A Song of Spice and Fire


The night’s chill lingered into the early morning, coming through my window, rustling my curtains in their wake. Birds hooted from their branches: It’s time, it’s time. Bodega cats crawled from beneath their milk crates and yowled at the rising sun. In the distance, like on Coney Island where there’s space, a tumbleweed rolled through a yard.

I awoke instantly, and I knew my call had come: Today I would drink my first Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I dressed in the dark, quickly and quietly, adrenaline running through my veins. What does one wear on the most important day of her life? a voice in my head wondered. The same thing one wears into battle.

I put on a chunky knit sweater. Fall is coming.

pumpkin spice latte

I’m a simple woman; I drink water and wine and the blood of my enemies. For years, I have kept myself from consuming Those-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, out of fear, and wonder, and a general dislike of pumpkin.

But as time went on, I began to feel alienated: friends and strangers alike welcomed the increasingly cold weather, smiling, their faces turned toward the chill, a white Starbucks cup glued to their hand. They could do anything with their lattes, possessing an inner strength that didn’t accompany my black coffees and Red Bulls. When I was weary, they were refreshed; when I was weak, they were strong. When I was hungover, they were totally fine, but donned giant sunglasses and carried a Starbucks cup totally unironically and managed to look good. I’d barf on the subway tracks, and look up at them, eyes shining. “How do you do it?” They’d grin, and take another sip, the scrawled handwriting on the side of their cups saying it all: “PSL.”

This year, Starbucks released the elixir early, in August, to such widespread critical acclaim the chain was awarded an Emmy. It was on everyone’s orange-stained tongues: they’re baaaaaaaack.

pumpkin spice latte

This summer, the news spread through my rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, running rampant through the hair supply shops and liquor stores, baby boutiques and artisan cheese shops, like a virus: a Starbucks was coming. Did you hear? Do you know what that’s going to do to us? How much longer do we have before the neighborhood is totally over?

Didn’t they realize this is what we needed to survive? That it was the only thing that could save us? Didn’t they smell the spice in the distant air?

pumpkin spice latte

I entered the Starbucks at the Atlantic Avenue Terminal at precisely 8:07 a.m. on the day I received the call. The establishment was packed, stuffed with people who obviously already knew what I would soon learn. Customers were arriving grey and sullen, leaving totally transformed, a pumpkin-colored cloud carrying them to their destinations. While online, I googled the nutritional value of the drink: “A Pumpkin Spice Latte has no calories; it is made with goodness and wonder and spices. It is equivalent to eat ten pounds of kale, and you’ll never need to take a vitamin ever again.”

Then, finally, it was my time. I shyly approached the counter, and asked, my voice cracking, “Can — can I have a tall Pumpkin Spice Latte?”

“Sure,” the barista said. “Would you like whipped cream on that?”

I was not prepared for the option. Was the creamy topping essential, or did it dilute the Pumpkin Spice Power? I panicked. “I’m not sure,” I said quietly. “This is my first one.”

The store fell silent. The barista gasped, and a murmur spread among the staff. Immediately, I was presented with a tall, steaming cup of liquid goodness, light emanating from the lid, placed gingerly on a plush pillow. I held out my hands, trembling. Were my eyes playing tricks on me or was the siren emblazoned on the cup nodding her head in approval? I never told them my name, but it was there on the cup, and spelled correctly, as if created from the gods themselves. I thanked her, and reached for my wallet. “No charge,” she said. “This is my civic duty.” Somewhere, Barack Obama smiled a small smile.

I walked outside for privacy, and I took my first sip. A whoosh: everything turned orange, then red, then brown, colors swirling. Visions flashed through my head: apple picking, hay rides, cider, infinity scarves. A shock rushed through my body, and I was knocked to the ground. I reopened my eyes to find that everyone was wearing a cardigan and Harry Connick, Jr. was playing; Harry Burns and Sally Albright walked by. Instantly, my soul felt warmer, and a little cinnamonny — and it happened to the person next to me, too. “Whoa, did you feel that?” the woman next to me said. “What was that?”

I smiled a milky smile. “I just had a sip of my first Pumpkin Spice Latte.”

An orange colored tear fell from her eye. “Wow. I wish I could experience something so legendary for the first time all over again.”

“Well,” I asked her. “Have you seen The Wire yet?”

Header image courtesy of Ivana de Carlo. Pumpkin spice image courtesy of the The Cooking of Joy.