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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Why are Pumpkin Spice Lattes so popular?

    Alex McIntyre

    A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte sits on a table Sunday, Oct. 11. A variety of pumpkin spice lattes are available for customers to choose from other places, ranging from Dunkin’ Donuts to Caffe Luce.

    There’s a bit of a chill in the air, Halloween stores are popping up all over town, and pumpkin flavored everything is making its seasonal comeback. Out of all the fall-themed food and drink items offered around this time, none can compare to the signature coffee beverage that balances sweet pumpkin flavoring with bold espresso taste. That’s right, people, we’re talking about the pumpkin spice latte.

    For hundreds of years, pumpkin has been an integral part of baked goods in America, from pies to breads to cookies and everything in between. America’s obsession with pumpkin escalated in 2003 after a team of Starbucks developers came up with the idea to create what is now known across the globe as the pumpkin spice latte. Since then, this autumn-only espresso beverage is the bestselling seasonal drink of all time for the company, and the recipe has remained unchanged since its inauguration.

    So what makes the pumpkin spice latte so popular? There are few other instances where companies have introduced a food or beverage that has been met with the same overwhelming and continuous success as the pumpkin spice latte, so what makes it so special?

    “It makes it feel like the holidays and like its fall,” said Kristen Knoche, a marketing junior. With the pumpkin spice latte only being available during the autumn season, Knoche’s comment expresses the views of many who anticipate the return of their favorite espresso drink at the end of every summer. Just walking around campus on the first few days that the latte made its return made it clear how much it is enjoyed by UA students: there were several times that the stores ran out of the pumpkin flavoring for the drinks and couldn’t serve them until they received new shipments. 

    Maybe the lure of the pumpkin spice latte will never be truly understood, but another question to be asked is why Starbucks? Around campus alone there are five places that serve their own version of the pumpkin spice latte, including Caffe Luce, Einstein Bros., Common Grounds, Paradise Bakery, and Dunkin Donuts and there are even more throughout Tucson. 

    In a survey on the Daily Wildcat website, participants were asked the question, “Where’s your favorite place to grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte?” The possible answers included all of the aforementioned places, and the final results showed that 59 percent of the participants preferred Starbucks over any other shop’s latte. Dunkin Donuts and Caffe Luce tied for second place, but at a mere 14 percent each.

    “I think I’d like to support the smaller chain, it’s just that Starbucks is so engrained on campus that it’s a lot easier to get in between class,” said Marilyn Weigand, a physiology junior. 

    Along with the convenience benefits for UA students, Starbucks also has the “PSL stereotype” which both helps and hurts the pumpkin spice’s reputation, depending on who you ask.

    “I feel like there’s a reason that it’s a stereotype because you do see it and you do see the obsession with it,” said Weigand. “It’s almost a status symbol in a way, walking around with your pumpkin spice latte, your leggings, your riding boots, your oversized sweatshirt and the bun on your head.” Many people like Weigand are irritated by the pumpkin spice latte stereotype, but others embrace it. According to the Starbucks website, there was an average of 3,000 tweets daily using the tag #PSL during the drink’s availability. 

    According to baristas at Caffe Luce, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, all of their pumpkin spice lattes are made with the same basic ingredients: espresso, pumpkin flavoring and steamed milk. Some places may add a little whipped cream or sprinkle a bit of fall spices atop the beverage, but no matter where you go the basic recipe is the same. So could it be the pumpkin flavoring that makes the real difference?

    Einstein Bros., Dunkin Donuts, Paradise Bakery and Starbucks all use their brand-name syrups in any of the flavored beverages that they create and Caffe Luce uses Monin flavoring. Each has a different level of sweetness to it, so it would make sense that individuals would prefer one flavor of syrup over the others, but that still doesn’t account for the overwhelming popularity of Starbucks’ latte. 

    The monetary side of the question is even more confusing. Starbucks sells a medium, 16 oz pumpkin spice latte for $4.95 in Tucson, whereas Dunkin Donuts sells theirs for $4.85 and Caffe Luce for $3.85 (although theirs is only 12 oz). It seems like it would be cheaper for students to visit one of the handful of other coffee shops around campus to get their pumpkin fix; the difference of a dime could add up to a lot if one is passionate about their PSLs. 

    Who knows why the pumpkin spice latte has become a staple of the fall season over the last several years or why Starbucks’ rendition of it has always been the frontrunner. These are questions that may never be answered, but they’re something to think about the next time you’re in the mood for an autumnal pick-me-up.

    Follow Victoria Pereira on Twitter.

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