FARGO - Since 2003, pumpkin spice has ruled autumn like The Pink Ladies ruled Rydell High - flaunting dominance over everything from coffee, cookies, cakes and doughnuts to pretzels, Pop-Tarts and even hot dogs.
It's estimated that there are more than 250 products that come in the iconic flavor made famous by Starbucks 15 years ago. Maybe you like it, maybe you don't or maybe you just want a change. There is hope for those overwhelmed by pumpkin spice-everything, especially coffee.
I decided to go on a flavor-finding mission with co-worker Emma Vatnsdal and intern Jaden Spooner. We walked to some of the coffee shops in downtown Fargo to see if we could find a great autumn coffee drink that did not contain pumpkin or pumpkin spice.
No offense pumpkin. You are fabulous. We just need to take a break. It's not you, it's me.
We stopped at seven downtown Fargo coffee spots and found more than a dozen great drinks that tasted as much like fall as any old orange gourd. During my interviews for this story in mid-September, Twenty Below Coffee Co. was in the process of building its autumn menu, so they don't have a drink on this list.
Before we celebrate International Coffee Day on Saturday, Sept. 29, here's what you need to know about some of the autumn flavors being brewed up around downtown.
Beans Coffee Bar
201 Fifth St. N.
Caramel Apple Latte: Our first stop was The Forum's next-door neighbor. Beans, located in the first floor of the Radisson hotel, is now featuring a few fall drinks. But the baristas working when we visited suggested the Caramel Apple Latte.
It's made with Public Coffee's First Love espresso blend combined with caramel sauce, golden apple-flavored syrup and milk, then topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a caramel swirl. An added perk was the free hot mini doughnut that came with the drink.
"What says fall more than a freshly picked apple covered with caramel?" says Heidi Holland, Beans' owner. "Our love of the apple orchard is what inspired this Beans fall favorite. It is one of our specialty drinks that customers most look forward to each year."
Who doesn't love a caramel apple? This drink really tastes like one without the annoyance of getting caramel stuck in your teeth. And did I mention the doughnut?
Babb's Coffee House
604 Main Ave.
Maple Cookie: The baristas at Babb's enthusiastically told us about their fall favorites, which includes the Maple Cookie, a drink that combines the Monin brand of both maple spice and cookie butter syrups with steamed milk and espresso.
"It's one of the most popular choices now," says barista Sage Fogderud. "It's not too sweet. I think it's just right."
The drink was super rich and creamy. You could definitely taste the maple flavor and a very subtle hint of the Biscoff cookie that's the inspiration for cookie butter. I'm a serious believer that cookie butter should be one of the four main food groups, so this drink is a winner.
Stumbeano's Coffee Bar
210 Broadway N.
Masala Chai Latte: Stumbeano's suggestion for an autumn drink was a favorite of co-worker Emma Vatnsdal, who is more of a tea fan than a coffee drinker. Masala Chai Latte features sweetened condensed milk with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and breakfast Assam tea, a black tea named for a region in India.
"It has a hearty aroma," says barista Rachael Gaye. "The spice from the tea combined with the sweetness from the sweetened condensed milk makes it a warm and really delicious choice."
Intern Jaden Spooner described it as almost "coffeecake tasting." And who can go wrong with coffeecake?
Young Blood Coffee Co.
623 Second Ave. N.
Brown Sugar Latte: What struck me first about this was how beautiful it looked - it was almost too pretty to drink, but we managed. This is not a complicated drink, but that might be part of the charm. It's made with whole milk, a shot of espresso and a little brown sugar.
"I like the simplicity of it," says barista Aaron Dudgeon. "The molasses taste contrasts with the espresso. It's not overly sweet, but there is a nice sweetness to it."
Because it wasn't overly sweet, I was able to drink more of it than some of the sweeter drinks we tried, making this one of my favorites of the day.
222 Broadway N.
Activated Charcoal Mocha: While most of the drinks we tried seem like fall drinks because of the warm, rich spices they contain, the Activated Charcoal Mocha fits the bill because of the way it looks.
The activated charcoal that some people claim has health benefits makes the drink jet-black, giving it a Halloween vibe. Speaking of Halloween, it's also a bit like something you'd get while trick-or-treating.
"It tastes like a Mounds candy bar," says barista Jenny Junker. "It's dark chocolate with a coconut flavor."
I'm a big lover of dark chocolate, so this might have been my favorite drink of the day, although it was sweet enough that I don't think I could finish the entire cup.
"I don't like coffee much, but I like this a lot," said co-worker Emma Vatnsdal.
111 Broadway N.
Cinnamon Glazed Bun Caramel Latte: The name just about says it all. Taking my first sip of this concoction made with cinnamon bun syrup, caramel syrup, espresso and steamed milk made me feel like I was home in my fuzzy jammies on a Sunday morning.
"It tastes just like a cinnamon bun," says barista Julia Kohler. "It's warm, spicy and comforting."
The drink was super rich and sweet - a definite autumn indulgence drink that was delicious and creamy.
Will any of these drinks knock off pumpkin spice as the reigning fall champ? Maybe. Maybe not.
But we sure had fun trying to figure it out.