#PSL In KC? There's At Least One Pumpkin Spice Latte Made With Local Pumpkins

Oct 2, 2016

Fall is upon us. And fall marks the arrival of the heralded, beloved pumpkin spice latte.

#PSL.

The pumpkin spice latte was born in 2003, when it made its public debut in a Starbucks in D.C. It sure has grown up a lot since then. The Real PSL now has it’s own Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, where you can actually chat with it. 

The chatbot was, unfortunately, unavailable for interview. Surely The Real PSL is under a lot of stress right now.

With The Real PSL chatbot unavailable for an interview, I went for a taste at the Plaza Starbucks. The company launched this year's pumpkin spice latte on September 1; the release date has been pushed up more and more each year.
Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

These days, it’s rare to find a cafe that doesn’t offer some version of a pumpkin drink. From Parkville Coffee in the Northland, to Thou Mayest in the Crossroads, to Waldo's Crows Coffee, you'll find pumpkin spice lattes galore.

It may seem obvious that a pumpkin spice latte have pumpkin in it . . . apparently, many don't. There are controversies about this, but one resident coffee veteran has made it her mission to lay the uproar to rest, at least at her coffee shop.

"For me, it was important not to use canned pumpkin," says Parisi's Kate Blackman of her pumpkin caramel latte.

"It's really about the process, figuring out to get pumpkin in the drinks. I wanted it to be fresh and local," she says.

That process starts with pie pumpkins from the Kuhn family farm in Cortland, Kansas.

First things first -- carving the pumpkins like jack-o-lanterns. Blackman scrapes out the seeds and quarters them for roasting. With a pot of sugar boiling on the stove, she peels the roasted pumpkins and boils them to a vat of heavy cream and "secret" spices. (Read: cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.)

When the sugar is caramelized, she adds the pureed, strained pumpkin cream to the pot, releasing a large cloud into the air. She says the aroma always transports her.

"It's total comfort," she says. "This is like hanging out with grandma, making things in kitchen, just that comfort of warm spice."

This step is the most important in the process.

"No one wants to chew a latte," Blackman says.

Whisked and cooled, the pumpkin caramel syrup is ready to be bottled and distributed to the Parisi cafes across the metro. Needless to say, it's a lengthy process.

The pumpkin caramel latte at Parisi is made with a fresh, locally sourced pumpkin caramel syrup, topped with Parisi's espresso and steamed milk.
Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

"These guys down in the bakery that have to do this most of the time are probably cursing my name everyday," says Blackman, the company's beverage development specialist.

The team at the Parisi production plant goes through at least 30 pumpkins every day during this six-week season. In the end, each pumpkin caramel latte has a mere dollop of pumpkin: a lingering hint of flavor to compliment the sweet steamed milk and acidic espresso. 

But, Blackman has been in the coffee business for 16 years, and says, in the retail business, you know what to expect at this time of year.

"The start of pumpkin season for us really just means the holidays, then the door is opening to all of the Christmas crazy that's going to come," she says. "Everyone is relieved that it's fall and cooling down, but at same time, 'Yup, now it's on. I will not rest until January.'"

But, she says, she loves the idea that she gets to be a part of a family's holiday traditions.

Andrea Tudhope is a freelance reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @adtudhope.