Scroll through your Instagram or Twitter feed this time of year and you’re bound to run across a photo of a friend clutching a coffee cup, conspicuously labeled PSL (pumpkin spice latte) and a caption with hashtags like #winter or #sweaterweather. At the risk of profiling, I’m guessing the picture was taken by a girl with a penchant for yoga pants.
It’s a sure sign that a certain corporate coffee giant is back to peddling their ever popular seasonal drinks. Every year it comes back with the kind of consumer craze usually reserved for cronuts or the McRib. This year, in an effort to up the hype to even loftier heights, customers were clued in to a special passcode they could whisper to the barista to score a pumpkin spice latte before the official release.
The truth is, you don’t need to jump through any hoops or deal with any speakeasy antics to enjoy a good seasonal coffee drink. And you don’t even need to pay a visit to that certain corporate coffee place. There are local, quality cafés in Albuquerque, and most offer seasonal specialties superior to the corporate PSL.
Downtown provides a few solid options to start. The Brew (311 Gold SW), a recent addition, has their own version of a pumpkin spice latte. The Brew uses syrup with real pumpkin in it, something the international chain can’t claim about their mysterious “pumpkin sauce.” And in a move that speaks to the pie lover in all of us, The Brew has a pecan pie latte on their specialty menu, just in case you didn’t get your fill over Thanksgiving. The baristas will even top your drink with a little latte art. See if those green aprons at the other place will do that much.
And in what might be the most unusual seasonal beverage I came across, you can try a red chile mocha. It’s a surprisingly complex and balanced blend of dark Dutch cacao, cinnamon, brown sugar and New Mexico red chile.
Just across the way at Gold Street Caffe (218 Gold SW), you’ll find a few seasonal specialties that’ll satisfy any peppermint craving. For coffee drinkers, a peppermint mocha should do the trick. For a non-coffee option, you can order a hot chocolate made with white chocolate and peppermint.
If a gingerbread latte is more your thing, head around the corner to Zendo (413 Second Street SW). They’ve also got your choice of pumpkin spice latte or chai.
For those of you over on the West Side, Cafe Bella Coffee (2115 Golf Course SE, Rio Rancho) has some unique seasonal beverages. Step into their store and read over the ingredients list for their real pumpkin latte: cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses, real maple syrup and real pumpkin. The proof is in the pudding. A national chain is never going to be able to reproduce quality ingredients like that. They’ve also got a solid peppermint mocha with your choice of white or dark chocolate. And in what might be the most unusual seasonal beverage I came across, you can try a red chile mocha. It’s a surprisingly complex and balanced blend of dark Dutch cacao, cinnamon, brown sugar and New Mexico red chile. And if you still haven’t quite finished your holiday shopping, stay on the go by visiting their drive-thru location (9121 Eagle Ranch NW).
If you’re looking for that “Christmas in a cup” experience, I suggest Napoli Coffee’s (2839 Carlisle NE) “home for the holidays.” Flavored with white chocolate, cinnamon and hazelnut, it’ll prep you for the cold, wintry days of the season. They also offer “the pumpkin patch.” With a double dose of white and milk chocolate mixed with pumpkin, it’s a latte that won’t disappoint.
If you’re easily swayed by the convenience of the ubiquitous presence of national coffee chains, keep in mind Albuquerque’s own local chainlet. With nine locations, Satellite Coffee might be the easiest way to get your holiday drink fix. Through December you can get their pumpkin spice chai latte or go caffeine free with a toasted marshmallow hot chocolate. And since it’s the holiday season, go ahead and order extra whipped cream.
The point is, there are way too many local alternatives to settle for a chain’s PSL. Just keep in mind, these are seasonal offerings, so some of the drinks won’t be here come spring. Some won’t even make it to 2014. Much like snow in Albuquerque, they’ll be gone before you know it.