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Pumpkin Spice and Why it’s so Nice: Dissecting the PSL Phenomenon

For the select few who aren’t aware, PSL is an acronym to be reckoned with. The tri-lettered nickname for the Pumpkin Spice Latte, it is in reference to a special beverage Starbucks puts out every fall season. So why the craze? We took the liberty of finding out.

PSL, the Birth

Starbucks began developing their now infamous PSL for the first time in January of 2003 seeing that their holiday drinks, which had been around for a while, were doing well. With winter drinks being successful, why not have a go at autumn drinks? To whichever Starbucks employee said that, we raise our tumblers to you. The initial idea was always to base the drink around the pumpkin flavor, seeing as there was nothing of the sort on their menu at the time. However, after trying out various mixtures of ingredients, they eventually ended up not including any pumpkin in the original recipe. Come autumn that same year, the drink was first launched as an experiment in Vancouver and DC, with sales explosively skyrocketing. Given this enormous success, they were quick to launch the drink nationwide just the following year. Now, the PSL is the company’s most popular seasonal drink, outselling the holiday drinks that had come before. Other companies and even those outside of the beverage industry were quick to catch on as they began creating pumpkin spice donuts, cereals, cough drops, pasta sauce, candles, and air fresheners. Even with its booming popularity, do recall that at this point, the drink didn’t even include actual hints of pumpkin in its list of ingredients. This change was only made in August of 2015 when Starbucks removed their artificial flavors and replaced them with actual pumpkin. The relaunch introduced a new ingredient by the name of ‘pumpkin pie flavored syrup’, a mixture of sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, coloring, and preservative. 

PSL, the Frenzy

For those not aware, the internet over the years has curated its model fall girl, a representative of what the very season stands for. You close your eyes and an image of a girl in jeans, brown leather knee high boots, oversized knit sweater, and long curly hair begins to form. As you scan your eyes to her right hand, lo and behold, the PSL is indubitably present. The drink is an autumn staple, and as the joke goes, the second the first leaf falls, the PSL rises. Just like clockwork. This popularity most likely stems from the very simple fact that Americans yearn for a sense of nostalgia for Thanksgiving, where pumpkin pie is often eaten. Truly, autumn does not even begin until that first sip is taken. Earth’s axis, who?

PSL, the At Home Version

For the couch potatoes and homebodies of this world, do not fret, because there is a way you can get your hands on a PSL from the comfort of your home and without spending as much money. The recipe is rather simple and although not an official one put out by Starbucks themselves, we can pretty much trust that the internet has concocted a replica, at best. Without further ado, here’s everything you need for a PSL (At Home Ver.):

Ingredients (2 servings)

  • 2 cups milk (dairy or non-dairy)
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ cup strong, hot coffee
  • Whipped cream

Directions

  1. Add milk, pumpkin puree, and sugar to a saucepan over medium heat. Do not boil. 
  2. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and coffee.
  3. Pour into mugs. 
  4. Top with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice. 
Sarah Aoyagi

Waseda '22

Sarah is a 4th year undergrad majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism. Born and raised in LA, her interests span from belting Queen to binging Netflix documentaries.
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