Inside local coffee shops’ creative fall menus

By Gabriella Garvin, Staff Writer

Pittsburgh coffee shops are ringing in the fall season with a flood of pumpkin and a variety of other warm flavors.

In spirit of the season, local coffee shops such as Coffee Tree Roasters and Jitters Cafe in Shadyside, as well as Saxby’s, which has locations in the Cathedral of Learning and Hillman Library, are setting their menus apart from bigger chains by combining popular flavors such as pumpkin and matcha.

Rachel Astorino, Coffee Tree Roasters’ business manager, said in addition to their selection of traditional pumpkin flavored coffee, the cafe has some distinctive fall-flavored syrups.

“We’ve got the pumpkin spice hot latte, the iced latte, we’ve got a pumpkin frozaccino and a pumpkin white hot chocolate,” Astorino said. “Some of the syrups we’ve got are maple, toffee crunch and warm spices. The toffee is like the good side of cereal milk.”

Astorino said the coffee shop’s high quality espresso, as well as their syrups that originate from different countries, make for a delicious combination.

“We are one of a limited number of 1883 syrup distributors, which come from France and are intended to be used with espresso,” Astorino said. “This gives the drinks a much cleaner flavor.”

Shivani Gandhi, Saxby’s student CEO, said instead of venturing outside of pumpkin, the team brainstormed ways to incorporate it into popular orders.

“As far as our pumpkin drinks go, we are bringing back the pumpkin latte and the pumpkin matcha,” Gandhi said. “My favorite seasonal drink is probably the pumpkin matcha, which we make with our house-made pumpkin sauce, stir with ice and milk and top off with a matcha shot. It’s pretty simple but it is so delicious.”

In addition to the more common seasonal flavors, Gandhi said Saxby’s added four new energy drinks at the start of fall semester.

“For the new school year we have a rollout called ‘new school, new energy,’ so [our] latte spritz drinks … are basically Saxby’s take on energy drinks.” Gandhi said. “There’s the original flavor, the strawberry flavor and the orange flavor, as well as a new smoothie called Matcha My Energy.”

Rhea Godhania, a barista at Jitters Cafe, said the staff at Jitters is very creative in the process of designing new menu flavors for the fall season.

“Our manager is like a mad scientist behind the bar,” Godhania said, “He will just make some crazy stuff. He’s actually been working on a lot of cool flavors. We just tested out an orange cinnamon latte and it was a big hit so it might come back.”

Godhania said there is one distinct fall flavor currently on the menu. 

“We have a butterbeer cold brew that is really good,” Godhania said. “We use butterscotch syrup to make it.”

The wide variety of seasonal fall flavors are only available for a couple months, which Gandhi said is sometimes challenging for the Saxby’s staff.

“Communicating with your team can be tricky because sometimes not everyone will know when new drinks are going to start or maybe when they go out of season,” Gandhi said. “It’s also so hard seeing some of my favorite drinks only for a short period of time.”

Godhania said a distinct feature of Jitters is, unlike most cafes, it offers pumpkin spice year round.

“A unique thing about our cafe is that we have all of the flavors for all of the seasons always,” Godhania said. “Even in May we had people ordering pumpkin spice lattes.”

Godhania said Jitters has some seasonal food options that are on the menu exclusively for the fall.

“My manager was mentioning that he was going to bring in more pumpkin spice pastries,” Godhania said. “Right now we have pumpkin spice bagels, and I think he is going to get pumpkin spice pound cake.”

Gandhi has an idea for an additional Saxby’s fall drink for the menu, she said.

“I would add pumpkin chai, because a lot of people don’t know that they can order it,” Gandhi said. “But all that it is is a chai with a pumpkin sauce.”

Intrigued by a fall-inspired chai, Godhania said she would love to experiment with adding a new apple pie chai tea flavor to Jitters’ traditional London fog beverage, which includes earl gray tea, syrup and steamed milk.

“We carry Republic of Tea tea bags, and the company just put out an apple pie chai flavored tea bag that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on, and I feel like if we did something similar to a London fog but with the apple pie chai that would be insane,” Godhania said.

Astorino said having a seasonal menu adds a level of excitement and inspiration to Coffee Tree Roasters’ drink recipes.

“It’s a driver of business for sure. I mean, everything is exciting,” Astorino said. “To be able to get toffee crunch or maple, those things just make us a little extra special. Somebody earlier ordered a toffee crunch pumpkin latte. We hear some of the greatest things just by people putting all of the seasonal flavors together.”