20 Years Later: The Iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte

20 Years Later: The Iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte

Trends may come and go, but one thing is certain: Pumpkin spice products are here to stay. According to the acclaimed newspaper The Guardian, between 2017 and 2021, the amount Americans spent on Pumpkin spice products rose almost 150% of 2017’s total pumpkin spice revenue in just 5 years. Not only that, just a quick keyboard search on Amazon for pumpkin spice products shows more than 138,000 Pumpkin spice items.

One of the most popular pumpkin spice products nowadays is the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, lovingly called the PSL. For twenty years, the PSL has become a fall staple. According to the Starbucks Stories website, the iconic PSL was created quite humbly, not unlike many other food staples such as the chocolate chip cookie: By simple trial and error. The website interviewed Peter Dukes, who led the team that created the PSL.

“We started with a huge brainstorm list and filled the wall with ideas,” Dukes said. “And once we got those ideas, we started to whittle away at them and came down to a list of about 20 different flavors including chocolate and caramel – the most popular flavors to pair with coffee – and there was orange and cinnamon … and there was pumpkin there as well.” Despite chocolate and caramel beverages scoring high on a poll by Starbucks to determine their next drink, Dukes says “But there was something special about pumpkin.

It scored high on “uniqueness.”’ Dukes and his team decided to keep it on their list of options. “They would sample a forkful of pumpkin pie followed by a sip of hot espresso – teasing out which flavors from the pie best complemented the coffee. For the next three months, the team refined the recipe, handcrafted with espresso, pumpkin spice sauce, and steamed milk – topped off with whipped cream and a dash of pumpkin pie topping.

In a taste test alongside the chocolate and caramel beverages, pumpkin was the clear winner. “‘

In 2003, Starbucks tested the drink in the market in the US and Canada. Even the store managers were excited by the sales even in the first week, according to Dukes, ‘“Within the first week of the market test, we knew we had a winner, Dukes said. “I remember calling store managers on the phone to see how the new beverage was doing, and we could hear the excitement in their voices.”’ Despite the rising sales, Starbucks still considered switching the PSL out.

But with Facebook and Twitter launching, so did the PSL’s popularity. “We launched PSL very well, but then there were discussions about discontinuing it,” Dukes said. “There was this idea back then of, ‘Hey, we want to keep things new, keep things fresh.’

And fortunately, we kept bringing it back. With the arrival of social media, it just took off on a whole new level.” Now 20 years later, the PSL has had lots of ups and downs, between social media accounts and thousands of followers, and PSL live stream celebrating the birth of a baby giraffe. A private Facebook group even was specifically for people who love PSLs, and all things autumn.

Merriam-Webster officially added pumpkin spice to the dictionary too, and a hotline was even set up for people in the US and Canada during 2020 that broadcasted traditional autumn activities such as hay rides. PSL’s journey didn’t stop there, though. In 2012, there was a shortage of PSLs that newspapers called “A pumpkin emergency.” The journey of the PSL’s been a weird one, but ultimately a rewarding one.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Sit, Staff Writer
Hannah Sit is a 7th-grade writer from Wredling Middle School. She loves reading and writing. Her current favorite books are the Harry Potter series and the Keeper of the Lost Cities series. Her love for writing creative and impactful stories spurred her to join the Wred Feather.

Comments (20)

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  • O

    OliveDec 23, 2023 at 9:31 pm

    Great job Hannah!
    I loved it!

    Reply
  • L

    Laura FranklinDec 22, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Hannah! I have to admit…I have never tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte but I think I should! Loved your article!

    Reply
  • M

    Mrs. SislowNov 28, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing this knowledge about the infamous PSL! I enjoyed reading this article; it was very well-written.

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 28, 2023 at 5:19 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for reading my article!!!

      Reply
  • J

    Jaxon SmithNov 16, 2023 at 8:18 pm

    Amazing article! Love the depth!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 28, 2023 at 5:19 pm

      Thank you so much!! That means a lot to me!

      Reply
  • M

    Mrs. LykinsNov 13, 2023 at 1:56 pm

    Can you believe I just learned the pumpkin spice latte acronym from your article? Great job researching and writing! It’s my favorite fall treat. 🙂

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 28, 2023 at 5:19 pm

      Thank you so much!!

      Reply
  • Q

    Quinn HadleyNov 10, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    Love this article!!!!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 28, 2023 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks! Your article was amazing too!!

      Reply
  • M

    Mrs. OlsonNov 10, 2023 at 7:05 pm

    Great research on this popular topic! Crazy to think this has been around for 20 years. I love their pumpkin cream cold brew, but a PSL is also a nice treat! Great writing as always Hannah!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 28, 2023 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you so much!!!

      Reply
  • M

    Mrs. CozziNov 10, 2023 at 3:53 pm

    Wow, some interesting facts! I love PSL!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 10, 2023 at 5:12 pm

      Cool!! Glad you liked it!!

      Reply
  • M

    Mr. LoverskyNov 10, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    I sure wish I liked PSL! I’m a Chai Tea Latte guy. But this article was well written and really interesting!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 10, 2023 at 5:11 pm

      Thank you so much!! I worked hard on this!!

      Reply
  • M

    Meghan CannonNov 10, 2023 at 3:05 pm

    I absolutely love a Pumpkin Spiced Latte, but not as much as I loved reading your article. Excellent reporting, Hannah!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 10, 2023 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks so much!!

      Reply
  • M

    Mrs. RathNov 10, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    Great writing, Hannah! Very informative!

    Reply
    • H

      Hannah SitNov 16, 2023 at 8:48 am

      Thanks! I tried!

      Reply