This story is featured in the October issue of Seattle magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.
It's the fall of 2021 and you know what? I’m calling it. It’s time to oﬃcially stop shaming the pumpkin spice latte for simply existing, and it’s time to oﬃcially stop shaming the people who gulp it lovingly.
I say this as a PSL fanatic myself. In fact, if I had things my way, I would arrange for a Dunkin’ to be dropped The Wizard Of Oz-style via enchanted tornado on the corner of my North Seattle street – and I’d stop in every day from September (OK, more like mid-August) through December for a light and sweet iced coﬀee steeped with high-fructose spiced condensed milk sludge and creamy half-and-half. No shade to the nuanced, exemplary Seatown espresso beans – I just really love Dunkin’. And I really love pumpkin spice.
Did I just make thousands of local enemies, or are you still with me?
Let’s break it down this way: “Pumpkin spice” is merely a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. This ragtag quartet of staples from the back of your baking cabinet is praised without question as it’s shaken in desserts like carrot cake, gingerbread and holiday pies.
And yet, when it’s liquiﬁed into a sugared syrup and made the primary ﬂavor proﬁle of a latte, suddenly it’s a caﬀeinated crime, a beverage reserved for “basic women,” a capitalist marketing ploy that makes the interior of Trader Joe’s glow deliriously orange once a year.
And in America’s most celebrated coﬀee town, where ristretto pulls, stiﬀ cortados and black cold brews reign supreme, it’s also where I’ve felt most alienated for my undying autumnal devotion to the sweet, butterscotch-hued elixir. When it seems like everyone around you orders their java like Frasier Crane, it can be diﬃcult to get into the pumpkin-spiced spirit.
But I’m here to implore you to order it in spite of the pretentious hate. This is the PSL PSA for anyone who’s ever been embarrassed to request a pump or three of the sauce once the leaves start changing colors. For anyone who’s been called “basic.” For anyone who ever sipped theirs during a morning commute to destroy the evidence before work. Seattleites, it’s just a blend of earthy ground spices in a cup, for crying out loud. So are chai and mulled cider, and nobody’s complaining about those.
There are plenty of espresso bars here in town that also rightfully embrace the gourd. They’re the ones I seek out post-Labor Day. Like Anchorhead Coffee, which we can always count on for seasonally appropriate masterpieces. Anchorhead’s “pumpkin stuﬀ” mix is housemade, fragrant with vanilla bean, maple, cinnamon heat and the squash in question instead of artiﬁcial ﬂavoring.
For a not-so-chilly day, Café Red serves a pumpkin-spiced version of its refreshing “Oatnilla” ground control cold brew from Victoria, B.C., nutty oat milk and plenty of baking spices, poured on the rocks. Boon Boona’s (Boonboonacoﬀee.com) pumpkin latte has a sweet twist of homemade salted caramel to balance the depth of its outstanding African beans roasted in-house. The Boon Boona team says, “The touch of salt helps to balance out the caramel and create a satisfying ﬁnish on the palate.” I agree.
And even in the case of Espresso Vivace, which uses a store-bought syrup, the coﬀee itself is so excellent that it, too, makes for a great fall drink, especially with globs of chocolate and whipped cream added (hello, fudgy pumpkin loaf as a drinkable thing).
If anything else, let this defense inspire you. Don’t you dare be ashamed, fellow pumpkin lover. Go forth and order a PSL boldly. Heck, stir it with a cinnamon stick while you’re at it. I’ll be right beside you doing the same, slurping like there’s no tomorrow. At least, until peppermint mocha season arrives.