A late-season heatwave hit New York City yesterday, August 28. The sidewalks turned into steamy stretches of sweaty concrete. My backpack clung to the soaked cotton of my T-shirt and promised to never let go. Also yesterday: Starbucks started selling their trademarked Pumpkin Spice Lattes—edible, slurpable harbingers of fall.
The drink which tastes like crisp leaves and crackling fireplaces in a cup is, culturally, the company’s cornerstone beverage. Come autumn it seems like everyone gathers in stores—and online—to belt their allegiance to the drink.
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As for me? I think they’re...pretty good! Combining fall’s most famous squash with my morning jolt of caffeine isn’t the first thing I’d think to do, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. (Though let's get one thing straight: There was never any pumpkin in it to begin with.)
Drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte is like wrapping your taste buds in a scarf you knit yourself, like watching your breath come out in a waft of steam as you walk to your car in the morning, like toes curled under a flannel blanket watching Stepmom or Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone on ABC Family.
Which is all to say that drinking a PSL on August 28 in the midst of a heat wave makes little to no sense, if you ask me.
But what good is seasonality anyway, right? How free can we really be if we can’t enjoy the creature comforts of a pumpkin-flavored (but zero-pumpkin) drink as the temperatures eke into the hundreds? If it’s a pumpkin-coffee drink you so desire, then make like Belle and be my guest!
Amidst all the hubbub, I seem to have found my way to another fall-appropriate beverage. This one was introduced to me by our Senior Editor, Eric. It's inspired by another Starbucks classic, yet is decidedly cheaper, arguably less sweet, and easier to recreate at home than the PSL: the Caramel Apple Spice. It’s four ingredients and a stir away.
All you need, Eric tells me, is apple cider, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and a cinnamon stick. Let autumnal magic become yours to sip, once you:
Procure your apple cider of choice. It can be locally sourced and hand-brewed by artisans, or it can be whichever brand you can find at your nearest supermarket—it’s whatever floats your boat, really.
Next, heat it. Fall is all about reintroducing warm/warmish/warmer drinks back into your routine (Ciao for now, iced coffee!), so pop a mug of that baby in the microwave or heat a cup’s worth over the stove.
Once it’s nice and warm, give the drink a good stir with your cinnamon stick, which will infuse the cider with that signature autumnal taste that makes your stomach feel like it’s full of warm fuzzies (whatever those are!).
And to top it all off, literally top it all off with a swirl of whipped cream, followed by a dramatic drizzle of caramel sauce.
Where the cream meets the warm cider, a luscious melding happens. Some of the cream stays atop, gives you a cream mustache—a creamstache—and some of the cream melts into the cider. The mellowed cinnamon running throughout will calm your nerves, still your mind, and have you running to the nearest, comfiest-looking couch or chair or rug to cuddle up. The caramel makes everything taste like a caramel apple.
So yes, fall may not technically be here. Like, at all. (He types, as a bead of sweat drips ever so slowly down his spine and into his hot drink.)
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pretend! If Starbucks is already going for it with the PSLs, then you can too. Go on with your bad self! It’s August, it’s hot as hay, and you want a steaming fall beverage in this summer heatwave, damn it!
Do you order Pumpkin Spice Lattes in August? Let us know in the comments below.
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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.
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