How The Pumpkin Spice Latte Became A Fall Staple

In 2003, Peter Dukes was just your average guy who happened to have a really cool job working for Starbucks HQ in Seattle. Little did he know that when spring came around that year, he would become the product manager — really, the spearhead — of the most popular seasonal beverage in Starbucks history: the Pumpkin Spice Latte. "Nobody knew back then what it would grow to be," Dukes recalled in an archived Starbucks Stories, adding that the PSL has "taken on a life of its own" in the 18 years it's been around.

Dukes isn't wrong. According to the coffeehouse chain, people Tweet about the pumpkin spice latte more than 3,000 times a day (per Spoon University)! Since its early 2000s debut, the beloved pumpkin beverage has been introduced in nearly 50 countries, including the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. A fun bit of Starbucks trivia: The fall drink was originally going to be called "Fall Harvest Latte," but Pumpkin Spice Latte stuck and its iconic acronym "PSL" caught on once baristas started using it as shorthand when writing down orders. 

What's even more impressive is that, in its 18-year history, the Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe has remained untouched. As the saying goes, don't fix what isn't broken! "Pumpkin Spice Latte has become more than just a beverage. It has become a harbinger of the season," Dukes has said.

Starbucks still uses the original PSL recipe from 2003

The idea for a pumpkin-flavored latte was born out of the major success of Starbucks' other holiday drinks like the Eggnog Latte and Peppermint Mocha, per Starbucks Stories. At the time, the coffee company didn't have a staple fall-inspired beverage and, they figured, what screams fall more than pumpkin? Peter Dukes and his team of mad coffee scientists met on the seventh floor of Starbucks HQ in spring of 2003 with a stack of pumpkin pies and shots of espresso and got to work. They took turns taste-testing the crust of the pie versus the pie filling, seeing which flavor was most compatible with espresso.

After several bites of pumpkin pie and sips of espresso later, the PSL team drew up a recipe card and the rest, as they say, is history. "Within the first week of the market test, we knew we had a winner," Dukes recalled. The final recipe included a secret concoction of pumpkin spice sauce, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg combined with Starbucks' signature handcrafted espresso and steamed milk, and then topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of real pumpkin pie spices. According to the Starbucks menu, a grande comes in at 390 calories, 14 grams of fat, 14 grams of sugar, and 150 milligrams of caffeine. While it's certainly not the healthiest drink on the menu, it continues to be a fall favorite for a reason.