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A First-timer’s Review of Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte 


At 13, the Pumpkin Spice Latte or PSL, has crossed over into food pop culture. It's got its own Instagram account, it finally has real pumpkin puree in it as of 2015, and it was released at a more adequate date (September 1) in 2016 after listening to plenty of criticism from the general public on its early August releases in previous years. 

Unfortunately, it's gotten a bad rap along the way, namely for being the catalyst in turning just about every food item on store shelves into a pumpkin-jammed monstrosity as depicted in Buzzfeed's list of "25 Pictures that Prove Pumpkin Spice Has Gone Too Far." 

And before I, too, picked up a pitchfork against the pumpkinization of America and our souls, I was one of those autumn-happy PSL drinkers that waited with baited breath on its release (don't get me started on the holiday cups). Two close college pals worked at an area Starbucks, and they kept me abreast with updates on when I could grip my very own grande PSL with both hands, while customizing it for me (two pumps of syrup instead of the four that go into the grande). Scarf, optional. 

I eventually phased out of Starbucks (or finally had to start paying for it), and I moved over to third wave coffee from Rosella, Local, Estate, Mila, Press, etc. Convenience isn't a part of Starbucks' equation for this coffee drinker, but nostalgia weighs heavy every fall ... and I cave into those wanton PSL cravings. 

So with fall finally in the air, I encouraged my co-worker Alejandra to taste her first. Here's how our visit shook out:

I’d like to start by saying that I take my daily coffee with a bit of cream or milk, but never with sugar or sweeteners of any sort. When I get a wild hair, I’ll indulge in a white mocha or a pump of caramel, but I typically shy away from superfluous flavors.

I realize that I ordered my first PSL on the decline of the drink’s popularity and that every Pumpkin Spice Latte DIY combination or inspired dessert has been overplayed (see: Pumpkin Spice Latte on Pinterest), but I have to admit that I don’t get it. Now, I’m not here to bash the PSL. I, for the most part, enjoyed my latte-drinking experience, but I don’t think I’ll be jumping headfirst on the PSL bandwagon this fall. Here’s why:

The first sip was a little sweet for my palate, which I know can be adjusted by not taking the full three pumps of syrup, but because I’m a first-timer, I ordered the drink as it comes. The taste reminded of Coffee-mate’s hazelnut creamer but it was easy to sip. The actual taste of pumpkin, hidden under the heavy dose of sugar, only became apparent once I swallowed a gulp and for a drink that has “spice” in the name, I expected more cinnamon, nutmeg or clove.

I drank a little more than half of my cup (I ordered a tall) before I felt fatigued of the flavor. My mouth felt dried out and my tastebuds were a bit overwhelmed, but the first half of the cup was a solid afternoon pick-me-up.

I didn’t get those fall vibes that are synonymous with the drink — Google Image search "pumpkin spice latte" and you'll see what I mean. I got the impression that Starbucks wants you to actually taste the seasons changing, and I feel a little cheated that I didn't get any of that. I didn't go reaching for a scarf, boots or beanie (Disclaimer: it was 93 freaking degrees outside). Maybe I was expecting a little too much from the latte because it definitely won't become my new go-to, but if I’m looking for something sweet, I’d order the PSL again. And to be fair, I'll order another when it actually feels like fall. 

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