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Whether you’re a fan, a hater, or just not interested, the fact is that we are in the throes of “pumpkin spice season.” And this year marks a new milestone – the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte has been with us for two decades.
Although it may feel like the now-ubiquitous "PSL" has always been around, especially considering its pervasive cultural and commercial impact, there was once a time when autumn came and went without pumpkin spice cereal, bagels, beer, trash bags, air fresheners, hummus, and pasta sauce.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte was added to the Starbucks menu following the success of another seasonal beverage, the Peppermint Mocha, which debuted in 2002. Back then, pumpkin-themed offerings at the supermarket were limited to pumpkin puree and other pumpkin pie ingredients, so launching the PSL was a significant gamble.
The chain initially tested the beverage in its Washington, D.C., and Vancouver, British Columbia markets. It was a hit from the very start and launched nationally the following year. These days, despite a fair amount of mocking and criticism from detractors, PSLs are more popular than ever, as are pumpkin-flavored drinks from other coffee chains.
The drink's ever-earlier seasonal debut accounts for some of that criticism. This year, the Pumpkin Spice Latte was released in the U.S. on August 24, nearly a month before the beginning of fall. Other companies, such as Dunkin’ and 7-Eleven, released pumpkin-flavored products even earlier, in the midst of the hottest summer on record. While not exactly the crisp, autumnal vibe that the PSL is usually associated with, perhaps that’s where the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew and the new Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte come in. And just as bizarrely, pumpkin drinks typically disappear off beverage menus well before Thanksgiving, to be replaced by more wintry "holiday" offerings.
It's pumpkin spice time:
- One of the rejected names that was brainstormed for the Pumpkin Spice Latte was “Fall Harvest Latte.”
- It wasn’t until 2015 that the Pumpkin Spice Latte included actual pumpkin puree alongside ingredients such as espresso, steamed milk, syrup, whipped cream, and cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg.
- Some thought that Hormel's introduction of Pumpkin Spice Spam in 2019 would be the beginning of the end for the trend, yet they couldn't have been more wrong: the limited-edition luncheon meat proved incredibly popular and sold out within hours.