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The return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

It was September 14th at approximately 11:43 a.m. when I saw it: the sign announcing the return of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. I stopped dead in my tracks, my mouth stitched into a tight, horrified “O.”
“Hell no,” I exhaled. “It’s still summer… for another 9 days!”

I was furious. I couldn’t bear the thought of pumpkin hysteria returning so soon – robbing me of those final, precious days of stone fruits, sweet white corn and zucchinis the size of my forearm. “How dare Starbucks suck the final breath out of Summer?” I thought as I stomped past the coffee shop, fully cognizant that the very same sign was inspiring a wholly different response in the rest of population – which, incidentally, is probably the reason that the latte was returning so early in the first place.

People seriously go gaga over the damn thing. I, on the other hand, had never tried it, but was convinced it couldn’t be good enough to warrant its arrival in the middle of September. I mean, people went nuts over the return of the McRib and clearly that wasn’t the product of epicurean genius, so was I really missing out on anything here?

But then a friend – a respected, food hype-defying, non-McRib eating friend – expressed her sincere appreciation for the latte.
“It’s comforting,” she said with a shrug, explaining how it signifies the beginning of Fall and helps her cope with the very end of Summer I was bemoaning.

I struggled with her endorsement for the next few weeks. Every time I passed a Starbucks, I’d think about it, torn between curiosity and my obstinate belief that it had to be the worst beverage on the planet – right up there with Red Bull and sweet wines (excluding Moscato). I swayed back and forth from one side of the fence to the other, musing “Do I? Don’t I?” until finally I couldn’t take it any more. I had to try it. I had to taste the latte that slayed my Summer.

A few days later I waited in line at my local Starbucks. I felt out of place; As a loose leaf tea drinker, I rarely find a need for the coffee conglomerate’s burnt beans and generic Tazo tea bags served steeped in scorching hot water. I repeated my order in my head, reminding myself to say “tall” instead of “small” and “decaf” instead of “regular,” lest I spend the next twelve hours with shaking hands. Tall decaf nonfat Pumpkin Spice Latte, tall decaf nonfat Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“Tall decaf nonfat Pumpkin Spice Latte,” I said when it was my turn, employing a confident cadence that might suggest I order it all the time, that I’m one of those girls who spends all year waiting for it like it’s the messiah.

“Whipped cream?” The barista asked, equally nonchalant. I stared at him, a snarl nearly escaping from my pursed lips.

“No,” I practically spat, feeling even more disgusted with the beverage that, clocking in at 300 calories without whipped cream, is basically liquified pumpkin pie. I was almost embarrassed when they called out, “Diana? Pumpkin Spice Latte,” a couple of minutes later, as if having my name spoken aloud in such close proximity to the drink was somehow descriptive of my character.

I grabbed the cup, neatly labeled with my name and a smiley face, and bolted for the exit. Once in the safety of my car, I allowed myself to take an initial sniff. It didn’t smell terrible, but then again I’d always been fond of the scent of freshly brewed coffee, particularly when enhanced with obscene amounts of syrup and sugar. I lifted the cup to my lips, suddenly feeling a hot flash of excitement. Maybe it would be amazing. Maybe I’d drink it and turn into one of those Pumpkin Spice Latte girls who can recite her order like its her date of birth. Maybe I’d never bemoan the end of Summer ever again.

But as the warm coffee rolled onto my tongue, I shuddered with Pavlovian revulsion. “Ugh!” I groaned out loud, my taste buds shocked by the cloying sweetness of the disturbingly orange-tinted drink. Nothing about it tasted like pumpkin. Even the so-called “spice” was cloaked in a surplus of syrup. I lifted the cup to my lips a second time, hoping that the flavor might improve with subsequent sips, but the sweetness overwhelmed me again, intermingling with the burnt coffee in a way that reminded me of an overly browned butter caramel.

I went in for a fourth and final sip just to be absolutely, positively sure that I wasn’t missing something, that there wasn’t some underlying flavor profile that would suddenly burst forth and announce itself like a delicate shave of truffle over a purse of pasta. “Nope, not happening,” I declared as I chucked the cup in the trash. As I made my way home, I wondered if they’d melted down candy corn to make the latte, wondered if that was why it was labeled “pumpkin” since clearly whatever beverage I’d just imbibed couldn’t possibly contain any semblance of the seasonal gourd.

I cursed the end of Summer once again, cursed Starbucks for massacring coffee, pumpkins and the spirit of Fall, and I cursed the $3.75 I’d wasted for four sips of liquefied candy. October 16th at approximately 2:15 p.m: the first and last time I will ever be caught dead with a pumpkin spice latte.