Fall is in full swing and the excitement of the holidays is drawing people into pumpkin patches, apple orchards and Starbucks. That’s right. For our millennials, falliday nostalgia is found behind the counter that sells “fair-trade” coffee and calorie-dense pastries. Those who have been suppressing their hankerings for pumpkin and spiced apple flavored foods throughout the summer can finally submit to their most Autumn-hued desires by walking into a ‘Buck and saying, “One PSL please.”
Not surprisingly, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has once again been crowned the most popular beverage of this Fall season, surpassing apple cider and early hot chocolate. The PSL has been around since 2003, yet it has only become popular and viral in recent years. While before the drink was known for its dessert-like flavor, it is now known in reference to its drinkers: the common white girl. No one can even utter “PSL” without constricting their nostrils, warping their inflection and adding “luh” to the end of the acronym.
This year, the PSL is seeing record sales (up 60 percent from 2015), but not because white girls are multiplying or because the drink actually tastes good, apparently. We put together an investigative team to explain this seemingly incoherent phenomena. On the Hill, we stopped a few students emerging from the ‘Buck to ask what all the rage was about.
“It’s more of an ironic statement,” said Kaelyn, a CU sophomore who happened to be holding the designated orange PSL to-go mug. “I sort of get them as a joke. When it came back into season everyone was tweeting and posting about it. I usually get just plain, black coffee — no, nothing in it — but I make fun of the PSL so much that I accidentally ordered one when I got too carried away with sarcasm. So I guess you could say at this point that it’s more of an ongoing statement … like Columbia’s mattress girl.”
“I like to buy it because I want people to know that I don’t subscribe to their stereotypes of the typical PSL drinker. It’s really more of a wake-up call to other people than my morning cup of coffee,” another student said. “Yes, people call me ‘basic’ and aren’t surprised that I buy these, but that’s what’s so great about this.”
Many other students leaving Starbucks also seemed to be purchasing their Pumpkin Spice Lattes out of spite.
“I hear so many people going on about PSL this and PSL that. I hate it. I buy it so I can let it get cold then pour it out,” said Brandon, a weathered fifth-year senior. “See that stain on the pavement over there? Took me four days to get that one to stay permanent, what with all this rain.”
The CUI’s PSL investigative team planted one reporter by the cash registers to better understand how people could actually go so far as to purchase the PSL for sarcastic effect. We found that when patrons ordered the drink alone, their request was loud and paired with some exaggerated eye rolls. Oftentimes, their opener would be an “Oh, my god.” In pairs or groups, either everyone was on-board or else only one brave soul would take one for the team.
Starbucks baristas are visibly frustrated: “Why would you even waste our time and money with your ‘sarcastic’ purchases? These kids just come in here and think they’re funny or whatever, so then I have to make the drink just to have them make a mockery of it while they sip at it ‘ironically,’ all proud. If I had to guess, they actually like it, but won’t admit it.”
So that’s the story, folks. Turns out, no one actually wants to drink the cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin puree and coffee concoction. The drink is not what sells. It is the image and the culture around the PSL that has millions of people ordering them on the daily, with two pumps of liquid irony.