The seasonal drink drops on a decidedly un-autumnal summer day.
It sure seems like this year’s August 28 launch date of Starbucks’ iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte is pushing it to the furthest limits of the autumnal advent calendar. For those of living in the northeast, this year’s PSL party is getting started on the hottest day of the hottest month of the year, hardly the time for thoughts of thick sweaters and baked gourds. Even if you include pre-release dates from the past few years as Business Insider pointed out, the hot August launch is on the early end for Starbucks. Still, like Mount Everest, the spiced drink was there to be conquered, so I ventured out to find a piping hot Pumpkin Spice Latte to enjoy on my morning commute.
Be warned if you’re looking for your own PSL today, as it took me four tries on the Starbucks app to find a store that didn’t list the latte as “out of stock.” Yes, even in this extreme heat and even at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, the supply was already dwindling due to fervent demand.
Today’s forecast in the New York City metro area is 97 degrees with a heat index and 70% humidity pushing that “feels like” temperature up to 106, according to one weather app. Needless to say, it’s gross outside. It’s sticky, it’s oppressive, it’s like wading neck-deep through a pool of simmering canned chicken soup. Also needless to say, it’s not the ideal day for a steamed milk-filled latte. Still, doing my due diligence to experience the cultural moment, I was able to procure a PSL. With whole milk. And whip. Because if you’re going to go autumn in August, you go all out.
Walking along the downtown Brooklyn sidewalk in direct sunlight, the PSL’s temperature seemed almost moot, just another thin layer of heat being applied to an already uncomfortably warm day. I couldn’t help repeating the words of Ron Burgundy in my head: “Milk was a bad choice.” The disorienting juxtaposition of pumpkin spice and sweltering city streets dissipated once I got into a slightly cooler subway station and, eventually, onto an (also slightly) air-conditioned train. Once the waft of nutmeg and cinnamon finally cut through the stink of commuter sweat, one woman even gave me what I can only describe as an “oh damn!” look. I raised my cup to her and then took another sip, the ambient temperature now cool enough that I could truly appreciate the warmth and texture of the sweetly spiced drink. For a brief moment on the express 4 train into Manhattan, it did feel like fall—if only artificially. But that fall feeling is what products like PSLs are all about.
I’m no stranger to drinking cool weather beverages in seasonally inappropriate climates. When I lived in Los Angeles, the PSL was a welcome harbinger of an autumn that was never to come (unless you count 80-degree days and dead palm fronds dropping onto your windshield as “fall”). So in that sense, I have an affinity for the PSL as a beverage that rings in the feeling of fall—coziness, calmness, the anticipation of festive holidays, and a sense of closure to a waning year—even without the weather patterns that are supposed to come with it.
But now, as a New Yorker with access to some of the country’s most technicolor foliage and orchard upon orchard of apples just outside the city, I don’t necessarily need a cup of coffee to tell me fall is coming. Nature does a pretty damn good job of that already. But I won’t take Starbucks or any other business to task for shilling autumn vibes in August. If that’s what some people need right now, so be it. PSLs are here, and if you’re not feeling it just yet, take comfort in knowing they’ll be there when you need ‘em.
Despite today’s off-kilter experience, I’ll continue to wait for my first real craving for pumpkin spice to happen a little more organically. I give it a week.