I had my first Pumpkin Spice Latte in a coffee shop (not even a Starbucks mind you!) in Salem Massachusetts in Halloween week, 2006 and I was hooked. I think it’s been gaining popularity every year, judging by how much I see my American friends talking about it on social media, and this year, I noticed that Starbucks has even started a Twitter account for @TheRealPSL and the Starbucks website claims there has been over 29,000 Tweets featuring the hashtag #pumpkinspice since August 2012.
Usually, I cope okay with the fact that in PSL season, Australia is boiling hot and not really a time for warm, comforting hot drinks. But this year, it’s just irked me. At Starbucks, they’re happily rolling out the Choc Mint mocha, and the Gingerbread latte as seasonal features, but no pumpkin spice. I even tweeted @TheRealPSL to ask and got a resounding ‘no’ as an answer. Boo.
After I sulked for a while, I decided to go on a mission to see if I could recreate the drink at home.
We don’t have a super-fancy coffee machine, just one of those pod machines from Aldi. So the coffee base is from a pod, and the milk is steamed in one of those automatic steamers, with the syrup added to the bottom of my mug before I brewed the coffee. I don’t eat a lot of cream, so whipped cream has been left off! The real recipe, is how I made the flavour.
Firstly, I worked out what I know about the flavours coffee shops use. They’re a syrup, a sugary syrup infused with flavour. So I started by making a batch of simple syrup out of sugar and water.
Last year, a friend in the US was kind enough to send me a bottle of a pumpkin spice bakery emulsion (a very strong, fancy version of an essence). I figured this might be the sort of thing used to flavour the PSL, so I added a tablespoon to my simple syrup while it was cooking, this went into jar number one. I didn’t add any spices to this version because the emulsion claims to be pumpkin spice and therefore shouldn’t need any extras.
But making the Latte out of a flavouring not available to most people in Australia kind of defeats the purpose of inventing one here, so I also made a second batch of syrup. This one was based off the fact that many pumpkin-flavoured products in the US aren’t actually made with any pumpkin at all, just lots of spices and sugar. Syrup number two was made with a generous teaspoon of mixed spice, plus an extra spoon of cinnamon.
Once I’d stored each syrup in a jar for a couple of days to develop the flavours, I moved on to trying them in my coffee.
So here’s the taste test:
Syrup number one
The first time I made coffee with syrup number one, I added about four teaspoons of it to my coffee and it was waaaay to sweet to finish. It had a slight spiciness to it but mostly, the pumpkin spice was lost in the sugar. It was a little better the second time around with less syrup added, but it still lost a bit of that pumpkin-ness. It was okay, but not the way I remember it and not nostalgia-inducing, pumpkin-comforting goodness that I wanted from it.
Syrup number two
This one contained not one bit of pumpkin, imitation or otherwise, and tasted exactly the way I remember a Pumpkin Spice Latte tasting. I repeat, THERE IS NO PUMPKIN IN THIS but it tastes like a proper Pumpkin Spice Latte!!
So, without any further ado, here’s the recipe for syrup number two:
Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup raw sugar
- 1 tablespoon mixed spice (or allspice)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- + a coffee machine and steamed milk. Whipped cream to top is optional.
- Add sugar and water to a heavy-based saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add your spices and stir, then turn the heat up to medium and let the syrup come to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then remove from heat and pour into a heatproof jar.
- Allow to cool slightly before adding the lid, then refrigerate overnight (this will allow your syrup to thicken and for the flavour to develop.
- The next day, add two teaspoons (more if you like a very sweet coffee) to a coffee mug and prepare coffee according to your machine’s instructions. Add steamed milk and stir. If you wish, you can add a dollop of whipped cream and an extra sprinkle of mixed spice to taste.
I think syrup number one could be improved with the addition of a sprinkle of cinnamon or mixed spice. So if you have the pumpkin essence, make the syrup as above, just reduce the amount of mixed spice to taste.
The syrup is like any other, so you could use it on ice-creams, in milkshakes or iced lattes, or as a flavouring in cakes and desserts.