As the leaves start to turn colors and begin their downward drift, we don our sweaters, smell the crispness in the air, and venture out to a cozy café for a taste of fall.
We know how fall makes us feel, but which flavors evoke those ineffable scents, sights, and memories? In other words, how can cafés capture the essence of autumn in a single cup? We asked three signature beverage specialists how to craft signature beverages that capture the taste of fall.
What Tastes Like Fall?
Up in Vancouver, BC, Stacey Lynden manages the cupping lab for Swiss Water Decaf, but before that, she spent many years working in cafés and roasteries. “I love making signature drinks,” she says. She’s also a three-time finalist in the Canadian National Coffee in Good Spirits beverage competition, which challenges competitors to design unique drinks combining coffee and liquor.
To craft warm, comforting fall drinks, she likes to take inspiration from classic fall foods and beverages to evoke autumnal experiences. “Drinks themed around apple pie, mulled wine, maple syrup, and figs are personal favorites for me,” she says. “Flavors of warm spices help us feel cozy and are a perfect fit for fall drinks. I like to think about what makes fall special for me and use that.”
Laura Clark of Kansas City, Missouri, just celebrated her 11th year in coffee and currently manages the café at Hotel Kansas City. She loves making fun and creative coffee- and tea-based drinks, taking inspiration from her favorite “cocktails, pastries, and the tasting notes of the coffees themselves.”
Since Kansas City’s fall weather can be unpredictable, ranging from warm or freezing, she focuses on flavor rather than temperature to evoke the season. “For fall drinks, I generally go for spice-based flavors rather than focusing on hot drinks,” she says. For the last few years, she’s been into smoked syrups. “Right now, I’m working with our fine dining restaurant, The Town Company, on utilizing their hearth to create a smoked vanilla syrup. I am really excited to include the hearth in one of our syrups.”
When thinking about how to approach a fall sig bev, she focuses on three words: comfort, spices, and warmth. “Drinks or food items that come to mind are mulled wine, chocolate orange candies, apple cider, and pumpkin pie.” She recommends making creative changes to classics like the pumpkin spice latte. “Do we want to play with a spice combination, mix it into brown sugar, and serve it in a latte? Or do we want to change the pumpkin with butternut squash, acorn, or sweet potato?”
Mulled wine is another go-to for her. “Standard recipe is often a red wine, orange liqueur, oranges, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and honey. Red wine often has notes of cherries, and another popular seasonal dessert is a cherry cordial, so what if we made a mulled wine syrup?” Getting creative with classics is a great starting point for any season.
Also in Kansas City, Kaylee Diane Melendez works at Monarch Coffee and is on the advisory committee of Go Fund Bean, a nonprofit that supports hourly coffee workers. “My beverage inspiration goes back to my roots,” she says. “I am Hispanic/Latinx, so many of my ideas come from my culture.” Growing up in Florida, fall was hot and humid. “Because of that, I love making some iced sig fall drinks that still incorporate some summer notes. For example, brown sugar, cinnamon, and citrus.”
As we mentioned earlier, a Kansas City fall can start hot and end in freezing temperatures. Melendez enjoys evoking the coming season with fall-flavor-infused espresso tonics as a seasonal sig bev. Whether drinks are hot or cold, some of her go-to flavors are cocoa powder, cinnamon, and spicy flavors like cayenne, which work well on both hot and cool days.
Beyond Flavor: Pro Tips
Beyond flavor alone, these sig bev specialists have tips on how to think about crafting your fall beverages.
“Think about what’s locally available in your area,” says Lynden, who likes to employ local produce in her sig bevs. For example, she listed figs as favorites because she likes to buy them locally in the fall.
For beginners and veterans alike, Clark recommends The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. “It lists a bunch of ingredients, then under each category is a list of flavors that pair well with those ingredients. It’s great for finding combinations I haven’t thought of before,” she says.
She also recommends thinking dynamically about temperature and base options when crafting beverages. “When I make a syrup, no matter the season, I try it as a hot latte, iced latte, espresso tonic, with matcha, or with black tea concentrate. I try to offer a drink with tea because not everyone drinks or likes coffee.”
“Don’t be afraid to experiment,” says Melendez. “Brainstorm and create with others at work or home. Visit other shops and talk to other baristas. Getting input from others that work in coffee can help create something so tasty!”
We asked our interviewees if they had anything special on tap this fall—and they were eager to share some new recipes and seasonal favorites for fall 2022.
Lynden shares an all-time favorite, inspired by mulled wine:
- 38-40g espresso with floral flavor notes (a washed Ethiopia would be perfect)
- 2g white wine vinegar
- 1g (a dash) of salt solution
- 2 parts water to 1 part salt
- 8g grapefruit oleo saccharum
“I make this using a grapefruit peel (no pith) and top it with white sugar. I leave it on the counter overnight, and the grapefruit oils dissolve into the sugar. The next day, I pour about 50g of hot water over the mixture to help dissolve the sugars and drain out the peels.” She then adds 100g of hot water. “Blend ingredients with a whisk and serve in a 6-8 ounce mug, garnished with an orange slice.”
Clark shares a recipe for mulled wine syrup, which, as she recommended, can pair hot or cold with coffee or tea.
- 750g inexpensive red wine
- 600g raw sugar
- 1 navel orange, 1/4 inch slices
- 20g sliced ginger
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cloves
- 1 star anise
“Put all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil on high, then turn down to medium, and simmer for 20 minutes. Pull the pan off the heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain, bottle, and then it’s good for three weeks.”
In lattes, here are her ratios:
8oz: 25g syrup
12oz: 30g syrup
16oz: 35g syrup
In line with her Floridian style, Melendez is working on a spiced Espresso Paloma (a grapefruit-based cocktail) for fall but hasn’t finalized the recipe yet. “Stay tuned,” she says.
We still have a bit to go until the season hits in earnest, but let’s be honest: as much as we love summer, we can’t wait for fall.
Cover photo by Joanna Kosinska
RJ Joseph is a coffee writer focusing primarily on equity, workers’ rights, and structural alternatives to the status quo. She’s been a barista, a roaster, a green coffee grader and lab tech, and finally made coffee writing her full-time gig at Red Fox Coffee Merchants. In her decade in coffee, she’s also run a queer coffee events organization, written a blog on equity in coffee, and run a coffee satire website called The Knockbox. If you see her around, say hi.