I wrote about Edinburgh's Police Box cafes for Barista Magazine Online

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Curse of the Pumpkin Spice

Written by . Published on under the Spooky Stories category.

I’ll have a pumpkin spice latte to go, please. No cream. “Coming right up!” the barista replies. I hear the words “PSL to go, no cream, extra love” pour into the air. A chain of work begins between the baristas on duty. The barista who served me asks for my name. Jamie, I reply. My name is now written on a paper cup. It’s spelled correctly. I was always lucky to have a name that’s not difficult to spell. I’ve not once had my name spelled incorrectly on a cup.

A barista from the back of the counter asks me how many pumpkin spice lattes I’ve had today. She recalls that I had come in earlier today. I must be truthful. It’s been a tough day. My morning did not go as expected. I got a new work assignment that threw me off base. I’ve got a new workflow to follow. Why can writing for a newspaper not be easier? Well, I’m here now. I’m about to taste the sweetness of a pumpkin spice latte.

“You know, I’m not sure you should have a second one. I’d be happy to pour you a regular latte, or our maple syrup latte.” says the barista. I wonder what is going on. I want a pumpkin spice latte. In three days, they will be off the menu at Blend Viola. I’ve got to make the most of this moment. “I think I’ll just have the pumpkin spice latte. I already know that I like them. I know it’s a lot of milk for one day but I can handle it.”

I hear the words “If you’re sure” under the breath of the barista. What was he thinking? I’ve never had two pumpkin spice lattes before in one day but I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve had two lattes in a day. Back before I got into speciality coffee, I used to douse my coffee in milk. This barista has me second-guessing myself. I pick up my cup, thank the barista, and leave Viola. It’s the afternoon. I feel a slight chill in the air. I can start to see my breath. Oh, a regular autumn day.

My stomach rumbles in discontent. I’ve just arrived back at my home office. I remember that I had a onion grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. I thought I maybe put on too much onion. I cannot help myself. I love the taste of onion. No, that cannot be it. My stomach is just rumbling. It’s as if I am hungry. I am not sure how that can be. I’ve just downed my pumpkin spice latte. That should tide me over until dinner.

I go back to my computer and sit down. I’ll get back to work. The feeling goes away in my stomach after a short while. I open my Macbook and type in my username. I’m back to work. I go to log into my emails. I need to check if anything came in while I was away on my break. “No account found” replies my email client. I’ve never seen this error before. I go onto Slack to check in with my coworkers. “No account found.” says Slack.

Perhaps my internet connection is not working. I’ll go check my router and restart it. I have to get up out my chair. I just sat down. Well, I’m still a little bit buzzed after drinking my second PSL. I can still taste the pumpkin spice on the tip of my tongue. I wonder if I could make one at home. I’ve not got an espresso machine but I do have an Aeropress. My mind is wandering. I need to get back to the task at hand.

I turn off the wi-fi router and wait three seconds. I turn the device back on again. A few moments later, I hear a screeching sound. I’ve never heard anything like it. A plume of smoke comes out of the router. Poof. I see a tint of orange. I rush to unplug my router so that my house does not burn down. Luckily, I get there on time. I get up and carry the router to the bathtub. I don’t want to take any chances. There’s nothing the router could catch fire on in the bathtub.

I cannot work from home. I’ve got no internet connection. There is only one thing I can do now. I’ve got to go to a coffee shop. I have deadlines to meet. I have an article due by the end of the day that’s supposed to go in the Saturday edition. I decide to pack my backpack and take my laptop. It’s been a while since I worked from a coffee shop. I prefer to sit and read in coffee shops. My home office is for work. Coffee shops are for pleasure.

I go to prepare my laptop and feel a strange heat. I open my laptop to check if it is still on. I maybe forgot to turn it off earlier. The laptop is off. I go to turn on the device. Nothing happens. A few moments later, poof. Smoke comes out of the Macbook. The computer is only one year old. I have no idea what’s happened. My phone suddenly feels warm. I take it out of my pocket and put it on the table. I see smoke. All my devices are no longer functional. My lights emit an orange smoke for a second and then they stop working. I try to switch one on. No response.

I think back through my day. Maybe there is something wrong with the power supply in my house. Everything has been running fine up until now. My toast came out of the toaster just fine in the morning. My kettle has boiled fine. It’s been a regular Thursday. My boss did change my work assignment at the last minute and give me a new one. It happens from time to time. That cannot be the cause of all of this.

The only other thing I’ve done differently today is…

I ordered a second pumpkin spice latte.

The lights go out in my house. It’s approaching the late afternoon and it has become difficult to see what is going on. Without power, there’s only one thing I can do. I need to find out what caused this power surge.

I go to Viola Blend and ask around to see if anyone has had a power outage today. I know a lot of people who are sitting in the cafe. I’ve gotten to know the regulars since I started going to Viola five years ago. Carol, did you hear anything about a power outage? “No.” replies Carol. Alex, the craziest thing happened to me. The lights in my house blew. My Macbook, phone, and router have all stopped working. They let out a strange smoke. “Strange how?” Alex replies. Every decide emitted an orange smoke. Also, before that, I couldn’t get onto my email or Slack.

“How many pumpkin spice lattes did you have today?” asks Alex. I’ve had two but I do not want to admit that to him. He’s always talking about how much sugar does into those drinks. I have to tell him the truth. I had two, I tell him. I’ve had two pumpkin spice lattes. Alex stands up and walks away from me. He goes around to other tables and whispers something. I see him approach Lucy, one of my closest friends. He whispers something in her ear. I’ve always had a special relationship with Lucy. I rush up and ask her what Alex said.

Lucy tells me “You cannot have two pumpkin spice lattes in one day. That is greed.” I try to tell her how rude that comment was but she just walks away, quickly.

Alex approaches Simon. He whispers in Simon’s ear. Simon comes up to me. I get excited. He’s not leaving me. At least one person in this cafe is sticking around. Maybe everyone just has to go. Alex has been busy lately. Lucy has been under a lot of stress at work. Maybe that’s why she snapped at me. My eardrums almost burst. Simon comes up to me and shouts “How could you have two pumpkin spice lattes in a day? Save some for the rest of us!”

I have no idea what is going on. Drinking a second pumpkin spice latte does not mean that anybody else is deprived of one. Plenty of chains do pumpkin spice lattes. Even if Viola ran out of their special sauce and toppings, other cafes offer a mean PSL.

I leave the cafe. Everyone seems to be leaving anyway. I’ve got enough problems to deal with today. I’ve got to call the power company and get my power fixed. I hope they can send out an engineer within the next few hours. If they don’t get one out soon, I’ll have to work in the office tomorrow. I’ve worked from home every day for almost a year. The office is too noisy and hectic. I can never get any good work done.

On my walk down the street, I notice that Viola has removed the PSL sign from their door. Maybe they’ve run out of syrup. It happened a few days ago. I never understand why cafes cannot anticipate how many people are going to buy a PSL. They are so popular. Big chains promote them for months. Oh, Geeky Coffee doesn’t have a PSL sign in their window. I cannot remember if they served one anyway.

I feel strange and my stomach rumbles. Yeah, I probably should not have had a second pumpkin spice latte. The syrup is really heavy. It’s more of a treat drink. Maybe that’s why Lucy said I was being greedy when she found out I had two PSLs today.

I slowly approach the big one, Starbucks. I’m going slower because my stomach is on the rocks. I do not see the massive screen on which they usually advertise their seasonal drinks. I see a promotion for their Blonde Roast. I didn’t know they were still promoting that. The Blonde Roast has been a staple at Starbucks for years. I go in to see if they have any signs indoors promoting the PSL. I see nothing.

I cannot believe my eyes. I’ve got to hear someone tell me what is going on. It’s like the world has stopped serving pumpkin spice lattes.

I approach the counter. There is only one person in line. Their name is Logan. I hear him say his name as the barista asks what to write on the cup. Logan stares at me for a second and walks away. He goes to the next stage of the counter where you wait for your drinks. I ask the barista for a pumpkin spice latte. She says that there is no such drink offered at Starbucks.

“No such drink?” I reply. The barista, Helen, says “We don’t serve a pumpkin spice latte. That would be awful. Pumpkin does not go with coffee or milk. I’d be happy to pour you a regular latte, or any other drink from our menu.” Has the world gone mad? I still had three days before Viola stopped selling pumpkin spice lattes. I thought I’d have a few more days from other cafes who want to milk the pumpkin spice latte for as long as possible.

I see Lucy in the street. Lucy, wait up, I say. She stops and turns around. “Jamie, do you have any idea what you have done? Viola must have raised the alarm. Nobody is allowed two pumpkin spice lattes in one day. I’m sorry. We can no longer talk. You’ve taken away my favorite coffee. I still had three days marked on my calendar for me to get a pumpkin spice latte.”

Surely, this cannot be. There is not a secret cabal of baristas that raise an alarm when someone orders a second pumpkin spice latte. I say to Lucy that she must be mistaken. I ask her to search for pumpkin spice latte on her phone. Mine is toast. I’ve got to get a new phone. That’s another thing I’ve got to add to my to-do list. I’ve spent so much time on this pumpkin spice latte thing. I’ve got an assignment to do. Maybe I can tell my boss I was ill. I do have a sore stomach.

Google shows a message. “No results can be found for the term pumpkin spice latte.”

“See what you have done?” says Lucy. “You are supposed to savor the pumpkin spice latte. Or you ruin it for everyone.”

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