The Lovers and Haters of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The pumpkin spice latte has reemerged. Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion looks at the origin story of the popular fall beverage, which actually contains little discernible pumpkin.

Since the pumpkin spice latte’s inception 11 years ago, customers have ordered more than 200 million, each topped with whipped cream and a parting shake of spices. It arrives while the summer sun still beats down hot over most of the country, but a combination of masterful marketing and a fan base with the kind of obsession usually reserved for pop stars has transformed this drink into a national harbinger of fall.

Fans paint tiny Starbucks cups on their nails. They dress their dogs up in latte costumes for Halloween (pug-kin spice latte—get it?). They post online comments like, “Can it be fall now? I am so ready for Pumpkin Spice Latte, pants, warm sweaters & lots of cuddles.” The morning after the first presidential debate of 2012, the nation was talking in nearly equal measures about Obama’s curiously detached performance and a front-page Wall Street Journal article about a temporary shortage of pumpkin spice lattes after an early-season rush.

Plenty of others hate it. Their online comments are more in the vein of “tastes like candle wax” or “How do you make a pumpkin spice latte? Put yoga pants, Ugg boots, a hoodie, an iPhone 5, and a white girl into a blender.” But if you partake in any form of social media whatsoever, it’s nigh impossible to ignore the drink’s return each year. (The Starbucks media team tracks 3,000 tweets a day when the hot beverage reemerges from hibernation, usually around Labor Day.)

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Photo: Dave Hackbarth