Is there any other confluence of ingredients that inspires more vicarious wrath from bystanders, more conflict and animosity than pumpkin spice? Yes, pumpkin spice latte season is upon us, which means it’s the time of year when people get awful judgey about their choice of beverage. And all on the back of poor pumpkin spice. It’s made up of what—cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, right? Maybe allspice or mace, depending on where you buy it? (The official Starbucks PSL™—yes, actually trademarked—combo is a proprietary formula evoking nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove.) Perhaps I have missed some essential part of its intake—is it vaped, administered by aerosol or somehow dispensed to the drinker in a way that involved secondhand ingestion from other people in the vicinity? No?
Then why does anyone give a damn if another person is enjoying a pumpkin spice latte? And yet they doooooo. They do. They do. Which seems entirely exhausting to me. Speak the words aloud, and it earns an eyeroll and “#basic” at best. At worst, the latter gets a “bitch” appended to it—which adds a weird soupcon of misogyny to the whole blend. I’ve never actually tried a pumpkin spice latte (a few sips of a sugary beverage and I am pretty much crashed for the rest of the day), so I may be missing something key, but does it actually temporarily transform the drinker into a sub-human being? A troll? A C.H.U.D. unworthy of regard as a person? I mean, weird shit goes down in flavor labs, but in 2015 after outcry from customers and a targeted campaign by activist (some say pseudoscientist) Vani Hani, Peter Dukes, the “director of espresso Americas for Starbucks” who originally led the development of the pumpkin spice latte back in 2003, wrote on the company’s blog that the formula, which had been tweaked in the ensuing years, would go back to basics “So, with that great taste you know and love, the PSL returns this fall, and this time it will be made with real pumpkin and without caramel coloring,” Dukes explained.
For the record, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce contains: sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, 2% or less of fruit and vegetable juice for color, natural flavors, annatto for color, potassium sorbate for preservation, and salt. The vanilla syrup deployed in a PSL is made of sugar, water, natural flavors, potassium sorbate, and citric acid, and the Pumpkin Spice Topping blend is cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. Other coffee joints and product makers (so many, many products—and at-home recipes like the pumpkin spice mug cake pictured above) might vary the mix, but essentially that’s it—aside from some marketing cleverly calculated to amp-up seasonal feverishness.
But the vitriol, man! It’s a weird player/game hate inversion, egged on by late-night comedians and listicles which for a cheap laugh, use a seemingly innocuous spice blend to codify a type of person (woman) that’s been deemed okay to denigrate for sport. There are worse problems in the world, of course, but I still find myself dreading pumpkin spice season. That easy meanness makes the world a little more bitter, sour, sad.
Like the actual beverage and spice blend as much or little as you care to. If it brings you pleasure—hey, that’s great! The earth could use more happy people on it. If not—that’s dandy, too. Just don’t ingest any and probably no squad of Starbucks enforcers will squeal up in an unmarked van, pin you to the sidewalk and waterboard you with it until you acquiesce, and definitely you’ll have more time and energy to focus on matters of greater import. Huzzah!
This piece is called What Loving Pumpkin Spice Lattes Says About You, so I suppose I owe you that, so here goes: If you love pumpkin spice lattes, you enjoy the flavor combination of espresso, vanilla, milk, and some spices that usually go into making pumpkin pies. And that’s all I can tell about you.