Back Away From the Basics

Looking Beyond Pumpkin Spice for Fall Beverage Flavors

The fall for many is the season of quilted vests and other fall fashion favorites, but for foodservice professionals and foodies across the nation, fall is the season for the ubiquitous pumpkin spice flavor. Many may find it hard to remember or even imagine an autumn without the ever-present spice blend dominating every imaginable snack or beverage. But let’s examine the landscape of fall beverages, looking back at some classics, as well as strolling into the future for some pumpkin spice alternatives.

Autumn is harvest time, when communities all over throw festivals to celebrate some of our favorite forgotten flavors. When the bushels of apples and cranberries are unloaded, there are a myriad of options for beverage makers to take advantage of. The food-based publication Serious Eats has many tips and recipes that make use of harvested fruit to create juice or cider, beverages that also act as a tasty base or flavor additive for teas or bubbly soda drinks.  Drying fall fruits to make Kompat, a traditiona, steeped fruit drink from Eastern Europe that will add sweetness and tartness to any warm or cold drinks you are making.

Pumpkin spice doesn’t have a monopoly on the zest you can add to your hot beverages during autumnal weather. Currently, a hot cocoa favorite is already a Mexican chocolate blend. The chili pepper and cocoa balances well with coffee for a smooth and spicy, sippable treat. Another spice to consider adding to your coffee-based beverages is the Middle Eastern favorite cardamom. This large green pod has yet to reach the mainstream American palate and will add a ginger note to your “morning joe” with the added benefit of including essential minerals and fiber. Brewing coffee with teas like Earl Grey or chai will add new depth to coffee and offer more refined  notes of citrus and spice.

An American regional classic that gives morning grounds a little extra pep is to add chicory. This dried and ground root is a New Orleans favorite that provides a jazzy, woody, and nutty flavor and blends well with steamed milk for sharp-tasting latte, aka “au lait” in the local vernacular, according to New Orleans’ Café Du Monde’s website.    

Another wonderful beverage ingredient that goes by many names is Jamaican sorrel, otherwise known as Hibiscus.  This dried flower with a deep, dark red color is used all over the world to flavor and color food and drinks.  When steeped in either cold or hot water, this flower renders a wonderful ruby colored drink which pairs well with citrus, cloves, or ginger but … don’t forget to sweeten it.

Looking farther afield than pumpkin spice, we are reminded how many traditional flavors there are for fall as well as how many new ones there are to explore. There are flavors for all palates and tastes, and the possibilities for baristas, mixologists, or gelato chefs churning out traditional Italian affogatos—gelato drowned in espresso— are as numerous as the shades of the falling leaves