumpkin spice remains the top seasonal drink for Blackberry Market, a perfect pairing with their famous cinnamon buns: truly an autumnal eating experience.
Nancy Gagliardi, contributing writer for Forbes states: “Last year, the company reported selling 200 million cups since its launch [of the Pumpkin Spice Latte]….The Starbucks model is considered a lesson in how to transform a cult favorite into mainstream success.” This is evidenced by the seasonal drink trend in smaller businesses, promoting autumnal flavors and selling them at a remarkable pace. While chains such as Starbucks may have begun the hype of the coveted and short-lived PSL, local and smaller-scale shops continue and carry this trend, adopting the concept of fall flavor but adapting the beverages in fresh and unique ways. Dear reader, I hope that these testimonials to local businesses around the greater Chicagoland area will encourage you to discover new flavors that continue the Pumpkin Spice tradition. Happy Fall!