Caffeine Crash Course: A Guide to Fall Beverages

It’s that time of year again, folks: colder days, longer nights, and heavier workloads are upon us as we hit the midpoint of the fall semester. We could all stand to be warmed up and woken up with a hot cup of joe, but a mug full of black coffee can be boring for some and intimidating for others. If you find yourself dreading the end of iced coffee season, don’t worry. I’ve been on both sides of this coffee-cup conundrum, and I’m here to help.


The Pumpkin White Mocha

If you’re tired of the stigma surrounding the Pumpkin Spice Latte but addicted to that classic fall flavor, the pumpkin white mocha is the drink for you. This drink rises one step above fall’s most infamous beverage by adding white chocolate to the mix of espresso, pumpkin syrup, and pumpkin spice—which usually comprises a mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and is sprinkled on top of the foamy steamed milk of your #PSL.

The leap from latte to mocha isn’t as large as it sounds—a mocha is nothing but a latte with chocolate syrup, and a latte is nothing but one part espresso and three parts steamed milk. These two drinks—the latte and the mocha— form the frameworks of nearly all great seasonal specialties.

Armed with the knowledge of what makes up a Pumpkin White Mocha, you will be stopped by nothing when ordering this at any coffee shop. Pumpkin spice is so ubiquitous in fall coffee culture that practically anywhere with an espresso machine will have the appropriate supplies on hand. However, this drink is an advertised seasonal drink at Cups on Jackson Avenue, where they say, “some things just go together, like white chocolate and pumpkin spice.” Order it by name there or at its sister shop Shelter on Van Buren, or ask for a white mocha with pumpkin spice syrup at High Point on the Square, Einstein Brothers in Anderson Hall or the law school, or at any Starbucks.


The Brown Sugar Latte

Pumpkin spice drinks can be awfully sweet, so they aren’t for everyone. Luckily, Cups offers a simpler alternative, the Brown Sugar Latte, with just as much fall flavor. Don’t let the name deceive you—this drink contains just enough brown sugar to add a few notes of that rich molasses flavor without covering up the taste of the espresso. Plus, the sprinkling of cinnamon and brown sugar on top warm you up from the very first sip.

This is a Cups classic, but you can try it anywhere there’s brown sugar on hand. Just ask the baristas—I promise they don’t bite!


The Brown Sugar Chai Fog

The Brown Sugar Latte’s hip sister is the Brown Sugar Chai Fog. Cups markets it as “loose leaf Cha-Cha-Chai tea steeped in milk with a cheerful touch of brown sugar.” Ordering this one by name is foolproof at Cups, but ordering it off-menu at other coffee shops can go awry. To prevent any faux-pas, let’s discuss: What is chai? And what is a fog?

Chai refers to masala chai, a mix of black tea, herbs, and spices—typically cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and black pepper. If that combination sounds weird, don’t worry. It tastes an awful lot like Christmas day. It can be prepared as a concentrate, a powder, or a loose tea, depending on where you’re ordering. Regardless of how the coffee shop you frequent serves its chai, avoid embarrassment by resisting the urge to order “chai tea.” The word chai means tea, so this is redundant.

A fog is any tea steeped in steamed milk instead of hot water. It gets its name from the classic London Fog, which consists of Earl Grey tea in milk and resembles the thick smog that hung over London during the industrial revolution. It differs from a tea latte in that it consists solely of milk, whereas a tea latte also includes hot water.

I’ve tried my best to order a fog at the campus Starbucks locations, but have not yet succeeded. They’re growing in popularity, so you might be able to pull off a chai fog sans brown sugar without leaving Ole Miss. However, if you want the real Brown Sugar Chai Fog, Cups is your move.


The Chai Latte

A classic spiced chai latte is the perfect fall drink for the coffee-averse and the anti-pumpkin-spice contingency. It also serves as a great cover-up for coffee. If you want that warm, cozy chai flavor with an extra kick, ask your barista for a Dirty Chai, which incorporates a shot of espresso.

Chai’s also the ideal drink for those last few heat waves. It works wonderfully over ice, combining all of the autumnal spices you crave with the refreshing chill you still need in late October in Mississippi. Since chai is a year-round option, it’s here to help when that nostalgia for the changing leaves hits at any spot on the calendar.

Every coffee shop has its own form of chai, so you can snag a chai latte, a dirty chai, or an iced version of either at Starbucks, Einstein Brothers, High Point, Cups, or anywhere caffeine is readily available. 


The Spiced Cider

Autumn isn’t complete without a cup of spiced cider. Luckily, High Point on the Square has a delicious, creamy cider that’s not only the perfect caffeine-free fall beverage, but it is also on their menu year-round. They combine steamed milk with apple cider and a heaping helping of cider spices, including brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, salt, nutmeg, and orange.

High Point is your best bet if you’re bobbing for apple ciders. Sit at a table in the alley to enjoy the fall breeze while you sip, and flash your Ole Miss ID after 6:30 PM to get 15% off your order.


The Chile Mocha

For the adventurous but campus-bound, the chile mocha is the way to go. This drink is a new Starbucks seasonal specialty, so get it while it’s hot (and spicy). Inspired by the original hot cocoa of the Mayan Empire, this fall drink combines chile and cocoa powders into a classic mocha and is topped with a mix of paprika, chile pepper, and cinnamon for a little extra kick.

The Chile Mocha isn’t for the mild salsa crowd, but it’s no five-alarm-chili, so try it if you aren’t afraid of a little Sriracha on your Lo Mein. It’s also available as a hot chocolate drink (the same, minus the espresso).

Check it out at the Starbucks in the library to add some interest to your next late-night study session.


The Hot Cocoa

An oldie but a goldie, the classic hot cocoa is perfect for a stroll through the changing leaves of the Grove or Lamar Park. Leave the Nestle packet behind and treat yourself to hot chocolate done right from a coffee shop this fall—trust me, it will be worth it.

Have fun with this order! Ordering hot chocolate is like being a kid again, so harness that imagination. Ask for dark or white chocolate, a pile of whipped cream on top, or even an additional syrup like hazelnut, coconut, almond, or mint. Dark chocolate with hazelnut syrup adds up to a Nutella hot chocolate, but don’t order it that way. The “secret menu” is not the same everywhere, so always know what syrups you want to achieve the flavor you’re aiming for.

You can get a great hot chocolate from any coffee shop, of course, but I recommend High Point. Grab a cup and walk North Lamar with a friend to check out the gorgeous trees and even more beautiful houses. You won’t regret it.


The Red Eye

This list is primarily about delicious autumn specialty drinks to sip joyfully while cuddling up in a sweater, but let’s not beat around the bush. If your GPA is falling like the leaves, this is the drink for you. A shot of espresso topped with a cup of regular drip coffee, the Red Eye takes no prisoners. It’s about 200 milligrams of caffeine and it will keep your brain from shutting down when Cups and J. D. Williams are open 24 hours a day.

Sleep is for the weak. Order this anywhere caffeine is served.

Good luck, my friends.