Spice up your morning routine with our favorite seasonal coffee.
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With Labor Day come and gone, pumpkin spice latte season is here again—well before the weather has even started to turn. Love it or hate it, this controversial Starbucks beverage is making its annual comeback, alongside pumpkin-spiced everything in stores and cafes across America.
But if you're one of the many who've grown weary of pumpkin spice altogether, I have news—there's still a way to enjoy seasonal spiced coffee that doesn't taste like a candle.
One day, as I wandered around at a specialty spice shop, I noticed there was a Turkish coffee spice that contained similar ingredients to pumpkin spice—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—with the addition of cardamom. An essential ingredient in masala chai tea, cardamom is also a popular spice in coffee all over the Middle East. Last year, the Canadian Starbucks also picked up the trend, offering cardamom lattes for a limited time.
Since my first introduction to cardamom in coffee, I've been hooked—it offers a unique warmth and aroma that trumps the artificial sweetness of pumpkin spice. If you’re tired of the PSL, this distinctly fragrant spice will make seasonal coffee feel fun again.
Cardamom is a spice made from the seed pods of various plants that belong to the ginger family. One pod contains a number of seeds that can be used ground or whole. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely resinous aroma that is similar to mint. Native to South Asia, the spice is an essential ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes throughout Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.
Over the years, the increasing popularity of cardamom has also made it a staple in Nordic cuisine, appearing in several classic baked goods that are enjoyed over fika, the Swedish coffee break. Cardamom has also already been featured in certain seasonal speciality drinks in the States, including the Vanilla Spice Latte at Starbucks.
But don’t set out to buy cardamom without knowing what you're looking for. Normally, there are two types of cardamom on the market: the green pods and the dark brown pods. The green cardamom is the more common spice used in food and beverages. The dark brown pods, also called black cardamom, are in fact a different spice that has a strong and almost camphor-like flavor with a smoky character, which comes from the drying method used to process it. Black cardamom rarely makes its way into sweet dishes or beverages—in this article, we're only discussing green cardamom.
While we can't speak to any health claims that have been made about cardamom, the biggest benefit of adding a pinch of the spice in your coffee is the insanely refreshing fragrance it produces, which can help you feel awake and alert. Thanks to its mint-like aftertaste, cardamom can also help reduce the strong coffee taste and smell in mouth so you don’t have to carry chewing gum around. In Nepal, people drink cardamom tea to get rid of bad breath after they go out drinking. To spice up your coffee, only a pinch of ground cardamom is sufficient.
Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices by weight, after vanilla and saffron. But you only need a small amount to impart the aromatic flavor in cooking or tea. You’ll be able to find cardamom pods and ground cardamom at your local grocer or order it from Amazon. You can also buy pre-ground Turkish or Moroccan coffee spice from Amazon and a variety of specialty stores. Just add one teaspoon for each two tablespoons of coffee during the brewing process.
However, I would always suggest buying the green pods as opposed to the seeds or ground cardamom, because the pods don’t lose their potency and flavor as easily. You can use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to grind your own spice at home.
In Nordic cooking, there are many types of breads and pastries that use cardamom. Many newer pumpkin pie recipes also incorporate it as an alternative to the classic nutmeg-clove-cinnamon combo. Because of its refined, refreshing taste, cardamom spice finds its place in both savory and sweet foods and it’s always good to keep in your pantry.
Whether you love your PSL the way it is or you're dying to try something fresh, give cardamom a try—and keep an eye out for it in seasonal drinks to come.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.