Pumpkin Spice Lattes- Autumn’s Most Prized (and Scandalous!) Possession


Rania Khan, Journalist

Ah yes, the pumpkin spice latte. One of the most iconic seasonal drinks ever, it takes coffee shops like Starbucks and Dunkin’ by storm in early September, and despondently departs sometime in November. It welcomes in the season of autumn– that glorious time where sweaters, Uggs, scarves, candles, and annual pumpkin patch Instagram posts are in abundance. Topping it off with a PSL at Starbucks just brings those cozy fall vibes to life. Who invented the famous pumpkin spice latte? Did big companies make it in order to seize advantage and make profit off one of our favorite seasons?

“Pumpkin spice” doesn’t really have any pumpkin at all- it’s comprised of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger; it dates back to the Dutch East India Company, and these native spices are found on Southeast Asian Islands. Most people attribute the invention of the PSL to Peter Dukes, the then Director of Espresso (a literal dream job), and now the director of Global Growth and Concepts. 

In 2001, his team at Starbucks’ Seattle Headquarters was asked to create a fall drink that could emulate the recent success of Starbucks’ Peppermint Mocha. Through many trials and tribulations, they narrowed a hundred ideas to ten final concepts. PSL was the drink that almost didn’t make the cut, but its uniqueness got it through. Duke says, “We brought in pumpkin pies into our R&D lab and actually just poured shots of espresso on ’em, and ate ’em.” 

The drink hit Starbucks stores in 2003, and was a complete success. The immense popularity of the spice gave rise to a myriad of other Pumpkin Spice flavored/themed products that pop up briefly in the fall. This can be argued as both a blessing and a curse (I’m looking straight at whoever decided making Pumpkin Spice Spam was a good idea).

Soon after, some truly scandalous information was exposed to the public through a food blog. Starbucks used no real pumpkin in their drink, and to achieve the color, the “Food Babe” listed that Starbucks used “2 doses of caramel color level IV coloring, made with ammonia and considered a carcinogen.” This food coloring is actually FDA approved, but it still shook the world of diehard PSL lovers. How could Starbucks betray them like this? How can a “Pumpkin” Spice Latte have no real pumpkin?! In 2015, Starbucks listened to the concerns of their customers, and the drink returned that Fall with real pumpkin puree and no caramel coloring. Starbucks had healed the wound it inflicted on the world.

This tasty drink has fat, sugar, and a hefty dose of salt that gives the drink its true superiority and homey taste. “Pumpkin spice has the ability to really reach into the center of our memories at a very emotional level” says Dr. Catherine Franssen Ph. D., a Psychology professor at Longwood University. The PSL impact is probably why Starbucks has sold over 500 million PSL’s since its release in 2003. 

The iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte has had a historical impact on America, as it takes over the country each Fall season (I definitely don’t mind!). While it may have been created just for stores like Starbucks and Dunkin’ to earn a little more cash, there’s no denying that it really does hit the spot. If you haven’t already, go out and get yourself a Pumpkin Spice Latte, or even a Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino if that’s more your style. I promise you won’t regret it. Happy PSL season!