Author: Andrea Tuemmler
The signs of autumn have finally arrived in Los Angeles. From the brisk chill of 80-degree nights to the crunch of brown lawns underfoot, LA is excitedly pretending, once again, that seasons exist. Of course, nowhere is this autumnal spirit more celebrated than in coffee shops around the city. Setting foot into almost any coffee shop means being bombarded by chalkboards, signs and banners depicting giant cups of coffee artistically drawn in their natural habitat, sitting among pumpkins and red and orange leaves.
In order to capture the magic of this season, and to spare others a subpar Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) experience, I dressed up in my fall clothes and went PSL taste-testing. My quest took me to the Green Bean, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Swork Cafe and, of course, the birthplace of the PSL: Starbucks.
I walked into Swork Cafe, flushed from wearing leggings and a scarf in the LA heat, and instantly felt as though I was not hipster enough for the atmosphere of this cafe. Despite the lack of fall-themed advertisements or seasonal menu, I asked for a PSL and was immediately told that Swork does not sell them. Swork Cafe, located on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard, curates a gourmet coffee experience that seems to have resisted the market pressure of those who do not want their coffee to taste like coffee. While Swork Cafe is for coffee, pastries and studying, it is not the place to find a PSL.
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, in contrast, is happy to capitalize on this fall fad. Although it seems as though LA street corners abound with this Southern California chain, Eagle Rock has a relatively low number of them — the closest stores to campus are at the Glendale Americana and Old Town Pasadena on Fair Oaks Avenue. The PSL (simply called the Pumpkin Latte) has the full autumnal range of spices such as nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. It is much less sweet than the Starbucks version, and of all the PSLs that I tried, it tasted the most like pumpkin pie. At $3.99, the small size is slightly less expensive than the Starbucks PSL. The Coffee Bean is too far from campus to make the journey worth it, but its PSL is still a delicious option for off-campus cravings.
Starbucks, home of the iconic and most-likely-to-be-Instagrammed PSL, is over-hyped. The Starbucks PSL is very sweet and tasted more like syrup than either pumpkin, spices or coffee. The official recipe was changed this year to include actual pumpkin and to remove the caramel coloring, but the changes are virtually indistinguishable in terms of taste. Starbucks sells around 20 million PSLs a year despite its $4.25 price tag, so its sugary taste is clearly a fall favorite. Starbucks is also easily accessible, as two stores are within walking distance: one on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and York Boulevard and another slightly farther away on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard. However, while it is still the most Instagrammable PSL, Starbucks’ drink falls flat compared to the rest.
Of all the PSLs, The Green Bean’s is my personal favorite. It tastes more like the Coffee Bean’s drink than Starbucks’ PSL in terms of its sweetness and emphasis on spices. However, The Green Bean uses noticeably more cinnamon than either of the other stores. This drink is more accessible for students given the fact that the Green Bean is on campus, and a small costs $4.75 (only $2.37 for students with meal plans). It is this month’s To Veitch Their Own specialty drink, meaning that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Diversity and Equity Board. The Green Bean PSL — not too sweet but nicely spiced — has the added benefit of giving back to the Occidental community.
Still Not Satisfied?
After braving the weather in fall clothes, I learned an important lesson for enjoying seasonal drinks in LA: every coffee shop offers iced versions of their drinks, and while the warm fall flavors sound as if they would taste odd in a cool blended drink, it turns out that sugar, pumpkin spice and everything nice taste good at any temperature.
There is even hope for fall lovers who do not drink coffee. Coffee shops such as the Green Bean and Peet’s Coffee and Tea (the nearest of which is located off Lake Street in Pasadena) offer Pumpkin Spice Chai tea. Starbucks also sells a Pumpkin Spice Cream drink, which does not have any coffee.
For alternatives to pumpkin, look to The Coffee Bean’s Salted Butterscotch drink or any coffee shop’s selection of chai tea. Adding caramel or cinnamon to most drinks also adds a warm autumnal feel.
To fully enjoy this season in LA, curl up under a blanket in an air-conditioned room with any one of these drinks to create the perfect fall atmosphere.
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