What is a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL)?

There is something both comforting and exciting as Fall rolls around.  It is a time of seasonal change, both in temperature and color. Many things may come to mind seeing that first leaf turn yellow or red- apple picking, hiking, or cider, perhaps. While Fall is generally a popular time for coffee, the pumpkin spice latte sits at the top of the Fall seasonal drinks totem pole.

As potentially the most popular seasonal beverage of all time (over 350 million sales to date), pumpkin spice has taken the world by storm. Ever since it first hit the Starbucks scene in 2003, food and beverage companies globally have been leveraging the PSL’s success by coming up with a variety of different pumpkin spiced foods. 

However, as somewhat of a quirky flavor that also has its share of critics, how did the Pumpkin Spice Latte become a cafe fall staple? Let’s take a look a bit of history.

Who Invented the Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Starbucks was founded in 1971 by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegel. It started out as a single store in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. Fast forward to today, Starbucks has 30,000 locations globally and has made its mark in the coffee and tea industries.

In 2001, Starbucks hired a man named Peter Dukes and later asked him to create a new seasonal espresso drink specifically for the Fall. Since Fall and pumpkins go hand in hand, Mr. Dukes came up with a pumpkin themed drink that invoked the fall flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon. Almost immediately upon release, the drink boomed in popularity. Today, Peter has a mural near the Starbucks headquarters for his monumental contribution. 

Why is the Pumpkin Spice Latte so Popular?

As a general matter, people love seasonal beverages. There is a strange joy and about only being able to enjoy something for only a couple months out of the year.  The limited availability creates an urgency that makes you want to run out and get one. The pumpkin spice latte is one such beverage.

However, and perhaps more importantly, pumpkins are a staple of American culture. Though most may not be thinking about history when ordering a latte, pumpkins are actually the oldest domesticated plant in America. Pumpkins sustained early colonists when crops brought over from Europe failed to grow. Even when society grew, and cities began to form, pumpkins served as a nostalgic reminder of our past agrarian lifestyle.  From Jack-O-Lanterns to pumpkin pie, the pumpkin has always captured the fascination of Americans. From its inception, the PSL was destined to be a hit! 

Pumpkin Spice Latte Nutrition Facts

It is no secret that you should conceptualize the pumpkin spice latte more as a dessert rather than a daily latte, but that does not preclude enjoying it in moderation. At Starbucks, an 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte, made with reduced-fat milk and whipped cream, is around 380 calories. The caloric content includes about 50 grams of sugar (12 teaspoons), 14 grams of fat, and 14 grams of protein.  

Though those numbers may seem high, keep in mind that you can adjust these ingredients without compromising the general flavor. For example, you could substitute in nonfat milk, remove the whipped cream, or use a sugar substitute to reduce the fat and sugar content.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte is EVERYWHERE!

Starbucks may have created the famous pumpkin spice latte, but other companies aren’t standing on the sidelines! With the incredible demand for the PSL, it was only a matter of time before other companies hopped on the pumpkin spice train.

Each having their own twists/variations, you can find pumpkin spice in different forms at Peet’s, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and even gas stations like 7-Eleven.  You can also often find pumpkin spice creamers in grocery stores as well, allowing you to transform an ordinary coffee into something seasonable in the comfort of your home.

A Pumpkin Spice Recipe To Try

Thinking about going rogue and trying to make your own pumpkin spice concoction?  Go for it! After all, experimentation was how the pumpkin spice latte was created in the first place. 

However, if you are more of a recipe follower, try out this pumpkin spice muffin recipe that will complement your latte perfectly!

Muffin Top Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
  • A small pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons of melted butter

The Actual Muffin Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2/3 of a cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2/3 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1/4 of a cup of sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract


1.  To start, you will need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your tray with muffin papers.

2.  Next, you will want to make your muffin top. You do this by combining the flour, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in a decent size bowl. Then mix in the melted butter until you see the crumbs take shape.  

3.  In another bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. After that, you will want to stir in the pumpkin, butter, eggs, sour cream, and the vanilla.

4.  Once everything is mixed together in both bowls, pour the muffin batter evenly into each muffin liner; then top it with the crumb topping you made earlier. 

5.  Cook your muffins until they are golden brown, which will take 20-30 minutes. Another way to test if your muffins are ready is by sticking a toothpick in the center of one of the muffins. If the toothpick comes out clean, then they are done.

6.  Let your muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then enjoy! 

A Staple of Fall Culture

Love it or hate it, there is one thing for certain: pumpkin spice isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Just like a turkey on Thanksgiving or heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine’s Day, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has established itself as a harbinger of Fall.

If you somehow haven’t tried one yet, be sure to pick one up at your local coffee house and let us know if you too are a fan!

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

Recent Posts