One of my swaggier coworkers once told me that Roger Ebert wrote his reviews just 15 minutes after completing the movie – an admirable feat which I didn’t feel emotionally ready to compete with. Instead, I, Kelli Bender, am writing you a full 20 hours after having my very first pumpkin spice latte. As a PSL virgin, I have decided to review my foray into the nectar of the Fall gods, so you can relive your first sip or simply learn what all the fuss is about.
As a 26-year-old female New Yorker, who adores autumn (sweater weather, you guys!) and has a (defunct) Pinterest page, why did I shirk the communion wine of my kind? Why ignore the OG pumpkin spice product? The one latte to rule them all and in the crisp breeze of October bind them?
It wasn’t a political or health reason. I just don’t enjoy coffee. Or, more accurately, I have a somewhat debilitating commitment to Diet Coke. I often ask myself, “Would this taste better with a DC, or something else? Ninety-nine times out of a 100, Diet Coke wins – with an occasional victory for wine.
The point is, I had a go-to caffeine source that was cheap, easy to find and calorie-free, so the idea of paying $5 for 400 calories of hot, frothy whatever wasn’t too appealing. So much so, that this wasn’t only my first PSL, it was my first latte all together.
Obviously, my first pumpkin spice latte had to come from the Queen Mother of trendy-flavored coffee products: Starbucks. Before hauling myself a whole city block to the Starbucks closest to my office, my PSL-wisened coworker gave me a brief history of the infamous drink. I was shocked to find that Starbucks’ signature blend of espresso, milk with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove flavors was created all the way back in 2003 by a brainstorming committee that settled on the product because “there wasn’t anything pumpkin-flavored around at the time.”
I can’t believe I was alive in a time in which the mania surrounding the glorified gourd wasn’t ever-present and injected into every food stuff imaginable. I think I unknowingly ingest pumpkin flavor three to five times a day now, like those insects that are supposed to crawl into your mouth while you’re sleeping.
With a newfound respect and fear for the ultimate PSL, I decided to ask the office what my expectations should be. Sugary is the word I heard over and over again. “Like a straight injection of sugar,” one latte-learned friend summarized. With thoughts of sugar pumpkins dancing in my head, I mentally prepared my order while walking to Starbucks.
It was a tall Pumpkin Spice Latte with whipped cream. (“Never say no to whipped cream” is an important credo I have followed all my life.) Tall seemed large enough to sample the drink, without sickening myself. I got to the store, entered the line of giddy Brooks Brothers bros and waited my turn. With Starbucks having sold over 200 million PSLs to date, my cashier didn’t seem too blown away by my order.
Then I waited. For a total of two minutes, I stood at the end of the counter and maintained eye contact with the jug of “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce” that happened to be sitting behind the ledge. “Tell me your secrets, magical chalice of spicy pumpkin secretions. What exactly are you?” I asked the jug with my eyes, like Dante seeking help from Virgil.
“In time,” the orange mystic responded. And then my drink arrived.
I took the cup labeled “Kelly” and pursed my lips for the first sip.
It was … sugary and lacking in any kind of coffee taste. That was the surprise: I expected it to taste more … coffee-y. It didn’t taste too pumpkin-y either. It tasted more like, say, heated pie-flavored Cool Whip.
Regardless, sugar is sugar, and the taste was simple and non-offending enough that I had no trouble slurping down the drink and craving a little bit more when I finished.
Looking back 20 hours, $4.45 and hundreds of calories later, there is only one question to ask: Does a Pumpkin Spice Latte taste better than a Diet Coke? (Drum roll.) Well … no.