My PSL by Emily Johnson

Hi, I’m Emily, and I am an unashamed consumer. I am a slave to commodity fetishism. And I have recognized that fact but I’ve never moved past it. I don’t even know if I want to move past it. Of course I will be moving continents and I’m sure living in some undetermined area of Western North Africa for two years may have some effect on my position in relation to capitalism, but that remains to be seen. *Googles “Are there Starbucks in Morocco.”* It appears there are at least two. But that’s beside the point.

In a weird way, I kind of wanted to dislike the PSL. Maybe just to fit in. Maybe I too wanted a sip of the pumpkin spice flavored Haterade. Maybe I’d start to critique this beloved fall favorite and in doing so recognize the error of my Starbucks-loving ways. Today (read: last night), after not seeing the inside of a Starbucks for at least a week, I drove from a particularly chatty therapy session to the nearest (maybe?) Starbucks that was also conveniently located en route to my next planned fetishistic endeavor: dinner at Piada. I’m going to take a moment to explain Piada, because you all deserve an explanation. Piada is a lot like Chipotle, but instead of filling burritos with rice, beans, meats, cheese, and sometimes veggies and guacamole, here at Piada they fill burritos with Pasta. Their slogan is “Italian Street Food.” I’ve never been to Italy. But I’ve met a few Italians and have a good friend who studied abroad there, none of whom I feel like contacting about the validity of Piada’s claim. Piada would almost certainly be more truthfully categorized as an “Italian Dumpster Dive” joint. Whatever, I’m getting the Kale detox side dish.

I didn’t really want to order a Pumpkin Spice Latte. These days I usually get a Grande iced coffee sweetened with whole milk. If you know me at all, you know that I’ve made huge strides in my life by gaining control over my control-freak-ness when it comes to food. In the past I rarely ordered food from any restaurant (even fast food) without adding about 5 extra instructions. For example, before my pal Caleb showed me the light about Grande iced coffees, I used to order a Grande Caramel Macchiato on ice with whole milk, an extra shot of espresso, half the regular amount of syrup, whipped cream, and if I was in the mood either caramel drizzle or Starbucks signature sea salt topping to finish it off. This was want I wanted. This was what was going to make me happy after I spent the $5+ and pissed off everyone behind the counter at various Starbucks locations around campus.

This is a blog post about Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This particular Pumpkin Spice Latte is a ‘Tall’, which (in Ohio) cost me $3.85. Except it didn’t cost me anything because I was given a $15 Starbucks card for my birthday which I finally loaded onto my personalized Starbucks gold card today. What is a Starbucks gold card you ask? It’s marketing scheme with my name on it. Anyway, this Pumpkin Spice Latte. I usually get all my Starbucks drinks iced. If I’m going to have a hot cup of coffee (preferably with sugar and half & half) I can make it my damned self. If I’m going to pay the big bucks, I want something that I cannot outdo or even replicate at home. And if you’ve ever tried making your own iced coffee in under 10 minutes then I’m sure you can sympathize. It’s fucking gross. So I let the people at Starbucks (who apparently receive pretty decent benefits) do the dirty work for me.

But this Pumpkin Spice Latte. I ordered it hot. “Is whipped cream OK?” I can think of very few instances when whipped cream would not be okay. Perhaps on my baked potato, or on a salad. Otherwise, yes, it is okay. I then proceeded to inquire about that “stuff they sprinkle on top.” I learned that it is not cinnamon (or at least not only cinnamon). It is “pumpkin spice.” How could I refuse? I asked for Whole Milk. That’s a very important part of ordering successfully at Starbucks. I sympathize with the fictional character Ron Swanson who hates liars and skim milk. Skim milk, he says, is just water lying about being milk.

So, as I said, I was feeling cynical. My collegiate best friend and heterosexual soulmate SF had days earlier been so repulsed by her hot Pumpkin Spice Latte that she couldn’t even bear the last few gulps. Please keep in mind she and I once concocted an elaborate plan that involved preserving cans of the original recipe Four Loko in ‘Loko Time Capsules’ to be opened on one fateful night. That’s right. The girl who so loved Four Loko, which I think we can all agree tastes like various chemicals (albeit delicious God-sent chemicals), could not finish her PSL.

I pulled into an empty parking space and rolled my windows down to feel the crispness of the 8PM fall air, to set the mood, if you will. I opened the lid. This drink is so… cute? Maybe it’s the pink cardboard hand buffer.

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I sipped it.

Ah, there it is.

This PSL is the French Vanilla cappuccino my mom used to get from any given gas station in the late 1990s, somehow way too hot at the top but chilled once you reach the bottom. I took another sip. I felt the slight but striking burn in my throat that this blog’s master pointed out in an earlier post. I think it’s the topping. The “pumpkin spice.” I suppose that could lead one to worry about the contents of this cup and what it is doing to their insides, but I devoured the now thinning whipped cream spice topping and got to the real meat of my beverage. I would like to make a comment (read: correction) on Alexander’s earlier characterization of the PSL’s color. This PSL, my PSL, is the exact color of nutmeg. It is a warm slice of zucchini bread with just the right amount of butter. It is hard cinnamon Christmas tree ornaments. It is Thackery Binx calling my name at the start of [when did it become everyone’s favorite] everyone’s favorite holiday film.

It is not pumpkin pie. It is not supposed to be pumpkin pie. It is not even supposed to be pumpkin pie flavored. It is overpriced. Everything is overpriced. I needed the caffeine for my hour-and-a-half drive back to Starbucksless land, but I could have gotten the caffeine from any number of places, including taking it in the much more economical pill form. So why did I go to Starbucks? Well, for one, I wanted to take a moment to think through a ritual I perform almost weekly (probably biweekly, sometimes monthly). I also kind of wanted to use this as an excuse to get something other than iced coffee from Starbucks for a change of pace. I wanted to earn another star on my gold card towards a future reward beverage. I wanted to use my gift card, because I am a consumer at heart. And I wanted to give the PSL another shot, for all you readers out there who just weren’t buying what the cynics were selling. And I’m glad that I did. The only thing I’ve come to regret throughout this whole ordeal is that I don’t know of a song wherein Drake uses the lyrics “pumpkin spice.” THINK OF THE THINGS THAT DRAKE COULD DO WITH THE WORDS “PUMPKIN SPICE.”

In conclusion, if you do want a pumpkin pie flavored coffee (particularly pumpkin pie flavored iced coffee) try McDonald’s. If you “don’t do McDonald’s” fuck you, this blog post wasn’t for you in the first place.

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