Musical pairing – Autumn Leaves by Eva Cassidy

Hello, my name is Debra and I am a hardcore coffee snob.

Here at Smith Bites, we drink a lot of coffee and I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Seattle girl or because I have an Italian heritage or if it’s because I’ve been to Italy and experienced the real deal.  In fact, I love the taste of coffee more than the hit of caffeine that comes as an added perk.  And the crazy thing is that I never liked coffee until I was in my . . . (cough, cough).  Too strong to drink straight (I swear some of that stuff will set yuh free, know what I mean?) and too bitter, even with heaps of cream and sugar.  Then on the other end of the spectrum, I’d had the equivalent of hot water with a splash of coffee thrown in for good measure . . . sigh . . . I just didn’t get what all the hoopla was about.

That is until a friend set me on the yellow brick road to coffee heaven with a Starbuck’s Carmel Macchiato; like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz twirling about in a field of poppies, I was hooked and have never looked back.

In case you haven’t noticed, the calendar says that Fall has arrived even though some of us are still experiencing 90-degree temps.  And where coffee is concerned, that also means that Pumpkin Spiced Lattes are back – WOO!  I don’t know about you, but buying even one of these a day can break the bank.  So I played around with the ratios and came up with my own recipe for a Pumpkin Spiced Latte that I make at home.  Dare I say I think mine is better than a store-bought one?

I’ve seen a couple of recipes that have you add canned pumpkin to milk, whisk and heat – BLECH!!!  There’s just something really unsettling to find leftover pumpkin at the bottom of my mug . . .

So here’s my take on a DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte:  Your milk of choice – skim, whole OR soy milk; strong brewed coffee, espresso, or french press coffee, simple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and a couple of different ways to achieve frothed milk.

For the recipe below, we make our own Vanilla Simple Syrup.  And it really is simple.  Just heat equal parts sugar and water (for example, 1 Cup sugar to 1 C water), the seeds and pod from one or two vanilla beans (depending upon how much syrup you’re making) until the sugar dissolves.  Let everything hang out together and cool completely, then store in the refrigerator.  SMITH BITES NOTE:  I leave the pod and the seeds in the syrup while in the refrigerator – just makes the syrup that much better over time – but feel free to strain yours if you prefer.  In the picture above, you see multiple vanilla beans because I’ve just added leftover pods from other recipes calling for scraped vanilla – those pods keep imparting their vanilla-bean-goodness for many batches of syrup.  And you can always rinse, dry completely and then add those same vanilla pods to regular granulated sugar for a month or so; then you’ll have vanilla sugar.


1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup of french press coffee
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Simple Syrup (ratio above)

METHOD: We put about 1/2 cup of coffee grounds in a french press with about 3 cups of boiling water from the tea kettle (makes more than one serving).  Stir a few times to combine and let brew for about 4 minutes.  See all that beautiful crema in the picture below?  That stuff is pure gold – smooth, creamy and just plain fabulous!

While your coffee is brewing, put the milk, simple syrup and pumpkin pie spice in a milk frother – the one we purchased was about $20, looks like a small french press and does a fantastic job.  Heat in the microwave for a minute or two, then froth.  (You may also use a battery powered milk frother which costs about $15 – we used one of these for about 5 years before it finally bit the dust.)

Put about 1/4 cup of brewed coffee in each mug, and top with the frothed milk mixture.  If you want to guild the lily, you can certainly add whipped cream to the top and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top and you’ll have yourself a Pumpkin Spiced Latte just like the big boys – but yours will cost less than a buck.  Play around with the ratios until you find what works for you.

Is this method a genuine Italian method for making a latte?  No.  Are my Italian ancestors rolling in their graves?  Yes.  But then again, my Italian ancestors wouldn’t dream of having a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  And I’m too cheap to pay $4 for something I can make at home that, in my humble opinion, tastes better.  So give it a go and let me know what you think!



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  2. I am SO glad I found this post!
    I came across it through a link from “The yummy life”.
    I lived in the States for two years and I LOVED me some pumpkin spice latte.
    Starbucks in Germany does not carry it (boo) so I will definitely try your recipe.
    I am just wondering: What is the expiration time on the Vanilla Simple Syrup?
    How long can I keep it in the fridge before it goes bad?

    • thanks so much for stopping by! i’ve used some of my vanilla beans for at least 6 months or longer – just reuse every time you make a new batch of simply syrup; we usually make a new batch every 3-4 weeks depending on how much coffee we’re drinking at the time. hope that helps!

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  5. kitchenarian

    I love french press coffee! I have one…and a Nespresso machine…and a Francis Francie espresso machine…and a Jura Capresso machine! I love coffee. I will definitely try this. I don’t usually get the pumpkin latte. When I walk through those doors and stand at the counter, I open my mouth and grande nonfat no foam latte just rolls of my tongue. But I will try this at home. Love your Bodum glasses too!

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  8. Could you use vanilla extract instead of vanilla syrup??

  9. I LOVE this! I am a pumpkin spice latte fan, but also hate paying $4 for a cup of coffee! You are the absolute coolest for this one 🙂

  10. Mmmm, sounds delicious! Perfect for this chilly weather! Great photos as well 🙂

  11. Buuuuuuuuuuuutttt…. you don’t get any actual pumpkin flavor unless you use actual pumpkin! You should try one of those recipes; they’re really quite delicious!

    • Oh Anne ~ I have tried a recipe a couple of years ago and I am just not a fan; for me, using pumpkin pie spice gives me the pumpkin flavor I’m looking for without residue in the bottom of my mug.

      But that’s the beauty of food – everyone can make a recipe to their liking, so if adding pumpkin works, terrific! And you’re still saving a TON of $$$ by making it at home!

  12. That looks so delicious.

  13. You’re not a coffee snob until you say “crema.” 😉

    Pumpkin pie spice is on the market list. In the meantime, making some vanilla syrup this AM so it’s on standy for tomorrow AM! Will be sure to report back.


  14. I have to get vanilla beans, then I will definitely will try. Sounds yummy!

  15. I so bet this tastes way better than Starbucks! All their coffee creations are icky sweet and way too much money! I’m headed your way for one of these. BTW, I agree, pumpkin residue would be totally gross!

  16. Ok. I totally get James Brown’s I Feel Good. It’s a great connection to the high fructose caffeine jump (otherwise known as HFCJ) that you get from this drink. But then you quote Elton John’s, “yellow brick road.” Of course, I realize that the James Brown song has less lyrics that are relevant to quote, but how about this. “This latte is so nice…like sugar and spice!”

    Oh, and the pics and recipe looks awesome! I’m not a coffee drinker but my mother-in-law loves pumpkin spice lattes. I’m definitely going to be giving her this link.

    • LOL Marly! You get the gold star!! I wanted ‘Yellow Brick Road’ but The Professor wanted ‘I Feel Good’ – and most of the time we land on the same song; I’m laughing because your brain made the same connection mine did!

      Would love for you to pass this along to the MIL – thanks!

      • Oh cool! You know what they say? Great minds think alike! I told Diane about this site and she loved it! I don’t blame her. Maybe she’ll be making pumpkin spiced lattes of her own soon!

  17. Caffeine does evil things to me, so I just avoid all types of coffee in general. But then I see posts like this and I wish I was a coffee drinker. Looks delicious!

  18. I so agree – those coffee drinks can be so addictive and the cost adds up very quickly! This is easy, quick and so much less expensive. And, I love that vanilla simple syrup.

  19. Brilliant! I want one of these right now 😀

  20. You read my mind! One of the things that defines the beginning of Fall is when the pumpkin spice lattes hit Starbucks. When I got my first one this year, I thought to myself, “I need to figure out a way to make these at home.” Now I don’t have to–you’ve done it for me! I use the same milk frother you do for my daily latte’s. Great gadget. Although I keep a jar of simple syrup in my fridge (primarily for mojitos), I’ve never thought of flavoring it. The vanilla beans are a great idea. Can’t wait to try this out. Such a timely post. Thanks.

  21. Wow! Does that ever look like it hits the spot! What a marvelous idea to use pumpkin pie spice to get the flavor you want.
    Yours definitely would taste better!

  22. I see your going to Blogher Food conference. Me too! I would love to meet you!

  23. I’m with you! I get the craving for these darn things and they just break the bank. I add Torrino Pumpkin syrup to my morning coffee to help keep those cravings away but this sounds even better! Great tip on the vanilla syrup. My daughter wanted me to buy her some to add to her Red Bulls but now I’m going to make her some! Great post!

    • Megan ~ I didn’t know they made a Pumpkin syrup until I was putting this post together BUT I’m going to try and make my own by adding pumpkin pie spice to my vanilla syrup – just haven’t played around with the ratios yet.

      And yes, I’ll be coming to San Francisco this next week – will look for you!

  24. I’m not even a coffee drinker but his sounds awesome. My brother’s like you, he loves the stuff & is quite the coffee snob, matter of fact everyone in my family is…., ‘cept me – go figure huh.

  25. You talk of your Italian ancestors rolling over in their graves. I know my Swedish ones would. They would think of this as more of a milkshake. Kathy and Mary do help to keep Starbucks in business, though. They get their lattes and Mom gets plain coffee.

    Aunt Laura

    • I know Aunt Laura ~ mom’s side of the family drinks their coffee hot and strong; cream and sugar are for sissies! Making lattes at home has saved us a bunch of money – I think I calculated that a Venti size costs me around .50 cents or less.

  26. Debra, can you give specifics on your frother? I searched for one to make chai tea lattes, and haven’t found one I’m happy with. I didn’t get the family gene that loves coffee (I got the tea gene), so I’ll try your pumpkin spice latte with tea!

    • Brenda ~ We found ours at a cooking store in Muncie but I’ve also seen them at Sur la Table; I’ve placed a hyper-link in the post above, so clicking on that, should take you straight to Amazon ($27.51 + shipping). All that to say, another commenter asked if I thought using the French Press would work – and I say, it works (we’ve tried it) BUT there is a rubber ring around the frother to protect wearing, where the French Press is just mesh and will probably wear over time – still makes great froth! Make sure you buy one that is glass rather than metal – metal won’t go in your microwave. Hope that helps and thanks for asking!

  27. Very Cool Post!! I am a coffee lover too, and this is a great post! Hope y’all are well!

  28. I just love Pumpkin Spice lattes! I love the idea of the vanilla simple syrup. We make ours with Green Mountain Coffee’s pumpkin spice blend and half and half though 🙂

  29. This sounds much tastier than the Starschmuck’s version. And can we talk about how much prettier it looks? I’m sure your relatives aren’t rolling in their graves given your ingenuity. They would be proud!

    • It’s great to be able to make them at home because you really can make adjustments according to your tastes! I hope my relatives would be proud but then again, they weren’t known to embrace change . . .

  30. Oh, I could kiss you right now. Dead serious. I will be so loved here if I made this, my husband was just talking about how he HAD to have one of these. They are so addictive too 🙂

    • They are quite addictive Beth!! And really, truly a fraction of the cost to make at home – not to mention, you can play around with the ratios to suit your tastes. Add more spice if you like more pumpkin flavor, less vanilla syrup if you don’t like yours quite as sweet; want a deep coffee flavor – just add a bit more. I can’t tell you how much money we’ve saved!

  31. I would love to pair your Pumpkin Latte with my take on Starbucks Maple Scones…oh, yeah, I can, can’t I?

    I came fairly late to the coffee game. And despite some haters, I have to give Starbucks some credit as my early years were tested by either coffee my Mom made or really bad diner coffee…I had no idea coffee didn’t have to come in a blue can and didn’t have to taste bitter. Now that I’m hooked, love making good coffee at home too.

  32. Your Italian ancestors might not have dreamed of a Pumpkin Spice Latte, but what do they know? This looks absolutely dreamy to me. What a great DIY idea!

    • You know Barbara, whenever I get ready to do a post like this I always think it’s too simple, you know? I’m all about the DIY whenever possible!

  33. much love to you for this. we used to have a handheld whipper that charged its battery on the base during non-use, though it would die after about four seconds of whipping. some frother! we DO have a french press and i’ve always been curious if i could use that to froth milk — pour milk in the bottom, then pump up and down. i guess i could try it, but unless someone else has and knows it’s okay, i’m afraid i’ll wreck the french press in doing so. have you tried this, or have any other suggestions to froth the milk?



    • Heather ~ I would try using the french press to whip your milk; the smaller frother we purchased looks the same; just make sure to only fill the container about 1/3 full – it whips VOLUMES of milk – LOL! Won’t ruin the French Press – GOOD LUCK!

      • ADDENDUM TO PREVIOUS ANSWER: Using a French Press to make froth would work – (we’ve tried it) BUT there is a rubber ring around the frother to protect wearing, where the French Press is just mesh and will probably wear over time – still makes great froth! Make sure you buy one that is glass rather than metal – metal won’t go in your microwave.

  34. I’d like a straight shot of that vanilla syrup, please! 😉

  35. Perfect drink for fall! Can’t wait to see you next week!

  36. Yum! I make my own at home too, and I agree that they taste even better!!

  37. Oh Man! I love pumpkin spice latte! I have a french press too! I can’t wait to try this! 🙂

  38. I have everything on hand to make this – excited!

  39. Great post, Debra. Don’t quite have the equipment to make all this at home… but maybe I need to remedy that. I’ve also got a local bean roaster who just started selling a pumpkin variety to my farm club – I think that needs to be ordered ASAP.

    • Would love to have a local bean roaster Liam, and having access to a pumpkin flavored variety would be great in this recipe. Investing $40 in a few pieces of equipment is so worth it – you’ll be making all sorts of flavored lattes for years to come!

  40. I don’t know which I like better, the Pumpkin Spice Latte or the Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Love your at home approach to the PSL. And yes please to Rowdy Chowgirl’s idea of turning it into a milkshake.

  41. I’m a latecomer to coffee too (I still only drink it once every week or so) but all I’ll drink is a flat white (snob!) If you like latte-ish things, my friend Catty has a great matcha latte recipe on her site “The Catty Life” x

  42. Can you hear that? It’s me *sniffing* the fabulous scent of that Pumpkin Spice Latte… and then crying in my coffee because I don’t have one!

  43. Debra-
    Love this post–it has a certain (caffeine-fueled?) verve…Good coffee is so important to us Seattle girls!

    And I know this may be crazy, but I think I want to turn your pumpkin spiced latte into a milkshake!

  44. This looks beautiful. I loved seeing your step by step photographs. How can I ever order a latte at Starbucks now? I will be thinking of this post anytime that I do…and I will be terribly disappointed! What a great recipe you shared with us (and a great song to accompany your words too!)

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