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 Number 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 initially 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 natural 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.
According to climate scientists, Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) displays evidence of suffering 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 23 (technically Summer, for those keeping track). Sometimes, there is early access, some five days earlier for select customers, based on whether they follow the magic account on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter (more later).
Due to excessive solar radiation, the beverage seems to have changed, or, let’s call it what it is – mutated.
It’s available hot, cold, blended, or as Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. This year, for 2023, we get an Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte inspired by a popular customer and barista customization.
But wait, is there a new variant to this pandemic of potables? Apple Crisp returns again, as it did last year. There’s a new Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso. And don’t forget, 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 increasingly frequent 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, always 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 that year on August 24, the earliest ever!
But wait, a couple of years ago, the torus-shaped-pastry-producing chain Dunkin’, formerly known as Dunkin’ Donuts,
formerly known as Twitter, announced that its fall menu launched on August 12, 2019, with Pumpkin, with the possibility of 8 early cities changing their names from Dunkin’ to Pumpkin’.
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.
Last year, they added Pumpkin Creme Cold Brew.
Dutch Brothers Coffee sells Pumpkin Frost, Pumpkin Cold Brew, Pumpkin Chai, and Pumpkin Pie Breve, not to mention Carmel Pumpkin Brulee Breve, Carmel Pumpkin Brulee Cold Brew, and Carmel Pumpkin Brulee Freese (French drinks at a Dutch establishment?), but they’re not fooling anyone. It’s PSL War!
Oreo, which introduced it in 2014, brought back Pumpkin Spice Sandwich Cookies, missing since 2017.
Released on August 16 this year, the ensuing lines and traffic jams caused by rabid fans eager to grab their favorite cookie caused the government to declare a state of emergency.
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.
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.
When you think about it, pumpkin doesn’t have much of a taste unless joined with spice. 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
Subscribe to have future articles delivered to your email.