The Pumpkin Spice Latte: sweet release
Today, I decided that if I make it to 80, I’m going to try heroin. I don’t know the twists and turns the river of my life will take, but I know that when I am soon to empty out into the vast and cold ocean, one last burst of artificial warmth will be a necessary closure to a life spent fighting, losing, and persevering.
This burst is the pumpkin spice latte: in the face of the deadening chill of winter, the “PSL” is all we have. Seeking an ever-receding hipness is a summer’s game; times of outdoor concerts and trendy food festivals are long gone. In the dark, there is no need to fight.
Our hands will be frozen, and our blood Vitamin D deficient, and our throats scratchy and sore. The calories you spend being “not basic” will be reserved for the warmth of your beating heart. So drink your PSL, and relish it before you sink back once more into the icy rivers of death.
#PSL: trending never
I started drinking coffee in eighth grade and haven’t looked back. By the time I started freshman year of college, I was so dependent that my primary concern when departing for FOOT was not whether or not I’d make friends or survive the hiking, but how on earth I was going to be able to poop without any coffee. In 2011, when I began to imbibe regularly, my ratio of milk to coffee was an alarming two to one, but back then I never thought to bastardize the drink with sugar. It didn’t even cross my adolescent mind. Now I drink it black or with a splash of milk if I want to cool it down a bit. So I avoided the Pumpkin Spice Latte for years, not because I was afraid of the stigma of basicness, but rather because it sounded truly disgusting to me. Why put artificial pumpkin flavoring into a perfect drink? I rolled my eyes at the long lines of people in puffer vests who had probably downloaded the Countdown app on their iPhones just to track the coming and going of the beloved PSL. I would never try one of those things. Ever.
Then last month, I went to Des Moines, Iowa to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. As a bridesmaid, your only responsibility is to do exactly what the bride wants you to do. The bride wanted us all to get pumpkin spice lattes the morning of her wedding (I don’t know why this was important to her, and I didn’t ask). A dutiful bridesmaid, I gratefully accepted my PSL and prepared to take my first, blasphemous sip—I needed my caffeine, after all. The scent of the pumpkin spice leaked through the little oval cut in the plastic top. I braced myself. I took a sip of the warm beverage, which had already cooled a little on its journey through the crisp autumn air on its way to our hotel room.
Dear lord, it was disgusting. I nearly spat out the tiny sip I had deigned to take. I decided I’d rather suffer the headache and constipation of a coffeeless morning than the 64 grams of sugar contained in the cardboard cup. I left the rest of it to rot like the trash it was on the sink of the hotel bathroom.
Never again, Pumpkin Spice Latte, you disgrace. Never again.
A latte, a lie
You know how self-righteous health nuts are always telling you that your Coca-Cola would be green if not for the caramel coloring? Or how white bread is bad for you, because brown bread is somehow more natural or wholesome? Yeah, these people ruin fall, too. Turns out your PSL is not what it’s cracked up to be.
You may have heard the claim that Pumpkin Spice Lattes do not even have pumpkin in them, but are the product of a carefully synthesized blend of aromatics that merely simulate autumnal gusto. This is a myth. A one-minute gander to the Starbucks website yields an ingredient list, and that ingredient list yields the nugget that ingredient number three is, indeed, “pumpkin puree.”
But more secrets are to be told from this crude offering of a recipe. After the three major components (sugar, skim milk, and pumpkin), two percent of the syrup in your PSL is made up of some wacky things. “Fruit and vegetable juice” — vegetable? Like, a green juice? Pumpkin spice is—and I hate this word—betchier than previously thought.
Then there are “natural flavors.” Hmmm. This is the umbrella term food companies use to hide whatever synthetic crap they’re actually putting in your drank. But I can’t imagine it’s worse that whatever else a Yale student is putting in his body on any given day in late fall.
But let’s go back to that fringey aunt you have who’s always reminding you about the dyes in your food. She will certainly bring up how “Annatto” (PSL ingredient six) gives pumpkin spice latte syrup its rich, orange color. Burnt Sienna? Jack-O-Lantern? Annatto is the same substance that gives cheddar cheese its iconic orangey hue, which is jarring given that I am now imagining a latte made with a pump of queso. But I digress. The vegan cheddar substitute your aunt is having with her Thanksgiving tofurkey also has annatto in it—rub that in her face! Starbucks, your latte is a lie.
Book Trader: Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins
Let it be noted that this is not Pumpkin Gingerbread with Raisins, but Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins. This is an important distinction to make. That being said, there is a strong ginger flavor to this bread (in a good way) that causes me to question whether I really know what a pumpkin tastes like.
If you took the ginger and raisins out of this Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins and asked me to distinguish between a slice of equally sweet, equally non-gingered and non-raisined bread, WOULD I BE ABLE TO? Could I identify this particular loaf as pumpkin if I hadn’t personally ordered it from the grumpy Book Trader barista? Does life have any meaning? Are we just floating masses of hydrocarbon chains distracting ourselves with arbitrarily seasonal treats in order to get through the pain of it all? Did I leave my laundry in the dryer again?
To distract myself from the sheer horror of a questioning mind, I decided to continue eating my slice of Book Trader Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins, and a new, slightly less horrifying question arose. Why the raisins? I don’t mind raisins, and can appreciate them in the occasional cookie or kugel, but I’ve never had anything that was made better with raisins than it would have been with chocolate chips. Especially pumpkin! I hate to get political, but things just taste better with chocolate chips.
Also I panicked when ordering my Book Trader Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins and ordered a steamed milk without specifying a flavoring, and when the grumpy barista didn’t ask if I wanted one, I was too frightened of human interaction to say anything. So I got what was just hot milk. Why would any person who wasn’t a young child in a 19th century novel want that? But it was actually pretty good with my slice of Book Trader Pumpkin Ginger Bread with Raisins. So I’m sorry, grumpy barista.
Gluten free fall freedom
Autumn should be my season. ’Tis high time of year for seasonal basics like me to dive whole hog into pumpkin scones, muffins, cronuts. But alas, I’ve managed to out-basic the betches, surpass the Starbucks lovers, and banish myself to the corner of rice cakes, salad, and corn Chex at this most festive time of the fall. That’s right. I’m gluten-free. Voluntarily. This is my story.
It’s a sad lot, my self-inflicted high-maintenance lot. Starbucks thinks they have me in their corner with little pumpkin cakes but, as always, I am one step ahead of their capitalist festive machine.
When I walk into a coffee shop, here’s what I see: a bunch of tasty treats with big ole red X’s over them. I see food; I see food I can’t eat. Blue State usually has one gluten-free cookie (usually a bland snickerdoodle), and Book Trader serves up these weird little grain paste bar things that are also vegan. Fuck that. I hate vegans. I want good food. I want pumpkin food!
It’s tough to be me. So I’ve decided to take a stand and take everything at Blue State that I CAN eat and dump raw pumpkin paste atop it! Gluten-free granola? Check. Turkey sandwich (hold the bread)? Check. A large non-fat double-shot soy latte with three pumps of classic sweetener? Yasss. Pour some pumpkin on it. I simultaneously love and hate when people know that I’m gluten-free. Now you all know. Now you all can join me, and you can bring me quinoa puffs and jars of pumpkin paste. Yas. Happy Halloween.
A scone too soon discredited
“Would you like your pastry heated, sir?” the barista asked me as I shuffled to place my Starbucks card back into my wallet. I stammered out a barely coherent “yes, please,” and made my way back to my seat. I had ordered a Pumpkin Scone with a Tall Hot Chocolate, the perfect remedy for a rainy October day.
Scones usually have a reputation of being dry like the Saharan Desert, but this particular scone was a bit on the moister side. A light cream cheese frosting sat atop the baked good, a small orange drizzle adding a touch of fall flair. I’m pretty sure that the scone was not the most healthy way to get my pumpkin spice fix, but it was worth every calorie.
“Pumpkin Scone for Dominic,” the barista called across the store. As I walked over to the counter to pick up my decadent morning indulgence, I could hear the barista’s coworker asking why she had heated up my pumpkin scone. “You’re not supposed to heat that up. The cream cheese melts from the heat.” Unfazed, I smiled at the barista and went back to my seat to devour the sweet treat.
I noticed right away that the cream cheese was indeed squishier than on any past scones I had consumed. Upon my first bite, however, I realized what I had been missing out on. The spices in the pumpkin scone and the creaminess of the frosting became even more pronounced post-warming. The desiccated pumpkin scone I had once known took on a whole different personality. One barista’s “mistake” provided me with an even better rendition of an already wonderful pastry. It is something that can be best summed up with a chemical equation.
Pumpkin Scone (In the presence of heat) yields The Starbucks Autumn Menu’s Most Tasty Treat.