It is a little-known fact that my first job out of high school was as a barista in the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble. I won’t say the name, but it rhymed with “Barstucks.” So let’s pause here to say a little prayer of appreciation for baristas who have to deal with grumpy people ravenous for their daily caffeine fix. They deserve all the tips.
As an 18-year-old barista, I grew to loathe pumpkin spice season. We could spot a no-fat pumpkin spice latte, extra foam, walking through the door. As a matter of fact, and this might make me some enemies, I still don’t like pumpkin spice in anything other than pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin spice anything has been commercialized by big brands to the point that it is ubiquitous and cloying. This is the hill I will die on.
So to fight the good fight, I spent three hours touring six local coffee shops, drinking nine lattes, and winding up over-caffeinated in a blissful pastry food coma to compile a list of great non-pumpkin spice beverages. Here are some local, seasonal, and genuinely spicy alternatives to the pumpkin spice latte. You can find my Google List with all the locations here.
If ever anyone deserved a prize for most perseverance in opening a small business, Old Cuss Cafe wins my nomination. They had a true roller coaster leading up to the opening of their physical location. And this spot won my heart.
More than a coffee shop, this warm, mountain-man-style cafe serves plant-based food, craft coffee, and a rotating menu of seasonal fare. I felt like I was in the coziest warm cabin around a wood-fired stove with perfect autumn vibes.
Your Coffee Order: Black Marshmallow Latte; house-made toasted marshmallow syrup, activated charcoal, oat milk. This latte has that sweet campfire-y taste with mellow espresso. (Seasonal)
Runners-up include the smashed pumpkin latte and the local pumpkin cider. (Seasonal)
What To Eat: Mom’s Jam n’ Biscuit with a homemade biscuit, vegan butter, and of course, mom’s jam.
7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
7:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday
8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
2285 S Main Sreet, South Salt Lake, UT 84115
I’ll let you in on a secret… when I worked at the Barnes & Noble in Sugar House, I wandered across the street to Sugar House Coffee to get my daily brew. “Barstucks” didn’t do it for me.
A couple of moves later, I’m so delighted that Sugar House Coffee is still around and still the warm, welcoming, inclusive classic coffee shop that it has always been. The lines are long here but don’t be intimidated; they move fast, and the staff is warm and chatty.
Your Coffee Order: Golden Graham; Chai, white chocolate, brown sugar, espresso. This may sound like a toothache in a cup, but Sugar House Coffee’s lattes are not too sweet. Their chai is spicy, the white chocolate adds a sweet note, and the brown sugar is just enough to make it taste warm and golden. (Regular Menu Item)
What To Eat: Porridge served with steamed milk. Hot porridge shouts fall to me. And the porridge here includes chia, hemp, flax seeds, dried fruit, oats, and whole nuts and is topped with hot steamed milk and coconut. It is delicious and filling and pairs perfectly with a latte.
8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
2011 South 1100 East SLC, Utah 84106
It was my first time inside Cupla Coffee in downtown Salt Lake City. They have a couple of other locations in Park City and Cottonwood Heights.
With house-roasted coffee, they have several unique signature drinks that are well worth checking out.
Your Coffee Order: The Scotty; espresso, house-made butterscotch, whole milk, and white pepper. I made a special trip just for this drink. And it was well worth it. They didn’t go overboard with the syrup, so it wasn’t too sweet, and the foil of the white pepper added the perfect amount of spice. Let me tell you, white pepper belongs on coffee. It’s basically my new obsession. (Regular Menu Item)
What To Eat: If you are craving pumpkin, they have some seasonal pumpkin bread that looks fluffy and delicious.
Daily 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
(Downtown Location) 175 W 200 S Salt Lake City, 84101
The Rose establishment is one of the most beautiful coffee shops in Salt Lake City. Worth it for the ambiance alone. Bonus: their food, baked goods, and coffee are always on point.
They have a tempting selection of seasonal beverages and seasonal baked goods, so always do a little menu exploring when you stop by.
Your Coffee Order: Harvest Latte; cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, fenugreek, house, vanilla syrup, milk, espresso. This is as close as you’ll get to a pumpkin spice latte on this list. But this pearl of a latte is so much more complex with the addition of the floral-anise flavor of the fenugreek with the sweetness of the vanilla bean syrup. (Seasonal)
What To Eat: Pumpkin Sandwich Cream Cookie. By the way, this was delicious dunked in the Harvest latte. It was the perfect little pumpkin treat. (Seasonal)
Monday – Friday
7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday
8 a.m. – 3p.m.
400 W, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Mestizo Coffee House should be on your radar. A Latino-style coffee shop, they have the best spicy lattes in town if you like actual heat in your coffee.
Your Coffee Order: Mexican Mocha. I generally steer clear of mochas; they feel like a dessert rather than a caffeine delivery system. But the Mexican mocha here is made with bitter chocolate and, of course, warming spices like cayenne. They also serve it with a chocolate-covered espresso bean which feels like a bonus surprise treat. (Regular Menu Item)
What To Eat: Be sure to get an empanada while here.
Daily 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
631 W North Temple, Ste. 700 Salt Lake City, UT 84116
I used to be a regular at The People’s Coffee. My husband and I would stroll down on a Sunday, get a coffee, and sit to read the New York Times travel section. It was our version of church. But then we moved, a pandemic happened, and they moved. So I hadn’t been back in about a year. Trust me, I will be making a point of stopping back in more often. The people watching at their new location is first-rate. And the coffee is delicious as well.
Your Coffee Order: Pumpkin Latte; house-made pumpkin syrup that contains *gasp* actual pumpkin, plus spices. If you really must have pumpkin-spice-something, this is the latte for you. (Seasonal)
What To Eat: Pear Danish. This was my coffee-tasting journey’s perfectly flaky, creamy, sweet end. (Seasonal)
Monday – Friday
7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday
8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
177 E 200 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
If you aren’t in the mood for coffee, how about a moon milk?
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