As they do every year with great fanfare and much social media discussion, Starbucks has unleashed its official autumnal beverage lineup. The much-maligned pumpkin spice latte is back, of course, but this year, there’s a new gal in town: the Apple Crisp Macchiato, a hot beverage redolent with the scents of the season. To be clear, consuming a PSL and being really into Donegal sweaters is not quite a personality trait; it is also true that a certain amount of the criticism aimed at the PSL and its many vocal fans is somewhat sexist in nature. But with the Apple Crisp Macchiato here to unseat the PSL, I’m wondering if any of these beverages are worth the hype: Crucially, I have never had a PSL. (I am perhaps the last person in America who hasn’t, and, even more rare, has no opinion.) Because my judgment is not clouded by my preference for the liquid squash drink, I am entering this experiment with a heart that is open to something new.
Let me be clear: Fall is not my favorite season. Winter rules because it is abjectly miserable across the board in the Northeast, making “the weather” a sufficient excuse to avoid everything. Spring is muddy, but it is just the opening act for summer, which offers three solid months of swimming pool time and short shorts. But by the end of August, everything adorable about summer is now gross and limp, lost in ennui. I’m not ready to put on pants because I’m rarely ready to wear pants, but I am interested in feeling crisp air instead of late August’s fetid swamp. Starbucks understands and is therefore pushing its new fall beverages now. But is it possible to feel autumnal when you wake up sweaty? I decided to find out.
Because it is still too warm for me to consider hot coffee, I got the Apple Crisp Macchiato iced—with soy milk, as to preserve my delicate tummy—and the PSL as it should be: hot. My journey is below.
Appearance: Before mixing the beverage, there was a thick layer of sediment at the bottom—the brown apple sugar syrup that makes the drink what it is. Otherwise, unremarkable. Tan. Beige. Creamy, if creamy were both a color and a texture.
Flavor notes: Upon first sip, I was hit with what tasted like a weak hot cocoa, followed by notes of Table Talk apple pie, the sort you’d buy at a gas station. Overwhelmingly sweet, and a little bit like bubble tea, if ordered at full sugar instead of the 30 percent I prefer. Each subsequent sip was watery, which is likely due to my choice to order from the app and then walk ten minutes back to my apartment for consumption, instead of enjoying it from the pleasant A/C of Starbucks. When I finished the drink, the good stuff was at the bottom. The syrup tastes like the platonic ideal of apple pie—slightly tart, a little too sweet, and drenched in caramel.
Feelings and/or Vibes: An iced fall beverage is a contradiction, if you follow the line of reasoning that fall beverages should be hot, and therefore cozy. An iced apple pie in a plastic cup, mixed with one shot of espresso and a lot of unidentified syrup, feels almost tropical in nature, but the temperature of the beverage makes the drink palatable. I was not expecting to feel any longing for fall, but the thick glob of syrup at the end of the beverage caused the white woman within me to stir from her restful slumber. I craved a big sweater and the feeling of leaving the house in a jacket that isn’t adequate for the weather. If I close my eyes and imagine my happy place, as my therapist and the various guided meditations I endure suggest, I see a field in early morning, surrounded by forest. Smells like burning leaves. It’s too cold for me to be outside in shorts, but I persist. Is this fall? Sure. Or maybe, it’s just something different.
Appearance: No one warned me that the beverage itself would be the color of pumpkin, so imagine my surprise when I opened the lid and saw a thick liquid the color of turmeric or expensive linen sheets. I did not opt for the whipped cream. I regret it.
Flavor: Maybe it’s the color of the beverage influencing my taste buds, or maybe my general dislike of pumpkin-flavored things has led me astray, but I don’t mind—and even enjoy—the taste of this orange-ass beverage. Overwhelmingly, I detect no actual pumpkin taste, but rather warmth, spices, and milk. Cinnamon. Nutmeg? Sort of like inhaling a big fall Yankee Candle and tasting it still in the back of my throat.
Feelings/Vibes: Well, 2021 is certainly full of surprises, because the petite PSL made me actively wish for cool mornings, boots, socks, and every other signifier of fall. I don’t like Halloween, but with a steaming hot PSL in my hand, I could be tempted to take a haunted hayride or visit a haunted house full of jump scares. With two sips of my first PSL, I could be reasonably convinced to go apple picking, a thing that’s fun for twenty minutes before you realize you must do something with all the apples. Halfway through the cup, and I feel a yearning for the big tree outside my bedroom window to drop its leaves, or to be ensconced in the passenger seat of a car soaring down the Taconic, gazing out the window at the foliage.
An hour or so after consuming both beverages in rapid succession, the walls of my apartment started to feel closed in. Pacing from one end to the other, I realized that the only things I’d consumed today were the two beverages and no breakfast—an alarming change from my usual and virtuous yogurt and granola, with a cold-brew chaser. The amount of sugar ricocheting through my system was more than I am used to first thing in the morning, and my head felt as if it’s floating off my body. I chugged some water. I took my temperature. I splashed some water on my face. Perhaps I need a nap? Or maybe this is simply the summer leaving my body.