Crisp temperatures and colorful leaves are quickly replacing summer’s sweltering heat — fall has once again arrived. For this month’s Quest for the Best: Road Trip Edition, we set out in search for the perfect autumnal beverage. Our first stop was Dancing Goats Coffee Bar at 419 W. Ponce De Leon Ave. The shop, which opened in 2007, specializes in a coffee blend from Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters. Dancing Goats’ atmosphere was both cozy and calm, yet open and inviting. Our barista, Alejandro Nunez, recommended we try the Cappuccino Caliente for $3.96. After admiring the beautiful leaf on the top layer of cappuccino with foamed cream, we tried the drink. The coffee was very creamy and heavily caffeinated. Though subtle, the cappuccino’s fragrant spices left heat lingering in our mouths. With a dash of added sugar, we were able to mask their somewhat bitter aftertastes. When we consulted Nunez for the location of our next stop, he directed us to Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge. The original Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge at 1009 Marietta St. was surprisingly spacious and had ample space for seating. Because Octane does not offer seasonal drinks, our barista, Daniel Keith, recommended a carmelatto for $4.25. Like the cappuccino from Dancing Goats, Octane’s carmelatto came with an attractive design on its foam layer. Each sip of the carmelatto was nuanced with frothy sweetness and a rich creamy consistency, followed by a strong wave of coffee. Excited to see if another drink could match the carmelatto, we asked server Seth Dalton for suggestions. Dalton recommended Condesa Coffee, so we decided to continue our quest there. Condesa Coffee at 480 John Wesley Dobbs Ave. is a small shop, brightly furnished with modern decor. Our server, Kristi Ford, suggested the Fall Spice Steamer, which includes an original syrup created by employee Christopher Noerr. For $2.50, we received a small glass of hot milk topped with cinnamon. Though we could smell delicious wafts of the drink’s spices, it lacked strong flavor. The steamer, somehow both light and creamy, was a much-needed respite from all the caffeine we tried. Interested to hear Ford’s coffee shop recommendation, we were surprised when she named Octane Coffee.
After coming to a dead end, we decided to venture off our path to sample Starbucks’ popular, though generic, fall drink: the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Soon after stepping into the shop at 506 Moreland Ave., we took note of the bitter scent of commercialized coffee, hardly a substitute for the rich aroma of espresso characteristic of the independent shops we visited. The drink was just as disappointing. The sheer sweetness of the beverage overpowered its other flavors: artificial pumpkin, weak coffee and a dash of cinnamon. Considering the $4.50 Pumpkin Spice Latte was the most expensive drink we sampled, we concluded it was overrated and threw away the lackluster coffee unfinished.
Easily eliminating the Starbucks latte, we found it very difficult to choose the best fall beverage. Dancing Goats’ cappuccino was the spiciest, a great option for those averse to sweetness. Condesa offered the friendliest service and gave us a deliciously-light decaffeinated drink with subtle spices. Ultimately, we crowned Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge’s carmelatto as the best fall beverage. The drink blew us away; it was equally creamy and frothy and had a bold coffee flavor. With three locations in Atlanta and two shops in Birmingham, Ala., Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge is a must visit this autumn.