I had a pumpkin spice latte!

Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. Twice. I had a drink I’d never have normally, as it’s overpriced, calorific, and not very good. Also, I engaged in what at least one author says is an act of white privilege. I refer to consuming a Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte, which was one of the subjects of a new paper in the journal GeoHumanities called: “The perilous whiteness of pumpkins”. (I wrote about it here.) This paradigm of sociological investigation found that pumpkins and their consumption and celebration are actually pretty close to Nazism. I quote from the paper (my emphasis):

Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte (PSL) in 2003. The company claimed sales of more than 200 million by the start of PSL’s tenth season, noting that fans had established it as “the company’s most popular seasonal beverage of all time” (Starbucks 2013). Although the PSL was celebrated as a company and cultural success in 2013, one year later it was firmly hitched to discussions of white female identity and consumerism as both a dismissive, racially coded slur and a rallying counterpoint.

. . . But why did PSLs become the symbol of basic white girlness? Why did they stick even more than UGGs, yoga pants, or scented candles? The context and composition of the PSL might be revealing. Prior to fall 2015, PSLs did not actually contain pumpkin. Luxury items, they cost far more than plain cups of coffee, yet do not provide tangible extra nutrition other than that in milk. Actual pumpkins, in contrast, contribute vitamin A, beta-carotenoids, fiber, and potassium (Savoie and Hedstrom 2008).”

. . . Extending Simon’s frame to pumpkins and race, the excesses of calories, profligate sweetness, whipped cream, and heady aroma position them solidly as luxury items. PSLs are quintessential “postneed” uses of pumpkin. We no longer need to consume pumpkins for caloric subsistence. Instead, we demonstrate consumer savvy and gleeful excess by choosing the particular comforts of status-demonstrating Starbucks PSLs. In fact, had they significant actual pumpkin, had they strong associations with healthy vegetables or vitamins, PSLs would fail these consumers.”

. . . The status symbol is not any over-the-top caloric, sweet drink, nor does it come from just any place. Starbucks PSLs are products of coffee shop culture, with its gendered and racial codes.

Oy!

But my purchase came about like this. The drink is fantastically popular, but it’s expensive, and since I have my own quality espresso machine, I almost never patronize places like Starbucks. But about six months ago I found a Starbuck’s plastic token on the street which looked as if it was good for purchasing Starbuck’s products. When I was downtown today, and saw no line at Starbuck’s, I asked the cashier at if it had any value. She swiped it, said, “Yes”, and informed me that it was worth about $7.

I therefore had the wherewithal to purchase one of these drinks, which I did out of curiosity. It was pricey: $5.85! Note my plastic cup-shaped card, which contained the money for my drink. It’s almost maxed out now.

Did I like it? Well, at 8 a.m. it provided a comforting amount of fat and sugar: 380 calories—twice the calories as a slice of pumpkin pie itself. The first quarter of the drink was okay, as it was mostly whipped cream and tasted like a pumpkin pie. But then the spices became cloying, tasting almost artificial or chemical, and the drink became merely tolerable. It was way too sweet, and I wonder why this highly sugared drink was exempt from Cook County’s soda tax (which, mercifully, goes away on December 1).

I won’t get one of these again, as the taste isn’t good enough to justify the high price. I’m still curious, though, about the peppermint mocha latte, another favorite of many people, but I’ll have to find another plastic card. . . .

46 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Wait. This is wrong. PSLs are the symbol of basic white girlness. Aren’t you culturally appropriating the beverage?

    • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was gonna mention that, too.

    • Harrison
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, depending on which regressive you ask, PSLs are a horrible symbol of oppression or else people who criticize PSLs are anti-women. Sadly these two factions haven’t run across one another that I’ve seen. It would be amusing.

  2. Mike Anderson
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Born to be wild!

  3. Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Lattes are ruined coffees.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Flagged as oppressive to Lattino Culture.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Down here in South Florida, at any Cuban grocery store or street stand or bakery, you can get a great café con leche, made with quality espresso, for half the price of anything at Starbucks, leaving enough $ left over for pastelitos or fresh Cuban bread heated in a press — pan tostado con mantequilla. Man, I can live on that stuff.

  4. Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    A complaint that a pumpkin spice latte has no pumpkin in it … WTH? It is a “pumpkin spice” latte, not a “pumpkin” spice latte. It is spiced with the same spices as are customarily used on pumpkin dishes.

    And a plain old squash/gourd/member of the Cucurbitaceae family being used as a sign of privilege … WTH? These foods couldn’t be more humble.

    These privilege people are wearing out their welcome.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never had a PSL and I’m not even sure if I’ve seen it here. In my imagination a “pumpkin” spice latte was something like pumpkin soup with coffee in it, which sounded disgusting, so I always wondered what the appeal was.

      I’m clearly lacking the required sophistication to be a real white girl! I’ve been wearing hoop earring for almost forty years though – maybe they’ve been affecting me! 🙂

      • Filippo
        Posted November 14, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        “I’ve been wearing hoop earring for almost forty years though – maybe they’ve been affecting me! ”

        Yes, like the two perpendicular hoops of the Theremin. Ooooh!

    • Posted November 15, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I don’t drink coffee, latte or otherwise, so I realize I was parsing it wrong all this time too.

      I was looking forward to some comparison with other melon purees, soups, etc.

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Starbuckian PSL is bad, and you describe it well. But it is better at Biggbys coffee, which is another coffee chain. Everything is better at Biggbys compared to Starbucks. But they will always be very sweet.

  6. Jeff Rankin
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The status symbol is not any over-the-top caloric, sweet drink, nor does it come from just any place. Starbucks PSLs are products of coffee shop culture, with its gendered and racial codes.

    Life through the lens of identity politics, where the most mundane things are “cultures”, rife with sexism and racism.

  7. Chris B
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Pumpkins were domesticated by Native Americans a few millennia ago, so this is cultural appropriation as well.

    I guess.

    • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      It’s pumpkin spice lattes but it’s still cultural appropriation; nutmeg and cinnamon are originally from South East Asia and Indonesia, while allspice originated in Central America and the Carribean.

      • BJ
        Posted November 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        And the spice is only found on Arrakis. Consumption of it is cultural appropriation from the Fremen.

        • barn owl
          Posted November 14, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          Hand me those maker hooks and we shall ride the Shai-hulud to Starbucks!

          • darrelle
            Posted November 15, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

            Shit. I forgot the thumper.

            • barn owl
              Posted November 15, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

              None of the subsequent novels or movies approaches the awesomeness of the original Dune.

              IMHO.

              • darrelle
                Posted November 15, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

                I completely agree! Dune Messiah
                and Children Of Dune were interesting and I’m glad I read them. None of the books beyond that were interesting to me.

                I thought the Dino De Laurentiis Dune was awful. There are rumors of a new Dune movie.

                “On 1st February 2017 Brian Herbert stated on his Twitter account that Legendary Pictures had signed Denis Villeneuve to direct “the exciting new DUNE series film project”.”

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 15, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

                I agree – anything past Children of Dune was awful.

              • barn owl
                Posted November 15, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

                One of the things I like best about Dune is that there’s enough information about the ecology and culture of an invented world, that a reader would know how to function reasonably well, if suddenly dropped off on Arrakis.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                @darelle, I agree about the Dino De Laurentiis Dune but I did like the TV miniseries version that was out in the early 2000s

      • Posted November 15, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        And coffee is from Ethiopia, no?

  8. Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I had a drink […] a Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte

    Alt Right confirmed.

  9. Dean Reimer
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    If you do find another card and attempt a peppermint mocha (which I do not recommend) you can ask for “half sweet” which will result in a less sugary, less cloying concoction.

    But I’m a black coffee drinker myself, so I think any amount of added sweetener is cloying.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      which will result in a less sugary, less cloying concoction

      But no less racist, sexist, *phobic, or culturally appropriative, it’s critical to point out.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I had one of those only once myself. It gave me a migraine so it’s most likely full of fake crap my body doesn’t like. I also thought it tasted very artificial and I don’t know why people like it so much.

    • Paul S
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Starbuck’s always tastes like the waxy plastic coating on their cups to me.

      • Posted November 14, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

        Funny you should say that. I used to like Starbucks when they first came to Britain (probably an indictment of the quality of coffee available here at the time), but now, my drink of choice which is the smallest plainest available latté (i.e. just coffee and hot milk) tastes like they forgot the coffee. Starbucks coffee is tasteless which is probably why you can taste the cup.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted November 14, 2017 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

          Starbucks coffee is vile. It feels like it is simultaneously burning a hole in my stomach & giving me a heart attack.

    • Rita
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      A lot of people will actually choose powdered “creamer” over real half & half, so it’s not surprising they would love PSL’s.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 14, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        Blech!

  11. Derek Freyberg
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    While I like both black coffee (at least espresso) and coffee with milk, my guess is that these heavily flavored drinks are mostly consumed by people who don’t like coffee very much but like to go to coffee shops.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Blech.

  13. Christopher
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I finally tried one about two years ago just to see what all the fuss was about. It was remarkably underwhelming. I’ll stick to dark roast at home, thank you very much.

  14. darrelle
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I probably wouldn’t know good coffee from bad . . .

    Actually I definitely know bad coffee. The free coffee at the gym I use. If that stuff isn’t bad coffee then coffee must be pretty horrid stuff period.

    Anyway, last year around Christmas I bought my first ever fancy coffee drink. From a Starbucks as it happens. My wife had gotten a Starbucks gift card from someone she works with. If I remember correctly it was actually from the previous Christmas, but neither of us drink coffee and it had just been sitting in her purse unused.

    It was a Chestnut Praline Latte. Now, I’ll leave it to you coffee connoisseurs to (be)rate Starbucks coffee, but that drink was good. A little too sweet for me to drink regularly though. More like a rarely indulged dessert.

  15. Posted November 14, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I must admit, the latte in your photo looks AWESOME! When I was in Minnesota, a good friend had his own coffee shop. That’s where I learned to love the white chocolate mocha, or whatever he called it. Then, when I was in Mississippi, I found an espresso machine… Long story. Anyway, I had no idea how to use it. Luckily, I had met a new friend there who used to manage a coffee shop and he showed me how to use the machine. I thoroughly enjoyed my own version better than any I could buy and soon wore the machine out… It has been several years since I had my own machine but I can still taste it in my mind. One good cup would stay with you a very long time and every time you pee you are reminded of how good it was. One thing you mentioned was tasting the artificlan and chemical tastes in your latte from Starbucks. If you read about Starbucks, you will find there is A LOT of crap in their beverages. Although they are famous, anyone wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle avoids them like the plague.

    • Posted November 14, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      I do like the white chocolate mocha… I loved having the iced version in Texas in summer.

  16. Russell La Claire
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Tried the Peppermint Mocha Latte. Came off about like your mis-adventure. First half tolerable due to the whipping cream. Dumped the second half. I’ll stick to whatever coffee, black.

  17. Julian C
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Tastes are a personal matter — but for the life of me I cannot imagine why anyone would drink a PSL.

  18. Filippo
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    On the back page (A22) of the 11/11/17 NY Times, Starbucks has an ad singing the praises of military veterans[some of whom are “co-workers” – what munificent wage does Starbucks pay these veterans?], urging readers to “learn about how we support the military community,” and also saying, “Today, your coffee is on us.*”

    (“* One free tall (12 fl oz) hot brewed coffee for veterans, active duty [as opposed to reserves?] service members and military spouses . . . Limit one per customer. Customizations extra.”)

    This seems pretty chintzy to me. We know that the “Tall” is the small of yesteryear. Can’t Starbucks show its munificence by offering a “Grande” or a few crumbs of customization? Would the CEO refuse the triple amputee veteran in a wheelchair that small concession?

    If I read it accurately, “military spouse” means that the service member’s spouse must also be in the military. But if that’s so, the spouse is also no less a service member. Otherwise, why not simply say “spouse”?

    Since Starbucks offers its product, I gather that this is fundamentally a business ad, which can be counted as a business expense come income tax season.

    Isn’t it nice to have veterans around, on whose coattails corporations can ride for commercial purposes?

    • Filippo
      Posted November 14, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      I also meant to ask, since I a veteran do not have a military ID, do I need to bring my DD 214 with me to my local Starbucks? (Same with “veteran parking space” at my local grocery store?)

  19. Florian
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s better if you get it with 3 espresso shots. I think the standard Starbucks grande size is only 2 shots.

  20. barn owl
    Posted November 14, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    “Basic white girl” is perhaps the most common variant of the “basic bitch” trope, which is not limited to a particular race or ethnic group. It’s more about denigrating young middle-class women who are perceived as shallow, unoriginal, uninteresting, and materialistic. Rappers use the term in misogynistic lyrics. As this Jezebel article demonstrates, the label can be used by women to denigrate other women:

    https://jezebel.com/the-united-states-of-basic-bitches-1575949216

    In its most insidious form, the term is used by young women to describe themselves in a self-deprecatory manner, as in “I’m just your basic girl.” I cringe internally when I hear students use that term to put themselves down – I could easily have been described as “basic” when I was young, had the concept existed then (although I certainly didn’t have the money for things like Uggs or PSLs when I was in grad school). “Basic” has an aspirational aspect to it, which is very much part of being middle-class in the US.

  21. Chris B
    Posted November 15, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    The final word on pumpkin spice latte:

    LinkText


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