The Pumpkin Spice Latte: A Breakdown

Caption: The Pumpkin Spice Latte I taste-tested before writing this article. 
Video/Photo Credit: Emma Pekkarinen and Wikimedia Commons

Caption: The Pumpkin Spice Latte I taste-tested before writing this article. Video/Photo Credit: Emma Pekkarinen and Wikimedia Commons

Emma Pekkarinen, School News Editor

August 30th is the date for the 2022 release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, marking the beginning of fall; yes, Starbucks is so big that they dictate when the seasons begin. And as such, it is naive to imagine that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is only a drink. The Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL, has a twisted journey to our hands and to the fifty countries it is currently sold in. Its origin story involves a drink that was almost killed before it was released, a secret society and of course lots and lots of white women in UGG boots. 

Caption: The Pumpkin Spice Latte is released to mark the beginning or fall, which comes earlier and earlier with its high demand.  Source: Starbucks Menu


The Drink Itself

As Starbucks’ most popular drink, it would seem to be a special concoction of fancy ingredients but in reality, the drink has a fairly simple recipe. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is a beverage made with milk, pumpkin spice syrup, espresso, whipped cream and pumpkin spice topping. But in the words of many, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is autumn in a drink. Made with nostalgic pumpkin pie spices and a pumpkin spice syrup, it evokes all of the cozy feelings of fall. While some describe the drink as “basic”, for others its predictability is part of its charm. In 2019, Starbucks added to its collection of Pumpkin drinks with the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew with pumpkin cream cold foam.  



The Pumpkin Spice Latte has made Starbucks $1.4 billion in sales since 2003 according to a 2018 estimate. According to Business Insider, three out of four Starbucks drinks that are purchased are cold, making cold drinks 75% of customer orders. So, adding an iced twist to this beloved classic in 2019 has only increased sales for this seasonal drink. 


Secret Society

As the Pumpkin Spice Latte has evoked immense popularity, it has gained a following so large that there is a closed Facebook group dedicated to the drink. Created by Starbucks, the “Leaf Rackers Society” is a place for those who wish to celebrate fall all year round. Further adding to the elusiveness of the drink, each year the Starbucks marketing team releases a social media competition “involving hashtags and secret codes that “unlock” the PSL at a particular store and Facebook contests where fans vie to have the latte land in their city a week earlier than the national debut,” according to an article by the Seattle Met

Caption: Peter Dukes, the creator of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Source: Starbucks stories and news

The Origins 

Peter Dukes, the director of espresso Americas for Starbucks, was tasked with the job of finding a fall-themed drink that would mirror the popularity of the specialty Christmas-themed drinks Starbucks released in the Winter. Dukes and his team sat down and formulated 100 different drink ideas. After narrowing the list down to ten, they were left with drinks that mirrored the Starbucks menu, filled with caramel and chocolate. But one drink stood out. The pumpkin pie spice latte. The idea came from the pairing of this traditional Thanksgiving treat with a cup of coffee, a unique idea that Dukes knew would do well. However, when they sent out their ten drink ideas to customers, the pumpkin pie latte seemed unremarkable. But advocating for its uniqueness, Dukes was able to keep it in play. 


Dukes and his team took this concept to the Starbucks liquid lab where they worked on formulating the drink. The formulation came on a Spring day but inside the lab, pumpkins and leaves were scattered everywhere to set the mood. Dukes and his colleagues had to isolate the specific flavors they wanted to include in the latte. So, each with their very own pumpkin pie and mug of espresso the taste testing began to create the iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte flavor. Dukes and his team tried latte recipes with a high amount of spice and low amount of pumpkin, or vice versa. Ultimately landed with the recipe that had a high amount of spice and a high amount of pumpkin which was the closest to their pumpkin pie taste test. 


“Within the first week of the market test, we knew we had a winner,” said Dukes. Within the first few hours of the release Dukes and his team received phone calls from managers relaying the raving reviews customers were giving. This hype around the release of the PSL has repeated itself every year since. 


Caption: Pumpkin Spice has become the definition of fall since the Starbucks release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Source: The New York Times 

Popularity and becoming the definition of fall 

Once the Pumpkin Spice Latte was introduced, it rose to immediate popularity. Now immortalized as the icon of Fall pumpkin spice has, according to Buzzfeed, become, “something much bigger than a flavor concocted in a Seattle lab; it’s now a season, a symbol, a lifestyle, a meme.” Pumpkin Spice Latte’s success is the reason pumpkin spice is added to everything every time fall rolls around. Part of the popularity the PSL gains is from the nostalgia it evokes. “‘The benefit of a seasonal offering is that you don’t get the customer tired of the same product, but instead willing to have it within the next year,’” said Catalina Marie Vélez Argumedo, a food researcher and engineer at the Cornell Food and Brad Lab, to Buzzfeed. “‘And if you are able to evoke nostalgia, that product could be on the market forever,’” she added. The nostalgia of the Thanksgiving spices mixed with the short time it is available increases the popularity of the drink, making it something to look forward to every year along with the plethora of other pumpkin spice goods that debut every September. 


In conclusion, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is loved by some and hated by others, but its impact on fall is undeniable to all.