[Written by Anastasija Svarevska]
[Image by Tosca de Wilt]
When you think about coffee, what exactly comes to your mind? Is it the smell of freshly grinded beans, a survival tool, a bitter liquid, a drug, a daily ritual of going for a cup with a friend, a Starbucks logo, or an “indulgence in a cup”, as the saying goes? No matter how many different connotations and meanings it might bear, it is safe to say that there are three camps in which we, as coffee-drinkers, are divided into: those who know its history and who enjoy it as such, sipping on pure espresso from freshly roasted Kenyan beans; those who don’t really care about where it comes from because, well, coffee is coffee isn’t it; and those who exclusively enjoy the idea of having a coffee, be it from Starbucks or a hipster coffee shop around the corner, with everything that it implies: cute Instagram pictures, fancy cups, or trendy tastes which, with the change of seasons, are on the front burner. One of them is, as we all know, pumpkin spice (which, as I recently discovered, not only extends beyond coffee to cocktails such as White Russians, biscuits, buffalo wings – which makes me wonder why we still don’t have pumpkin spice infused perfume – but that’s not what this article is about).
After its inception in 2003 and $100 million in revenue it brought in 2015 (just over one season!), the mania for the drink is beating new records each year. That leaves me wondering: what is all that hustle about? What makes it so special that a “Can I have a Pumpkin Spice latte with cream and cinnamon on top?” question is very hard, if not impossible, to avoid at least once during the season? Is it the flavor that so strongly dominates the drink that we can’t get enough of, or a fashion trend that is projected at us almost on a daily basis and that we are so prone to follow? Could it be both?
As a real coffee-addict, I’ve set up on a mission to do some Sherlock-style investigation in order to answer these questions both on and off campus. Most of the time, it implied having a coffee (with one exception of having a Pumpkin Spice White Russian because, I mean, who could resist the temptation), and, interestingly enough, there was no seasonal coffee in independent coffee shops; rather, it was and, well, still is available only in chain coffee shops such as Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Costa, but more about that later.
The interviews I had with some Glasgow University students and a couple of hip urban youths, as they proclaimed themselves to be, from Edinburgh, reinforced my current opinion about our obsession with the drink. Although quite a few people highlighted the fact that it’s simply the flavor that they enjoy, many pointed out to the concept of positive associations that the flavor provokes; that is, warm times with family and friends, childhood memories, holidays, etc., because, you know, no matter if we are university students in the midst of adulting, we are all still children inside. However, despite speaking of the taste, the majority confessed that it is “the autumnal aesthetics” that gives the drink such an appeal (if you want to know what exactly I mean by that, check out the original Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte Instagram account – it does actually exist, no kidding). In other words, it is all marketing.
While on my mission, I also had a chance to have a conversation with a Starbucks worker, and what he had to say did, indeed, highlight the influence that advertising has on us. As Starbucks begins to advertise the drink several weeks before they launch it again, there is a feeling of anticipation that is so slowly and powerfully built up; as I was told, some consumers’ keep asking, each and every day, if it is out yet. And so when it finally arrives, we are so thrilled by the idea of the drink being “seasonal”, that is, “limited” in a sense, that we can’t do anything but get it, and get it ASAP. Why wait if winter will come soon and we won’t be able to “sip into autumn” anymore? That makes the demand very high and “sipping into autumn” are words to live by.
This cultural phenomenon can be explained in terms of our tendency to follow trends, and that is why seasonal coffee is not usually offered in non-chain coffee shops no matter how trendy they are; it is being ordered not for the sake of tasting coffee beans, but for whatever it might implicate for each of us: having a coffee with a friend, trying new things, enjoying the sweet and sugary flavor that makes us happy at the times when we need it the most, and so on. All these things taken together define us as a society, one connected by the same beliefs, trends, curiosity for new things, and, well, seasonal lattes.
In my opinion, it is great that we have such a great choice. I mean, life would be dull without such a variety of things; it makes it so much more exciting. When it comes to the coffee game, it’s just the same, and we can therefore conclude that it’s not the end. So the question is: which coffee flavors are yet to come and which trends are we yet to follow?
[Image Description: A collage of a repeated image of a hand holding coffee cup, with a small pumpkin where the brand name would normally be, over a background of pumpkins and glitter.]