Every autumn, millions of coffee addicts around the world join hands to celebrate the return of a caffeinated icon. Like a more punctual Pennywise, this legendary drink resurrects itself every year to reassure everyone that, even though summer is dead and buried, Christmas is just around the corner and we can all start partying again. If you haven’t got easy access to a calendar, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is just as effective at helping you keep track of time.
As one of the most popular seasonal specials on the planet, it’s hardly surprising that consumers get through a staggering amount of PSL. One estimate suggests that Starbucks have sold a stonking 424 million cups during the drink’s 16-year existence. This makes it all the more remarkable that I, as both a regular coffee drinker and sucker for almost anything that’s described as “available for a limited time only”, have never had one. Sensing that this was quite a sizeable gap on my CV, I decided to rectify the situation. The results were startling.
Superficially, the PSL is not too dissimilar from the other synthetically spicy specialties that periodically pop up on Starbucks’ menus. It has the same heady waft that vaguely reminds you of a dead gingerbread man being masked by cinnamon potpourri - not unpleasant, but makes you think that it’s got something to hide.
After considering my cup for a few seconds and giving it a suspicious sniff, I decided to dive in. Initial impressions were that it was unlike any pumpkin I’d ever eaten. There was a metallic nutmeg tang that made you feel like you’d swallowed a Christmas-flavoured iron filing. Topped with whipped cream, it had the taste and texture of microwave-melted gingerbread ice cream. But, despite the odd combination, it was also strangely compelling. Even as I tried to make up my mind whether or not it was actually good, I couldn’t stop drinking it.
The more I drank, the more I came on board. Yes, there was enough sugar in it to melt a small hole in the side of a battleship, and there was no way even the most generous advocate could describe it as “coffee”, but it was weirdly comforting. Each sip made me think I was working my way through a massive Christmassy biscuit box, as cinnamon gave way to star anise, which in turn gave way to ginger. Before long, the entire cup was in my tummy.
I left Starbucks unsure what to think. The PSL had left such an impression that I didn’t even notice it had started lashing down with rain. My mind began to develop a neurotic tinge as I attempted to grapple with my experience. Concentrating on something as banal as the weather seemed almost laughably pointless. Brow furrowed and heart racing, I arrived back at the office. Then someone challenged me to a game of pool.
Usually, my pool playing prowess could be likened to a marooned octopus - lots of arms, but very little point in giving any of them a cue. This game, however, was different. As the PSL started to take effect, I began to feel a sort of frantic focus course through my brain. I broke, sending balls zooming to all corners of the table, though none dropped. My opponent began lazily potting balls, but I didn’t even notice. I was too busy bouncing off the walls like a candy-addled Christmas elf. Suddenly it was my turn. My focus was singular. I knew exactly what to do.
Like a caffeinated machine, I began potting balls like my life depended on it. Laser-guided cueing sent impossible shots sliding effortlessly into distant pockets. First one, then two, then three. My heart was racing, but not because of the game. It was like every ball suddenly had an invisible line leading from my hand straight into the target. In about 50 seconds flat, the game was over. For the first time in my life, I’d cleaned up.
Adore Pumpkin Spice? Check Out Our Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls Recipe:
To be clear, this was not a scientific experiment. I cannot claim that this drink will produce the same results for everyone. I should note that the game that we played immediately after my miraculous performance lasted about 10 minutes as both I and my opponent found new and inventive ways of accidentally potting the white. Plus, I felt slightly sick for about 45 minutes after we stopped playing altogether. But the correlation between Pumpkin Spice Latte and the greatest pool game of my life cannot be denied. I have no alternative but to accept that, for about two minutes, PSL turned me into a superhero. Finally, I understand how Starbucks have managed to sell 424 million of the things. And now, to kickstart my career is a caffeine-addicted autumnal pool player.