How the Pumpkin Spice Latte became the symbol of fall

Photo: Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew + PSL - Courtesy of Starbucks
Photo: Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew + PSL - Courtesy of Starbucks /

If you’ve experienced autumn at any point in the last two decades, you’ve probably watched as the Pumpkin Spice Latte has become a symbol of the season. What started as a fun coffee drink has become an absolute phenomenon. And let’s be honest, all the other concoctions that coffee chains come up with simply don’t compare.

But while most of us have watched the PSL evolve, how many know its origin story?

The Pumpkin Spice Latte made its entrance in the early 2000s, but Starbucks never planned for it to take off the way it did.

According to Mashed, the idea for the fall-flavored drink came from Peter Dukes, a man who worked at Starbucks HQ in Seattle, Wash., back in 2003. As Dukes put it during one of the company’s Starbucks Stories, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has “taken on a life of its own” since.

Anyone who’s seen the countdown to the PSL’s release date — or rushed to Starbucks to pick one up as soon as it comes out (ahem, me) — can relate.

“Pumpkin spice latte has become more than just a beverage,” Dukes said. “It has become a harbinger of the season.”

The Pumpkin Spice Latte has come a long way since 2003

Since Dukes came up with the PSL, it’s gone on to become Starbucks’ most popular seasonal drink. According to Spoon University, Twitter users tweet #PSL more than 3,000 times per day in the fall — that’s an impressive feat for a beverage!

Of course, the idea for the Pumpkin Spice Latte stemmed from Starbucks’ other holiday drinks, including the Peppermint Mocha and Eggnog Latte. Eighteen years later, the PSL is still going strong — and it mostly follows the same recipe.

In 2015, pumpkin puree was added to the ingredients and the drink’s artificial coloring was removed. Even with those changes, Starbucks continues to rake in the dough with the seasonal drink. In fact, the company has reportedly sold more than 500 million PSLs since their inception.

It’s not just Starbucks that’s seen the success of pumpkin-flavored products soar since the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s introduction either. Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and other coffee chains have rolled out their own pumpkin-flavored coffee and desserts. Likewise, you can find just about anything in pumpkin spice nowadays — even toilet paper and toothpaste.

It seems pumpkin lovers owe Dukes a thank you for his innovation all those years ago. Without it, how else would we ring in the fall season?

Long live the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

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How do you feel about the history of the PSL? Are you glad the drink has stuck around as long as it has? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!