As temps dropped and rain settled over the Cities last week, autumn felt like it had begun. With it, a certain hot beverage craving peculiar to America also arrived: Pumpkin Spice Latte had descended like a Yankee Candle.
To be very clear: I spent my entire life avoiding being That Person who orders pumpkin spice anything, which means I’d never had a PSL until I woke up last Monday and decided it was time to get over my damned self because it was dismal outside, and weather like that has a way of doing things to one’s brain and palate.
First and foremost: All the haters out there aren’t wrong, but they aren’t quite right, either. Comparing a pumpkin spice latte to the majority of the espresso world is akin to measuring dessert wine against cabernet: Both exist for their own purposes. They aren’t begging a 1:1 comparison; they’re different things. Maybe just don’t hold them up against each other?
After burying my face in brown-dusted whipped cream (delicious, tbh), did the air in my mouth taste overly sweet and vaguely of chemicals? Sure. Did I hate it? I wish. Is this coming from someone who regularly eats frosted PopTarts? You betcha. Will I henceforth heckle someone for looking forward to this season? No. Will I go back to Starbucks for another PSL today? No… but it’s pretty nice outside, to be fair, which means I don’t feel like I need a mouth-punch reality escape today. Ask me next week.
That said: I know the drink could be better, and a couple years ago City Pages drew readers’ attention to the new Northeast location of Five Watt, which was serving a little dose of self-mockery involving a certain not not-copyright-infringing version of PSL they’d dubbed the “Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte” endquote. Five Watt went all-out on its rendition featuring a house-made cinnamon whip. Owner Lee Carter got a real kick out of it when people ordered the drink.
This year, Five Watt’s version isn’t (yet) available, but over in St. Paul, Bootstrap Coffee Roasters has you covered—but a little more pared down, and with a little less of a glint in their eye. Some might call it sincerity? At the new, minimal cafe opened in June around the corner from the Wabasha Street Caves, they’re offering a version that spares you any fear of mockery and—dare I say—is straight-up delicious.
From her position behind a cool slate counter, one staff member rang me up while regaling me with tales of her years working at Starbucks making OG PSLs. Apparently some metro locations went gaga for them while others less so? (Brooklyn Center isn't big on them. Who knew?!)
At Bootstrap, that chemical taste is nowhere to be found; everything is either made in-house or sourced locally. Their honey comes from local beekeepers, the pumpkin puree is made in-house, and the barista glowed when recounting the amount of joy that can be had in preparing beans for their vanilla syrup.
The coffee roasting equipment, including stacks of BURLY-brand tubs for transporting products to the 50-ish metro-area restaurants serve Bootstrap's single-origin roasts, rise prominently from the rear of the cafe. Despite being new, everything fits together here—from the neighborhood and staff, to the tiny succulents on the tables and the ingredients in my drink.
Bootstrap nails the home-grown PSL, for the record. Their pair of baristas handed over my Pumpkin Spiced Latte without an ounce of smuggery, and even teased out the nuance of their endorsement. They found comfort in its balance of dessert flavor (from the pumpkin + spice aspect) while embracing the bitter side (courtesy of the espresso, duh), which amounted to a drink that tastes like “all of Thanksgiving dessert, pie and coffee at once, without being too sweet.”
Of course St. Paul would kick irony to the curb, and execute this task better than a global conglomerate.
In closing: Go to Bootstrap’s adorable new cafe. You can be quietly, unabashedly content there. Get your caffeinated autumnal beverage on, however you see fit.
Bootstrap Coffee Roasters
432 Wabasha St. S., St. Paul