When the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte first becomes available each year, the public knows that fall-time is here to stay, with months of pumpkin patches, apple pie and cozy sweaters to look forward to. This iconic fall Starbucks drink is the delicious combo of pumpkin flavor, signature espresso, milk, and autumnal spices, topped with a whipped cream and pumpkin-pie spice topping. Although we all know how delectable this drink is, Starbucks had no idea how popular it would grow to be, and almost chose not to make it!
Back in 2003, at the creation of the famous PSL, the product manager of Starbucks' espresso division was Peter Dukes. The Seattle-based coffee chain had noticed the extreme success of the Peppermint Mocha when it was released in the 2002-2003 winter season, and they were looking to recreate this success, but in another season.
The Liquid Lab
In Spring of 2003, Dukes and his colleagues headed to the "Liquid Lab"- a research and development space on the 7th floor of Starbucks Coffee headquarters. There, the team began pitching ideas for autumnal latte flavors to put on a fall menu. They took an online survey of Starbucks customers to see which fall flavor latte options they liked the best, and the chocolatey and caramel-based drinks were most popular. Interestingly enough, the "pumpkin pie latte" on the list wasn't highly rated.
Despite this, Dukes and his team decided to keep the pumpkin pie flavored latte in the running, and they eventually ended up with four options- a chocolate caramel option, an orange spice latte, a cinnamon streusel latte, and of course the pumpkin pie latte.
Although they kept it as an option, the team had no idea how popular the drink would be. As Dukes said, "Nobody knew back then what it would grow to be. It's taken on a life of its own."
Of course, to really evaluate a new idea, it's important to get into the right headspace. The team decorated the room in cheesy fall decor and pumpkin pies and started brainstorming pumpkin-inspired espresso drinks. As they brainstormed, they would take a bite of pumpkin pie and then sip a hot espresso to determine which flavor notes best complemented each other.
According to Seattle Met, they decided on the key flavors of pumpkin and spice. The team then made a series of different pumpkin-spice coffee drinks to figure out the right balance of flavors. In the end, they discovered that pumpkin sauce rather than pumpkin syrup was the best way to imitate the creaminess of real pumpkin pie.
After creating the perfect drink, they workshopped names- after all, the name is the first aspect of a product that consumers will be exposed to. After playing with the idea of "Fall Harvest Latte," they eventually settled on the name we know and love- Pumpkin Spice Latte.
The PSL is Created
That fall, Starbucks rolled out their new seasonal limited-time menu item, eager to see how it would be received. As we all know, the drink was an instant hit! It has gained a cult-like following, making its way into mainstream culture and evolving into a number of different products.
Now, the Starbucks PSL is available in grocery stores, and fans can have it in many forms, like pumpkin cream cheese muffin, pumpkin spice cold brew concentrate, and pumpkin spice flavored non-dairy creamer. The pumpkin cream cold brew is especially popular, sweetened with vanilla syrup and topped with pumpkin cream cold foam and pumpkin spice topping.
Other fast food restaurants have also taken a cue from Starbucks' success, such as McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, who have their own versions of the fall drink. Starbucks has made over $1.4 billion off the beloved drink, and it's their most popular seasonal beverage ever.
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