HISTORY OF OCTOBER: THE PUMPKIN SPICE SAGA
October, the tenth month of the year in both the older Julian and the current Gregorian calendar, used to be the 8th month (Latin octo) in the ancient Roman calendar. But with the addition of January and February, it got bumped to #10.
This month is significant because, according to the modern Gregorian calendar, it is the first full month that enjoys Pumpkin Spice Latte, initially promoted by St. Starbucks. But it has not always been so; in some years, it is not so.
Pumpkin spice lattes were originally launched in October 2003, twenty years ago. By 2015, Starbucks welcomed the season in early September, and by 2018 pumpkin spice lattes were for sale in August – which is when I first saw it this year.
Therein lies the saga of this coffee concoction.
Origin of Pumpkin Spice Latte
This concoction of caffeinated seasoned squash with super-heated supersaturated calcium lactose was originally socialized during the ancient period of this millennium, around 2003, when it was introduced as a seasonal beverage. Its formulation has not always been the same, however. In 2015 Starbucks added real pumpkin ingredients, a novel concept, and some artificial flavors and colors were eliminated.
Date of the release of Pumpkin Spice Latte
The first day this popular drink goes on sale has varied from year to year. This is related to but dissimilar from what is called Christmas Creep. Christmas shopping and decorations — back in more civilized times — used to go up the day after Thanksgiving, just as the Pilgrims intended; then it moved to immediately after Halloween, and now you can find Christmas merchandise in Costco in September. Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), according to climate scientists, appears instead to suffer from PSL Drift.
Appearance of Pumpkin Spice Latte
Generally, it appears after Labor Day in September, but sometimes it does not appear on the menu and must be requested by name. This year, it went on sale at various times across the country on August 30 (technically Summer, if you think about it), sometimes there is early access, some five days earlier for select customers, based on if they follow the magic account on Twitter (more later).
Starbuck food blogger Markie Devo leaked on his Instagram feed way back on July 27 that PSL would be on Starbucks’ Fall Menu, released this year on August 30.
And indeed, it was released more than a month ago. It’s available: hot, cold, blended, or as Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.
But wait, is there a new variant to this pandemic of potables? Apple Crisp appears again, as it did last year. Could it be heir to the throne of the primary pumpkin product that has gone viral? Not yet, it returns as an Oatmilk Macchiato — non-dairy.
Pumpkin Seasonal Confusion
PSL Drift is wreaking havoc with the beginning and end of Seasons. Drinks like Eggnog Latte and Peppermint Mocha were relatively well behaved, confining themselves to Winter. On the other hand, PSL is a “crossover” beverage covering both Winter and Fall… “for a limited time only.” That’s two seasons! And with this sneak into Summer… it’s becoming like DST (Daylight Saving Time), which now comprises most of the year.
PSL’s introduction each year has become the virtual harbinger of Fall, regardless of the astronomical and scientific importance of the Autumnal Equinox in September or the changing of the Aspen leaves in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
When is Latte not Latte?
When we say Pumpkin Spice Latte, we do not, of course, literally mean milk, the translation of the Italian word latte. Starbucks makes some of its drinks available with Almondmilk or Oatmilk. Now you can be kind to a cow.
To add to the confusion, you need to be careful how you order it; you may not get the spicy hot cup’ o joe: it now comes as Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino Drink, and Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew — the cold brew outsold the latte in 2021. But then, they released this trio of tectonic taste treats on August 24, the earliest ever!
Last year they announced their PSL for availability on August 19, along with Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ale. A donut shop that also sells coffee is marketing beer?
And that’s not all: their partnership with Harpoon Breweries includes other donut-infused beers like Boston Kreme Stout, Jelly Donut IPA, and Coffee Porter.
This serial success has led Dunkin’ to team up with Post Cereals to promote Dunkin’ Carmel Macchiato and Mocha Latte.
This year, they added Pumpkin Creme Cold Brew.
Dutch Brothers Coffee sells Pumpkin Frost, Pumpkin Cold Brew, Pumpkin Chai, and Pumpkin Pie Breve, but they’re not fooling anyone. It’s PSL War!
brought back Pumpkin Spice Sandwich Cookies, missing since 2017, no doubt due to Coronavirus supply chain issues. Released on August 15, the ensuing lines and traffic jams caused by rabid fans eager to grab their favorite cookie made the first day of a new iPhone launch look like a Sunday School class in comparison.
With over 424 million sold (shades of McDonald’s, which itself recently brought back its McCafe Pumpkin Spice Latte), an annual run-rate of 20 million cups, and sales of over $1.5B, PSL has become a cult, like buying Apple products. There is even an official Twitter account with 86 thousand followers: @TheRealPSL. It has its own hashtag: #PSL.
And let’s face it, when you’ve got your own hashtag, you’ve essentially made it.
But that’s not all. There are now pumpkin spice Listerine, ramen, liquor, M&Ms, Skittles, Peeps, Pringles, Crest, Mini-Wheats, Cheerios, Philadelphia cream cheese, Twinkies, yogurt, ice cream, gelato, peanut butter, energy bars, cookie straws, candles, shampoo, cleaning supplies, butter, pretzel, deodorant, vitamins, dog treats, and even pasta sauce.
The marriage of pumpkin and spike has even inspired a pumpkin spice engagement ring.
The Pumpkin Spice Industrial Complex is now a $600 million market. Who knows, with Seasonal Beverage Fatigue, next, they’ll be putting this flavoring in pies.
Is nothing sacred?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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