if you say “pumpkin spice latte” in the mirror 3 times a white girl in yoga pants will appear & tell you all her favorite things about fall
— Grumpy Cat (@ItsTheGrumpyCat) September 9, 2013
Many seasonal drinks have come and gone at Starbucks — the Tazo Citrus, the Vanilla Spice Latte, the Chantico* — but some become so popular that they come back year after year with a bigger marketing blitz each time.
It’s been ten years since the introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Starbucks wants to make sure you know that. It’s printed on the cup sleeves, it’s on the in-store signs, it’s all over Twitter with carefully cultivated hashtags. It might seem a little weird to be “reviewing” a drink that’s hit the stores every fall since 2003, but hey. I’m here to drink the drinks so you don’t have to. This review will give you an idea of whether it’s worth taking a hit to your hipster cred to pick up the most (over?)hyped early fall espresso drink. Rest assured, however, I don’t actually own yoga pants and there’s really no “fall” where I live.
So what is it? The PSL is a latte (that is, espresso and steamed milk) with “pumpkin spice” flavoring syrup, whipped cream, and a dash of spices on top. I don’t know how much actual pumpkin is involved in the creation of the flavoring syrup, but the “spice” in the name refers to pumpkin pie spices: usually nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
Important note: Pumpkin spice syrup contains condensed milk. This means that even if you order the drink with soy milk and no whipped cream, it contains milk. If you are avoiding dairy for medical or ethical reasons, this drink isn’t for you. Hang on for a couple of months, and the Gingerbread Latte will be back — that can be ordered dairy-free.
This is a very sweet drink that tastes a lot like you’re drinking a spice of sugary pumpkin pie. It’s not very pumpkiny, but the pumpkin pie spices are nicely balanced and if you’re not a huge fan of coffee you’re in luck because it hides the taste of the espresso pretty thoroughly. If you prefer your coffee drinks to actually taste a bit like coffee, consider asking for half the usual amount of syrup and no whipped cream (this is how I usually order it).
Is it worth the hype? Well, if you like pumpkin pie and would like to be able to drink a slice so you don’t have to wash a fork, I’d say it probably is. If you miss it this year, it should be back every early fall around late August/early September, to tide people over until the winter holiday drinks return in early November. If you’re not big on super-sweet drinks, you should probably either pass or order it with less syrup and/or extra espresso.
I gotta say, though, Starbucks is pushing hard on the social media front this year. I’ll leave you with these fightin’ words they posted while I was preparing this review:
Pumpkin Spice is the new #bacon.
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) September 15, 2013
* I still miss the Chantico :(