Starbucks first started selling pumpkin spice lattes in the fall of 2003. Can you believe it? It may seem like these delicious drinks are a more recent obsession, but they are, in fact, as old as a middle-schooler. And over a dozen years later, the pumpkin spice latte is still an obsession for many café-goers throughout America.
With the drink still a major boon for Starbucks (Forbes estimates Starbucks made $100 million in revenue in 2015 from the drink alone), other restaurants and food manufacturers are getting into the mix. Everything from cereals to brownie mixes to vodkas are fair game for the flavor infusion.
But despite how popular it is, so many consumers still don’t know what exactly goes into pumpkin spice that makes it so alluring to so many people.
As Frankenstein is the name of the doctor — not the monster — the not-so-secret secret about pumpkin spice is that it contains no pumpkin at all. The flavor that goes into pumpkin spice lattes, muffins, cheesecakes, and other treats is the traditional spice flavors that accent pumpkin pie – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sometimes ginger.
Nowadays some kind of pumpkin element is often added to make it more like the pie (and to bring that orange-brown color), but that taste pumpkin spice fans are craving comes from the spices themselves.
The appeal of pumpkin spice drinks and foods is the connection to seasonal traditions. While cloves and cinnamon certainly have strong connections to the latter part of the year throughout the world, Americans’ love of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie brings that love of this spice mix to a whole new level. Like enjoying apple cider in October and eggnog in December, warm pumpkin spice lattes have become just one way to celebrate autumn.
Every year, there seems to be some naysayers who make fun of pumpkin spice latte (PSL) drinkers, but that hasn’t deterred fans from going into their favorite coffee shops and indulging in their favorite brew. Perhaps life is just too short to worry about being teased for liking the drink that you like. The only thing that’s “basic” about pumpkin spice is how basically delicious it is!
If you’re looking for more pumpkin spice fare beyond Starbucks, get excited – your options have never been better. As mentioned above, grocery stores (including Trader Joe’s) are starting to stock pumpkin spice items every fall, and more and more restaurants are including both pumpkin spice drinks and baked goods on their autumn menus.
And if you’re a restaurant owner, there are certainly ways to incorporate pumpkin spice into your fall and winter menus. As with any seasonal menu item, have your pumpkin spice fare be the sorts of items your customers already enjoy. Make sure it fits your brand. It won’t do you any good to have a pumpkin spice dessert added to your menu if your customers rarely ever order your desserts.
Likewise, if your main menu items don’t usually warrant an order of coffee, throwing a pumpkin spice latte on your menu could be a waste of resources. You’ve already paid for the ingredients, so you want to make sure these extra items you’ve stocked for the season don’t just sit in your kitchen.
More than that, you’re going to want to make sure to promote your seasonal item consistently while it’s still around. After all, you want to make sure people who would want to order it know about it.
And while it’s known for being an October and November flavor, don’t be afraid to keep pumpkin spice on the menu well into December and January. Many people love those spice notes around Christmastime and those who crave it are always hoping their seasonal favorite lasts just a little longer.
Want a jumpstart on seasonal treats? Check out our look at six holiday drinks we can’t get enough of!