coffee

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

"PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE"—WHAT IS THIS FRESH HELL

To an ex-pat Australian living in Canada, there are many puzzling aspects of what one might call Grand Unified North American Culture. Why are there so many TV channels yet all that’s on is repeats of The Big Bang Theory? Why don’t they like roundabouts? Why hasn't internet banking caught on yet—and who still uses cheques? (The good people of Canada and the United States, that’s who). How come you can buy guns in what is essentially Big W, in both fine nations? Why is the US still persisting with the imperial standard? Why are Canadians obsessed with Australia’s deadly wildlife when its own wildlife includes bears, wolves, wolverines, as well as bad-tempered elk, cranky bison and murderous moose?

But most puzzling of all is the pumpkin spice phenomenon.

Every year, sometime after the June solstice, the coffee shops of North America bring in their seasonal menus. What this means is pumpkin, and lots of it.

Now, North Americans have a strange relationship with the pumpkin. They eat it only as a pie. And a sweet pie, to boot. To any Australian who grew up with roast pumpkin as part of their Sunday roast, as well as pumpkin scones and pumpkin soup, the idea of pumpkin primarily as a dessert is a trifle strange. Of course pumpkin scones are a sweet treat, but at least most Australian people use actual pumpkin in their pumpkin scones. Here in the north, they use pumpkin pie filling from a can.

(They also like to use pumpkins as decoration, as that masterwork “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, M-----f---ers” so eloquently explains).

I can get behind carving pumpkins for Halloween, I can tentatively accept pumpkin pie, I can even understand why you’d buy the filling in a can, what with the general painfulness of chopping up a large squash. But where the line needs to be drawn is the pumpkin spice latte.

The first time I wandered innocently into my local Starbucks—Canadian law dictates a person can never be more than 10km from a Starbucks or a Tim Hortons at any time, unless that person is officially in “the backcountry” and has all the necessary permits and licenses and an avalanche beacon—and saw the sign for the pumpkin spice latte, I was confused.

Now, Canadian coffee is pretty bad at the best of times, especially from Starbucks and even more especially from Tim Hortons. The love Canadians have for Tim Hortons is so peculiar, so misplaced, and so perverse, that I am forced to conclude that the store laces its stale donuts and cigarette-butt-flavoured coffee beans with some sort of highly addictive substance. People queue for this shit. Actual lines out the door.

But a latte that tastes like pumpkin? Cigarette butt and pumpkin-flavoured coffee?

Incredulous, I turned to the infallible Google, and discovered the pumpkin spice latte is, in fact not flavoured with pureed pumpkin or pumpkin pie filling from a can, but the spices typically used to flavour pumpkin pie. My intensive research tells me the spice blend usually includes a lot of cinnamon and smaller quantities of cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and possibly mace.

In short a pumpkin spice latte is a latte with cinnamon sprinkled on it. Of course, this being an invention of the United States of America, it probably also contains high fructose corn syrup and the tears of true patriots.

It’s hard to get too worked up about a cinnamon latte, even if you’re buying it from a place that uses the contents of old ashtrays instead of coffee beans, so let’s instead focus on the deceptive marketing of the name, and the fact that artificial scarcity is created by calling this beverage “seasonal”. What, is cinnamon powder only available between August-November?

And what’s to stop you from making your own pumpkin pie spice blend at home and putting it in your coffee? In, say, March? NOTHING. And so, I urge the consumers of North American caffeinated beverages to buy a decent coffee making apparatus, a milk frother, and some FRESH GODDAMNED BEANS. With all this you can sprinkle spice blend on your coffees for a mere cents instead of $4.95 plus taxes. Do it for yourself, and do it for freedom. Especially if you’re in the United States. If you are in socialist Canada, do it for the Mounties! (I don’t know what that means but it sounds good).

KATE HAYCOCK, CALGARY

The author wishes to note she has not actually sampled a pumpkin spice latte as she prefers to buy her coffee from a coffee shop where they use freshly roasted and ground arabica coffee beans sourced from fairtrade growers, and where the baristas know that coffee should taste nice and not like dirt.

"By Gad Sebastian, they've gone and put pumpkin spice in my latte!" "No!" "The Governor will hear about this, you mark my words—he'll see them hanged" "Ooh pumpkin spice lattes! How much, my good fellow?" "Hear that, Sebastian? This place is going to the devil" "Ooh, challenge him to a duel, Tarquin!"  A Melbourne coffee-stall , wood engraving, published in  The Australasian sketcher , 7 May 1883, by Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, A/S07/05/83/77.

"By Gad Sebastian, they've gone and put pumpkin spice in my latte!" "No!" "The Governor will hear about this, you mark my words—he'll see them hanged" "Ooh pumpkin spice lattes! How much, my good fellow?" "Hear that, Sebastian? This place is going to the devil" "Ooh, challenge him to a duel, Tarquin!" A Melbourne coffee-stall, wood engraving, published in The Australasian sketcher, 7 May 1883, by Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, A/S07/05/83/77.

It is little known that the "pumpkin spice" phenomenon first came about as a Halloween "trick". This group of men declined to give the shifty gentleman on the left any candy (or a smoke) so in revenge, after distracting them with the cry "look at the red wagon!", he has slipped pumpkin spice into the coffee pot. This trick was considered even more heinous than putting dog poo in a paper bag, placing it outside the victim's front door, setting the bag alight, ringing the door bell and then running away.  The coffee stand–early dawn . Wood engraving, published in  The Australian news for home readers  on 24 December 1863, by Ebenezer and David Syme, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, IAN24/12/63/13.

It is little known that the "pumpkin spice" phenomenon first came about as a Halloween "trick". This group of men declined to give the shifty gentleman on the left any candy (or a smoke) so in revenge, after distracting them with the cry "look at the red wagon!", he has slipped pumpkin spice into the coffee pot. This trick was considered even more heinous than putting dog poo in a paper bag, placing it outside the victim's front door, setting the bag alight, ringing the door bell and then running away. The coffee stand–early dawn. Wood engraving, published in The Australian news for home readers on 24 December 1863, by Ebenezer and David Syme, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, IAN24/12/63/13.

The only good use for a pumpkin spice latte (especially one from Tim Hortons). Note the bodiless head that has apparated above the hot coffee in question—another hazard of "seasonal menus".  Hot coffee for a cad who insulted a woman . Wood engraving, published in  Police News , 25 November 1876, by Richard Egan Lee, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, PN25/11/76/00.

The only good use for a pumpkin spice latte (especially one from Tim Hortons). Note the bodiless head that has apparated above the hot coffee in question—another hazard of "seasonal menus". Hot coffee for a cad who insulted a woman. Wood engraving, published in Police News, 25 November 1876, by Richard Egan Lee, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria, PN25/11/76/00.

REPROACH

THE NIGHTMARES BEFORE CHRISTMAS: A COMPLAINT IN THREE PARTS

As you read this, the festive season will be but a distant bad memory of ill-judged gifts, family fisticuffs, and drunken embarrassments; but since the deadline of this esteemed publication is the day before Christmas, I am, at the time of writing, mired in preparations for the end of year, including downloading seasonal editions of my phone apps, taking advantage of the public library fees amnesty, and braving shopping centres. While doing each of these activities, I have been irritated and outraged by one thing or another and would like to share them in order to raise awareness, so we can all improve ourselves and make a better day, just you and me-e-e.

White Noise

Ever since the release of iOS7, it seems like every day I have at least eight apps to update. I dutifully undertake this chore—for it has become one—and open each app afterwards to inspect the latest iteration of the flat aesthetic, which to give Apple credit is a whole lot better than all that digital wood veneer of yore. Anyway, some of the more recent updates I’ve downloaded have seen the apps reappear encrusted in ice, dripping with icicles, and dribbling with faux snow. As a Crank reader, no doubt you reside, like myself, in the southern hemisphere, so will agree that the presence of all these motifs of a northern hemisphere winter are disconcerting, to say the least. To say the most, it is seasonally inappropriate, makes everything seem even hotter and more humid than a summer in the sub-tropics is already, and I shake my fist at the tyranny of the global north.

Bile Beans

I’m anticipating that you’re reading this some time after your Christmas day dinner, so I ask you to cast your mind back to the fare you enjoyed. I’ll probably have had some chicken and ham, a variety of salads, and generally eaten enough sweet things to go through the motions of making a New Year’s resolution to eat fewer sweet things. At around this time of eater’s remorse too, I’ll probably reach into my cupboard and bring out the tins of baked beans to serve to my over-indulged self and lecture myself on the merits of frugality. Of course, if I have any baked beans in my cupboard will likely depend on whether I donated my year-old cans to the public library’s annual food-bank drive in lieu of paying any fees I accumulated over the year. Because, as I noticed when I was checking out a DVD just last week, baked beans seemed to be the main canned goods beneath the library’s Christmas tree, with the local supermarket’s recent $1 special on corn and chickpeas making up the bulk of the remainder. Who gives baked beans to a Christmas food appeal? The library is being generous waiving your fees; what’s wrong with you that you can’t extend your canned goods purchasing to food for a Christmas time meal?

Shut Up and Shop

Calm down, hippies! I’m not advocating mindless consumerism here. Whatever your budgets, I just want you to consider the merits of doing your shopping without complaining about the presence of other shoppers.  I mean, seriously, when did you become Moses and expect Jesus to part the waters for you? Yes, Christmas shopping can be stressful: there are many more people at the shops than usual and getting from one end of the mall or department store can be an obstacle course in negotiating, ugh, PEOPLE. But that’s the good thing about shopping in a first world country: there’s always a pit stop in the form of a coffee shop or similar nearby, where you can sit down, breathe deeply, and replenish your energy and mood with a drink or a bite to eat, before heading off into the crowd again, to rub shoulders with your fellow, gift-giving human beings.

Belated Seasons Greetings.

KIRSTY L, BRISBANE

The Middlesex Hospital: a party in a ward, with a Christmas tree and other decorations. Note absence of baked beans and the inversely proportional degree of good cheer. Except for the man with the gammy leg. Wood engraving, 1874. V0013608 Credit: Wellcome Library, London, ICV No 13895.

The Middlesex Hospital: a party in a ward, with a Christmas tree and other decorations. Note absence of baked beans and the inversely proportional degree of good cheer. Except for the man with the gammy leg. Wood engraving, 1874. V0013608 Credit: Wellcome Library, London, ICV No 13895.