“But what is it?” my friend asked.
I repeated what I had just said: “It’s a Starbucks ‘Caramel Apple Spice.'” (I think I even said “Starbucks,” even though we were at that moment sitting in a Starbucks and we certainly knew where we were, because it is impossible to mistake a Starbucks for any other anything. But sometimes when I open my mouth, an advertisement flies out.)
“Yes, but caramel apple spice what? Coffee? Tea? Soup?”
I did not have an answer. What is it indeed? “I don’t think it’s coffee.” I fell back on the charm of insane repetition, something I have not perfected over the years: “Its a Starbucks Caramel Apple Spice,” and I used my eyebrows to tell my friend that she wanted her own cup of one, too. (Picture Groucho Marx.)
She did not buy one.
“It’s zingy,” I offered, adding, “It’s like a hot apple pie in a cup.”
To me, this is a good thing.
Of course, since this particular restaurant chain is very large and can charge any price it may want to and somehow always turn a profit, it opts to charge a price that sits just on this side of “I need to speak with a loan officer.”
A “grande,” which in Starbucks-speak is a not-at-all-large, costs several dollars more than I usually have access to or trust myself with. (The old joke is that the only thing grande about a grande at Starbucks is the price.) Four dollars for 16 ounces.
And those 16 ounces convey 360 calories of not much of anything that a body needs or can use, especially if one orders it with whipped cream, and why would one order it without that? That’s like buying a new car but without windows. The only part of the human body that enjoys or needs any of a caramel apple spice’s ingredients in the order in which they are combined is the mouth, because it is delicious.
The venti is 20 ounces, which is four ounces heavier and somehow almost a dollar more expensive. I have had one venti Caramel Apple Spice in my entire life, because a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do sometimes.
In three years, I have had approximately 20 of the grande, the not-gonna-call-it-medium size. It is one of Starbucks’ seasonal treats, and the particular season, Autumn, is almost here. Even the advertising copy from Starbucks emphasizes this: “If you’re longing for the toasty warmth of a woolly blanket and crackling fire but don’t have the luxury of escaping to a cabin, we suggest a freshly steamed Caramel Apple Spice. Prepared from 100% pressed apple juice sweetened with cinnamon syrup, whipped cream and our own buttery caramel sauce, it strikes a soothing balance between sweet and tart that never fails to hit the spot.” Well, um, this does not describe me. My personal recollections of cabins and crackling fires most frequently involve escaping FROM them because mistakes. (The “crackling” part of “crackling fires” ought not include the walls and roof. “Well, the walls are crackling and the roof is on fire.”)
Tart? At most, there is a hint of tart in the concoction, which I believe the barista achieves by opening a dictionary to the page that has the definition of the word “tart” on it while he or she holds the book open to that page while drizzling in the caramel sauce.
So once a month in the late-autumn or early-winter, when that first fire in a fireplace feels exciting and new instead of a grudging drudgery, I allow myself one grande without regret, one hint of a romanticized Autumn that I have never actually lived.
* * * *
There are quite a few websites that offer recipes for do-it-yourself renditions of the Starbucks concoction; one does not need to spend several dollars per not-medium cup. I don’t care. Part of the appeal is getting one there. When my girlfriend and I drive past a Starbucks this time of year, she asks me, “Do you want your apple pie in a cup tonight?” That’s worth it, too.
* * * *
This first appeared a year ago when autumn made its annual change to my Starbucks ambitions.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 12 asks us to reflect on the word, “Zing!”
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