Case of the (coffee) Mondays

Coffee


The Monday after a spring forward time change. Rougher than a scorpion bite, right?

I’m trying to pull myself together enough to tackle the day, but I’m discombobulated in ten different directions. Capped by getting up extra early today to help my dad with an errand before work and, well . . . I’m hurtin’. I could barely get my contacts in through half-swollen eyes.

Thank God for coffee.

My illustrious history with the fuel powering millions started in college. Growing up, coffee was treated like a controlled substance — something to be enjoyed by adults only, obviously, and regulated. Since my mom has had an early-rising job for decades, I was used to seeing her caffeine intake rise steadily through my childhood. Poor Mom still keeps awful hours, and the accompanying coffee IV drip that follows her everywhere is understandable.

Me? I have less excuses.

I work locally, go to bed at a decent hour, typically fall asleep by 10 p.m. with a book on my chest. Though naturally drowsy, I don’t keep the four-hours-a-night sleep schedule many others do. I have a cousin who works night shifts as a nurse — and has four children under the age of 6. The last time we got together, she disclosed that she “occasionally” has a soda . . . but drinks no other caffeine.

Come again?

I actually had her repeat that. And felt infinitely inadequate and terrified for my future as a sleepy-eyed, slack-jawed parent, I’ll tell you.

I have a little experience with exhaustion, though it was thankfully short-lived. When I started working at Borders in 2006, my hours stretched from 8 a.m. classes in College Park to 6-10 p.m. night shifts at the bookstore. Then I came home and studied, read, wrote essays. Got up, rinse, repeat. No way was I getting through those days without a stimulant, and the delicious aroma of fresh-brewed coffee wafting between the stacks drew me in.

I was an easy convert.

One of our favorite bridal shower gifts last year was a Keurig, a much-treasured present from my grandparents. We can’t remember life before it. Our mornings start with Spence in the kitchen, brewing his coffee to go; I get out the creamer, filling a mug to enjoy before work. Sometimes the thought of choosing my K-cup is the only thing that makes getting out of bed tolerable.

Well, sort of tolerable.

The time change always gets me off-kilter, tying little weights to my eyelids by mid-afternoon. I’ve heard rumblings of doing away with daylight saving time all together, and I can’t say I’d be opposed.

Until then, grab a cup. It’s Monday, and we got this.


Pumpkin spice latte: a taste test

This love story begins rather simply.

When I was in college, loading myself up on caffeine was the only way to make it through endless classes and shifts at my local bookstore. I discovered something powerful then: coffee. That divine beverage was responsible for getting me through many a late evening . . . though I couldn’t always stomach the straight stuff. I need lots of milk and sugar. Enter the latte.

I began consuming espresso-pumped drinks in my early twenties, and that’s around the time the pumpkin spice latte — or the PSL, to those of us in the Cool Kid PSL Club — appeared in my life. Never one to shy away from anything pumpkin flavored, I started ordering them at my Borders cafe. That amounted to one per shift — and it’s just gotten worse since then.

Eh, and I wonder why I’ve gained weight.

As we all know, the yearly appearance of the PSL deserves a ticker-tape parade in Meg Land. My sister and I marked the time of its arrival and set a coffee date. Since it was still 90 degrees in Maryland in early September, we got frappuccinos — extra whip. I don’t do things halfway.

It’s been weeks since the PSL arrived in cafes and coffee shops across the land. I’ve made it my goal — nay, my mission — to try every pumpkin-themed drink in the Washington, D.C. area. Though I once declared Dunkin’ Donuts to have the best PSL, I’m going to contradict that. In three years, my horizons have expanded. But because I’m just one thirsty woman, I know there are many I’ve missed — including Panera’s PSL, which is surprising; I probably owe rent to my local branch. But the fall is young, my friends!

Any devoted PSL consumer knows their favorite drink comes in at least two varieties: hot and cold. You could get into even more gradations of this, based on whether or not you like whipped cream (I do) and spice (yep), plus whether your cold PSL is blended (like a frap) or simply on ice (like Dunkin’ Donuts’ drink). I’ve tried to sample as many varieties as possible, though my budget and stomach don’t always cooperate. Just know this sampling is not comprehensive.

To the nominees, I’d like to say what a difficult decision this was. Know that, in my eyes, you’re all winners — and you should be so proud of your deliciousness. Know that even the fifth best PSL is still a darn good drink, and I hope there are no hard feelings. You know I’ll be back.


the taste tests


5. Dunkin’ Donuts — cold (over ice)

Dunkin’ Donuts’ PSL is on ice, meaning it’s not blended like a frappuccino or milkshake — and that’s why it’s in fifth place. Because I drink it entirely too fast. It’s basically iced coffee with pumpkin syrup (in fact, that might be exactly what it is . . .), and I usually consume the whole thing before I’m even back at my desk. This saddens me — but also keeps me coming back for more. So well played, Dunkin’ Donuts.


4. Einstein Bros Bagels — cold (blended)

The blended PSL at Einstein’s is very much like Starbucks’ PSL frap — only more pumpkin-y. There’s no mistaking the autumnal awesomeness (like that?) of this one. My sister offered me a sip of hers — and I took three. It’s addictive. It’s sweet without being cloying — less sweet than, say, the Dunkin’ Donuts iced PSL. It lacks any of the distinctive coffee taste I expect from a Starbucks PSL, which might work for you.


3. Starbucks — cold (blended)

So rich, so creamy . . . so cold and fattening. It’s hard to beat Starbucks’ pumpkin spice frappuccino, which is easily my sister’s favorite. (And our PSLs, pictured above, are twins.) It’s dessert in a cup, and the filling nature of the drink might have you wanting to skip dinner — but it’s worth it. Promise.


2. Einstein Bros Bagels — hot

Of every beverage on this highly scientific list, I find the hot PSL at Einstein’s to be the most pumpkin-y. It’s also melt-in-your-mouth delicious and has less of a “coffee” taste and aftertaste than Starbucks’ version. It’s sweeter, lighter and creamier — for fans who prefer their espresso drinks with less espresso. I can respect that.


1. Starbucks — hot

The first. The classic. I’d never known love until Starbucks’ beloved PSL came into my life. Still the best-loved of all the beverages, the hot PSL has a special place in my heart — though I tend to order the iced version from DD more often these days. Mostly because it’s still hot in Maryland, and I sweat like a pig on a good day. But, you know. Mariah Carey and I know Starbucks’ hot PSL will always be my baby.


honorable pumpkin mentions


7-Eleven’s pumpkin coffee (with pumpkin creamer)

My mom told me she’d seen pumpkin coffee at her local 7-Eleven one morning last week, so I drove my little self over there at lunchtime to investigate. To my delight, both pumpkin coffee and pumpkin pie spice creamers were available . . . so I loaded up. And overdid it. Three creamers might have been a bit excessive, but whatever — I was really excited.

Though not technically a PSL, 7-Eleven’s brew is delicious — and the creamers add fantastic (and truly pumpkin-y) flavor. Just skip the sugar; you won’t need it. And you’ll be jet-fueled enough to empty your email inbox and your coworker’s before they’re even back from break. 7-Eleven pumpkin coffee will get you a raise, basically. So go you.


Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Though not a drinker, I can appreciate an occasional brewskie (case in point: I say “brewskie,” and I have no idea how to even spell that). Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale is quite refreshing, though it lacks the signature pumpkin flavor I’d expect from a drink with the gourd in its name. I can occasionally get a whiff of the nutmeg Blue Moon promises is in the brew, but mostly? It’s just a good beer. Or ale. Or whatever. But I like it.


Do you have a favorite? Are you a PSL fan, or do you run screaming away from my favorite drink? (That’s fine — I mean, we can’t be friends anymore . . . but it’s all right.) Feel free to share your thoughts or personal taste tests below.


Pumpkin spice groupies

starbucks_sleeveFew things in life send me shouting and trembling with excitement — and most of them are hypothetical. (Like, say, hypothetically I would get an e-mail from an agent telling me yes, he/she’d like to represent me and already knows just the publisher for my absolutely incredible novel.)

But the ones grounded in absolute reality? Of course, nothing compares to going to a concert — and seeing a favorite band live for the first time. That magical feeling can easily sustain me for days, if not weeks, at a time! The first time I saw John Mayer? Heaven. Total heaven. And The Killers concert from Monday night? I’m still babbling incoherently about it.

But the other crazy, ridiculously exciting stuff? Usually it has something to do with food. And no, I know you wish I were joking . . . but I wouldn’t kid about something like this.

Considering I spend all day on a computer, you’d think I would be a little more up with the times on matters of vital importance . . . like Starbucks’ annual unveiling of the pumpkin spice latte. I mean, seriously! I lust after this drink all year and then I have no clue when it’s finally available in expensive coffeeshops across the U.S.? Am I insane?

And this where I chant, yet again, thank God for Twitter! Without it, I’m not sure I would know if nuclear war broke out, leveling half the world. Trending topics tell me all I need to know! So imagine my excitement when I saw a little Tweet from author Robin Benway . . . which prompted this response from yours truly:

pumpkin_spice

I immediately texted my sister with the great news as I jumped up from my desk, grabbing my keys and hastily waving goodbye to my coworkers. My hometown is littered with Starbucks cafes in grocery stores like Safeway, but I wanted the real deal. My Corolla and I sped over and, only fifteen minutes after discovering my beloved drink was back, I was holding one in my hot little hands.

And oh, it was heaven.

When Katie got home from college later in the day, I regaled her with the tale of my dedication to getting the pumpkin spice as soon as possible. I’d chosen the latte — the hot version — which allowed me to savor it over the course of, oh, an hour or so. Because everyone knows the drink experience will be severely tainted by a burnt tongue.

me_pumpkin_frapMy sister wasn’t content with just hearing about the pumpkin spice, though. Did I seriously think I was going to have the edge over her? We piled into her car after dinner and drove to a nearby Target where, yes, they had the pumpkin spice. And like I was going to miss an opportunity to get another drink? Though this time I went with the cold variety — the frappuccino. Grande, if you’re interested.

And that’s me at right, drinking it. And wearing my Killers concert T-shirt from Monday night. Two of my favorite things, combined! A good night. (Yes, Kate took this photo; we are those pumpkin spice groupies.)

So what’s the moral of the story? Rely on Twitter for news of your favorite beverages making their annual appearance . . . and, after drinking that grande frap, don’t drink two giant pumpkin drinks in one day. Seriously, bad idea.

Still — was it worth it? Heck yes. And all this pumpkin chatter has me hankering once more . . . I wonder when Dairy Queen’s pumpkin pie blizzard will be back? Maybe someone is Tweeting . . .

Gingerbread makes way for gingersnap

gingersnap_latteMy realization of this is probably way late, but where is the Gingerbread Latte at Starbucks? In November I stumbled into a store with my boyfriend, bleary-eyed and cold in D.C., and got that momentary jolt of anticipation thinking I could find my beloved Gingerbread drink. And what did I find? Something called . . . the Gingersnap Latte. Really? Gingersnap? With crystallized pieces of ginger? Doesn’t really sound that tasty to me.

But I had to try it, of course — and I’ve had it once more since then. It’s okay. Nothing to write home about — or blog about, since that’s more likely — but decent. It still boasts the frightening nutrition facts I’m used to — 13 grams of fat in a grande (small) with 2% milk; 42 carbohydrates — but does have 11 grams of protein. I can deal with that; I usually don’t drink lattes as meals anymore! Being away from the bookstore has had one positive effect . . . on my weight and my wallet. Though the ginger burns my throat a little.

On the bright gingerbread side, I can still grab my beloved drink at our Seattle’s Best Coffee at Borders . . . and I get a gingerbread man cookie inside the drink. On top of the whipped cream!

If I were feeling adventurous, I could actually make a Gingerbread Latte at home. Lots of recipes are circulating the Internets, but this one looked fairly simple. I don’t have the right the equipment nor the know-how, but for those of you who may be inclined to whip up this seasonal favorite on the weekend and have an espresso machine (lucky!), please see below . . . after the jump!

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Acting ridiculous in coffee shops — my new specialty

I wandered around in the rain on my lunch break today, hitting up all my usual Southern Maryland afternoon hotspots. It felt good to be up — and walking — outside of the office. I really do like having my own little nook at work, but anyone who’s ever worked a nine-to-five job knows that some days, you really have to just bust loose.

So I had a pumpkin spice latte for the third time in the past week — and it tastes just as good on each occasion! Palmer’s doing well with his no-caffeine routine, but I would never even attempt that. I’m addicted. And, apparently, I’m addicted more and more every day to taking random photos of inanimate objects — I’ve majorly been building my stock photo collection lately.

And the rain ended just as quickly as it started, though it’s been gray all day since then. A good day for hanging out, being silly and acting pretentious in a coffee shop — if only I had more time!

I went ahead and broke out the fall decorations at work today, too. I have my fall leaves and, of course, my foam pumpkin I constructed with my sister last year. Though I’m 23 years old and haven’t worked for a craft store in almost three years, I still love me some random homemade concoctions! I briefly took up woodworking, painting and quasi-jewelry-making while working for a hobby shop my first few years of college. I also expanded my crocheting knowledge, which I still use. But random foam things are my sister’s specialty. We’re both especially fond of making holiday-themed foam finger puppets.

Now, feel the power of the pumpkin.

And yes, my nameplate does identify me as “Miz Suga Spice.” Little known (and probably TMI) fact about me: I have a gold tooth. You can’t see it unless you crane my neck back and peer dangerously into my mouth, but still — it’s there.

Sorry to alarm you!

Pumpkin spice is back!

I don’t know how I’ve neglected to mention this already, but something very exciting happened yesterday — Palmer and I discovered that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks! He’s more of a Cinnamon Dolce type of guy, but there’s absolutely nothing — repeat — nothing I enjoy more than the pumpkin spice latte. Except for maybe the gingerbread latte.

Okay, yes — except for the gingerbread latte. I have a photo montage dedicated to my consumption of the gingerbread latte.

I now also have this gem of a photo, courtesy of my boyfriend. While it’s certainly not my most flattering shot, I’m posting it as an expression of my absolute excitement and dedication to the pumpkin spice. God bless you, Starbucks, and your $4 drinks. Gets me every single time.

And now I have the gingerbread latte to look forward to! The smooth, mellow flavor . . . The feeling of a million calories sliding down your throat and into your warmed tummy . . . Holiday music playing softly in the background . . . It’s a good life.