A decade ago, when Starbucks first introduced a pumpkin spice latte as a limited seasonal offering, no one could have predicted that the combination of espresso, steamed milk and flavored syrup would become a divisive cultural icon. Still Starbucks’ most popular seasonal drink, and now an ubiquitous menu item at most quick-service drink chains, the pumpkin spice latte seems to be reaching a boiling point.
On Aug. 4, Starbucks launched The Real PSL social media campaign featuring musings from the perspective of a humanized pumpkin spice latte. On Aug. 25, the investigative health blog Food Babe published a scathing report following its investigation into the ingredients of a real Starbucks PSL. Finally, on Dec. 25, Buzzfeed listed “Get on that Pumpkin Spice Latte grind” as the number one answer on its moronic list, “25 Things All Basic White Girls Do During The Fall.”
All of these things went viral, adding to the pumpkin spice latte’s troubling mythos.
John Oliver, for one, has had enough. In a web-only monologue from the set of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, Oliver said, “It’s that special time of year when we voluntarily imbibe pumpkin spice lattes, the coffee that tastes like a candle. And I don’t mean it tastes like a candle smells: Pumpkin spice lattes taste like a candle tastes.”
Later, describing pumpkin spice lattes as like “egg nog for morning people,” Oliver says, “We tolerate pumpkin spice because we like the fall. It’s the best season because you get to stop thinking about how weird your legs look in shorts.”