Pumpkin spice and everything nice…

Pardon the nursery rhyme ‘sampling’ but for many, this season is not just ‘nice’, it is the most wonderful time of the year — pumpkin spice beverage season. Love it or hate it, the pumpkin spice latte has become a staple on coffee shop menus around the world and spurred many other pumpkin spice beverages. Fans clamor for the limited-edition autumnal flavour so much that rather than debut in the fall, pumpkin spice beverages hit coffee shops and stores in August, and the release date seems to be earlier and earlier each year. In the United States, 1 October has even been designated National Pumpkin Spice Day (1 October is also International Coffee Day).

Starbucks Coffee launched the pumpkin spice latte – aka ‘PSL’ – in 2003. According to Starbucks, following the peppermint mocha, which was introduced the winter before and was its first ‘blockbuster seasonal beverage’, the company was looking for its first autumn limited-edition beverage. Starbucks noted that when Peter Dukes, (who was heading Starbucks espresso beverages at the time) and his team asked potential customers what flavours they were likely to purchase in a written survey, chocolate and caramel beverages consistently performed the best but pumpkin scored high on ‘uniqueness’.

The beverage creation process started by first sampling pumpkin pies and sipping espresso, and then the experiments began. From there the pumpkin spice latte was born.

In the fall of 2003, Starbucks tested the PSL in about 100 stores in Washington, DC and Vancouver, Canada. The next fall, the PSL rolled out to Starbucks stores across the US and Canada. Starbucks was apparently not completely convinced the PSL would be successful and considered changing over the next few years for something new. However, Dukes and him team realised they had a hit when Facebook and Twitter arrived in 2006, and “customers began sharing their love for PSL” on social media with their family and friends; and the coffee culture was inevitably changed.

These days, PSLs are ubiquitous on coffee shop menus around the world – e.g., Dunkin’s pumpkin spice signature latte and its nutty pumpkin coffee, Peet’s Coffee’s pumpkin latte, PJ’s Coffee’s pumpkin sweet cold foam – and the offerings have been continually upgraded and expanded. Since 2015, Starbucks’ PSL pumpkin sauce has included real pumpkin puree, made from kabocha pumpkins. Pumpkin spice K-Cups and teas (loose leaf and tea bags) from leading brands are now available in grocery stores, mass retailers and online.

Of course, given the popularity of cold brew coffee, Starbucks introduced Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew a couple of years ago and many others followed suit (such as Dunkin’s pumpkin cream cold brew and Peet’s pumpkin oat foam cold brew to name just a couple). And in response to a TikTok craze last year, new to Starbucks’ fall menu this year is the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte. Peet’s also offers a pumpkin chai, served hot or cold. (Check out our Main News section to see which brands have already launched their pumpkin spice beverage items.)

While I enjoy pumpkin spice-flavoured foods, I have never liked any pumpkin spice latte — too sweet and too filling. But I did try a cold brew version, and I admit that I quite enjoyed it because I found it to be less sweet and not as heavy as a latte.

Other autumn flavours have started appearing on coffee shop’s limited-edition menus such as apple and maple (like Costa Coffee’s maple hazel latte) but they have not yet hit the iconic status of the pumpkin spice latte. Maybe soon there will be a new beverage to challenge it, but for now fans can savour PSL season while it lasts.

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