As the days grow shorter and the air turns crisper, there’s no mistaking it—fall has arrived. With the change of the season, we trade in our iced lattes for cozier, warm brews. Yet, when we think of fall-themed coffee shop menus, it’s hard not to conjure the image of that iconic classic: the Pumpkin Spice Latte. However, independent coffee shops nationwide are introducing creative fall-themed drinks that capture the spirit of the season.
- City: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Drink: Mayan Mocha
When planning its fall menu, Tinker Coffee sought a balance between seasonal flavors and customer demand. Tinker worked to develop a dairy-free mocha and also drew inspiration from Xocolatl, an Aztec and Mayan drink made with bitter chocolate and chilies. “It took some time finding products we could use to uplift the creaminess while keeping it vegan without adding an outlying flavor,” says café manager Libby Baert.
Initially, the test batches for the drink were too runny. Baert and her team experimented with coconut milk, which lacked the desired velvety texture of drinking chocolate. They kept working, eventually fine-tuning the formula (not without some trial and error).
With the mocha component perfected, the next challenge was infusing the right level of heat. “We decided to create a separate chili paste so people could order a plain mocha without the heat,” says Baert. She credits Tinker’s collaborative team effort for crafting a latte that caters to the community’s diverse tastes. “We wanted to offer something accessible that everybody could have, but something that also allowed us to be creative in new ways.”
Zest Bakery and Coffeehouse
- City: Stevens Point, Wisconsin
- Drink: This Is My Boomstick
Zest Bakery and Coffeehouse adds some heat to its fall menu with a drink called This Is My Boomstick. A staff favorite, the signature drink begins with a nostalgic favorite as its base: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
“We make a syrup using this cereal,” says Brandi Marchant, the owner of Zest Bakery and Coffeehouse. “We strain out all the cereal bits and add cayenne so it has a little heat, but with all the flavors of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.” This latte is topped with whipped cream and, to honor autumn as the season of ghastly frights, a sweet red drizzle the staff playfully call “blood.”
Fun new drinks aren’t just for fall. Each month, the Zest team develops a latte board with seasonal drinks, and the process kicks off with choosing a theme. “It can take us a few weeks because we don’t like to repeat flavors, and most of our syrups are homemade concoctions,” says Marchant.
Once the theme gets decided, the team looks to drink names for flavor inspiration. This month’s theme, Marchant says, was inspired by quotes from cult classic movies. If you haven’t guessed yet, This Is My Boomstick is a reference to the 1992 cult horror comedy classic “Army of Darkness.”
“It is absolutely a team effort,” says Marchant about developing the monthly menu. “Most of the drinks will have some fun toppings that aren’t on our regular menu.”
Full Stop Station
- City: Louisville, Kentucky
- Drink: Practical Magic Latte
The anticipation for fall is palpable at Full Stop Station, a neighborhood cafe with a spacious outdoor patio and a fire pit. “Louisville gets so hot during the summer that fall is pretty romanticized here,” says Katy Carey. “This menu has been pretty heavily anticipated.”
Along with a selection of seasonal drinks, this fall, Full Stop welcomed back a past favorite: the Practical Magic Latte. The latte features a house-made syrup with rosemary and brown sugar and is topped with a fresh sprig of rosemary. Full Stop grows its own rosemary in an on-site herb garden, and whenever possible, they use in-season herbs to create drinks and food items.
When developing the fall menu, Carey and the Full Stop team remained committed to flavors true to the season: spicy and warm drinks that highlight fresh, in-season ingredients while letting the coffee shine. “All of us here love flavor, but none of us have a massive sweet tooth,” says Carey. “We want to highlight the natural flavors of the coffee. We try to do things that are going to be simple for the sake of being able to highlight the beverage and not overcomplicate them.”
Mocha Magic Cafe & Bake Shop
- City: Modesto, California
- Drink: Pumpkin Pie Horchata
The Pumpkin Pie Horchata at Mocha Magic Cafe & Bake Shop is inspired by Horchata de Arroz, a popular Mexican drink made with ground rice, milk, and cinnamon. Owner Maria Apodaca starts with a pumpkin pie-flavored coffee bean ground for espresso. “You get the coffee taste and you get the spice,” says Apodaca. “People love it because it’s smooth without being overbearing.”
As the fall season settles in, hot beverages are gaining popularity over cold drinks with customers, and Apodaca wanted to introduce a cozy drink. “That’s where we came up with the horchata,” she says.
- City: Canton, Georgia
- Drink: Pecan Pie Dirty Chai
Last winter, Bizarre Coffee made a splash with their pecan pie chai latte, but they wanted to introduce a new version this year. “We added a shot of espresso and a full mini pecan pie that sits on top,” says owner Sabrina Kaylor. “It’s about three inches around, and we stick a straw right through it.”
Their inspiration for the fall menu is rooted in holiday traditions, and they wanted to build off the success of last year’s surprise seasonal hit. “Everybody loved the [Pecan Pie Chai] last time, but they really wanted it earlier [in the season]—pecan pie is such a staple for Thanksgiving,” she says. “The flavor profiles for pecan pairs better in the fall, so this year we’ve sold way more than last year.”
Kaylor and her team invest a minimum of 10-15 hours testing each item on the seasonal menu and researching trending flavors and recipes. “If there are top sellers that people look forward to every year, I try to bring them back.”
Bizarre’s ultimate goal is to create distinct flavors. While some combinations may result in a latte that happens to taste good because it’s sweet, the real litmus test is whether they can pick out specific flavor notes and keep the drink true to its ingredients. “The question we always ask is, ‘Does it taste like what I’m describing, or is it just a good latte?'”