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Pumpkin Spice Lattes and broken promises

by Matthew Civico October 20, 2015
Pumpkin Spice Lattes and broken promises

Can a latte really deliver a season’s worth of meaning and feeling?

Lattes are liars, and Pumpkin Spiced ones are the worst.

Knowledge of their duplicity doesn’t scare me off though. Every year it’s the same: I want them in a bad way. I’m pretty embarrassed about it but I think I’ve learned a few things about gourds and frothed milk and, somewhere along the way, about myself.

The PSL in its natural habitat. Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

The PSL in its natural habitat. Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

I’m just a man. Weak, frail, and in need of comfort—warmly spiced comfort—when temperatures begin to dip below 10 degrees Celsius.

Naturally, I put on a sweater and some wool socks. I also swear off ice cream and start eating more soups and stews. You see, I take my autumns very seriously.

Now about that frothy fraud.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes are dangerous. They’re like politicians really, and we swallow them down every year, reelecting them as ambassadors of autumn while oblivious of our collective amnesia.

The PSL makes a lot of promises, but I’m on to it. It’s a seasonal drink though, and has Starbucks’ (and others) marketing muscle behind it, so it threw me for a loop this year—it added real pumpkin.

“Authenticity!” I cried out, but too soon, because PSLs know everyone is a secret hipster and I was just being pandered to.

It’s still a disappointment. Still too sweet and too mainstream. No one loves a PSL the way I could love a PSL if I didn’t already hate them.

I hate calling them PSLs.

I want to love Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I want to find comfort and fulfilment in their warmth, the same way I want to find identity and fulfilment in early morning writing and afternoon walks amid bright, swirling leaves.

Packaged, frothed, and consumable—that’s how I want my autumns, and I’m ashamed. Maybe that’s why I can’t decide whether I love or hate Pumpkin Spice Lattes. They offer me exactly what I want in the way I think I want it, but I come away unsatisfied every time.

Sure, I could scour the internet for a gluten-free fair-trade non-GMO paleo alternative that would be better than the sugary gourd-slop Starbucks is peddling, but it wouldn’t matter.

The pure, distilled spirit of autumn I want can’t actually be distilled, let alone into a cheap syrup.

Maybe I’m an idealist, or maybe I just can’t get past how much more interesting metaphysics are than physics. One thing I know is that my perfect conception of autumn—and what PSLs should be—exists, it just doesn’t exist here.

But that’s what ideals are for. It’s why we idolize heroes and worship ephemeral experiences; we do this because it gives us something to reach for.

I’m deeply disappointed with the broken promises of Pumpkin Spice Lattes but I’m not cynical about what they offer. An unflagging idealism, or at least a willingness to dream beyond reality, is the only effective antidote against cynicism that I know.

So go enjoy a warm gourd beverage, but don’t believe the hype.

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