One World Roasters' Coffee Blog

The Spicy History of the Pumpkin Spice Latte 

It’s official — Pumpkin Spice season has arrived! Throughout September and October, we’re serving up our homemade take on autumn’s most popular drink. And we do it a little differently. 


We’re blending real pumpkin puree into velvety steamed milk and stirring it into our organic Black Kat espresso with a splash of all natural and nothing-artificial pumpkin spice syrup. We garnish this delight with whipped cream and a shake of cinnamon. How good does that sound??


In celebration of introducing our brand new, real Pumpkin Spice latte, we thought this would be a neat opportunity to take a deeper look into how this sippable fixture of fall came to be, what pumpkin spice really is, and evaluating the inescapable myths and lore that surround it.


Peeling back the history of Pumpkin Spice 

Pumpkin pie before pumpkin pie! Image credit: Souffle Bombay

The PSL may be a modern novelty, but its roots run deep. The earliest notion of “pumpkin spice” actually dates back to 1621 when the early American settlers arrived in New England. Having been given pumpkins and squashes as gifts by the Native American tribes of the Northeast, the settlers created a low-tech precursor to the pumpkin pie — a hollowed-out pumpkin with milk, honey, and spices baked in hot ashes … It was a little rough around the edges, but the basic idea for pumpkin spice was born!


Gradually these “pumpkin spice” desserts grew in popularity throughout the 17th century and were refined into actual pies and cakes, finally appearing in American cookbooks in the early 19th century.


But the next major milestone for the seasoning wouldn’t occur until 1950 when McCormick would introduce their famous pumpkin spice seasoning blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. The flavor proved so popular it led journalists in the 1990s — years before the advent of the PSL — to ask, “Are we becoming a nation of cinnamon-apple and pumpkin-spice addicts?” In hindsight, the answer was pretty clear.


The late 90s would see pumpkin spice finally reach the coffee world with a number of vendors selling flavored beans to great popularity. However, 2003 was the transformative year. Executives at Starbucks tasked product manager Peter Dukes with developing a popular fall seasonal drink, which after much tinkering and doubt (the concept actually rated low in customer survey popularity!) was honed into the pumpkin spice latte we know today and, here, our story really begins.


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The Pumpkin Spice Latte: fact and fiction

For some people, the topic of pumpkin spice is simple — it’s just delicious; but for many others it’s a loaded subject. Does liking pumpkin spice lattes say something about you? What’s actually in a standard PSL? What’s true and what isn’t? In this section we’ll dive into the myths and spicy mysteries surrounding the latte to see where they stand. 


“Pumpkin spice lattes are made with pumpkin … right?”


WRONG (or mostly wrong) — Well, this is a big one, but it’s probably not a surprise at this point. Most pumpkin spice lattes don’t, in fact, include pumpkin as an ingredient. This was fully the case until 2015, in which Starbucks added a very miniscule amount of pumpkin puree to the syrup used in their lattes following consumer complaints of there being no advertised pumpkin in the “pumpkin” spice lattes. The amount they added was so small food scientists say it had no discernible effect on the flavor of the drinks and made virtually no difference in its nutrition.


And it’s not just what isn’t in pumpkin spice lattes that gives many of us pause, but what is. Many raise the point that PSL’s were never meant to be pumpkin-flavored; they’re meant to be pumpkin spice-flavored — as in evoking the taste of the spices used in the popular holiday dessert. But even this falls short of reality for many of these drinks.


Standard pumpkin spice lattes contain numerous artificial flavors like cinnamic aldehydes for cinnamon taste and terpenes for nutmeg. And many also contain the potential carcinogen “caramel coloring.” These are all good reasons to get your pumpkin spice fix from a small shop that’s transparent about their ingredients instead of a giant corporate chain.


Image Credit: Washington Post

“Pumpkin spice lattes are just for women who buy into seasonal trends”


The Pumpkin spice latte, in its time in the limelight, has become something of a beacon of cultural critique and satire. But is the caricature many have in mind of the typical PSL guzzler fact or fiction?


Turns out, the assumption above is largely incorrect. According to a study conducted by American market research firm NPG Group, roughly half of pumpkin spice consumers are 45 and over and 47 percent are male! When your dad volunteered to walk the dog the other day, maybe he was out secretly enjoying his favorite seasonal latte …


Pumpkin spice lattes are tasty and their appeal is no more unique to your age or gender than the appeal of the dessert from which it draws its inspiration. If you count yourself among the proud PSL faithful or guilty pleasure lovers of the drink, there is no reason to hide your love for them — but you may want to upgrade the way you get your fix.


Why use real pumpkin? It’s healthy and delicious!

We add real pumpkin puree to our pumpkin spice lattes because, frankly, pumpkin is delicious. Its sweet, hearty, umami flavor is the star of many of our favorite desserts and baked goods — and with good reason — you don’t have a legendary dessert with spices alone!


Pumpkin is fabulous stewed and pureed by itself, but it’s also incredibly healthy, offering numerous benefits to those who enjoy it:

  • Pumpkin is vitamin-rich, containing loads immunity improving vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E
  • Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants which can reduce the likelihood of cancer and chronic diseases
  • Its high fiber and nutrient density may help in weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Pumpkin’s rich vitamin A content promotes healthy skin and eyesight


So drop by the cafe and see the difference real pumpkin, real spices, and organic espresso make in your PSL enjoyment! A word caution, however … these are a bit addicting ...


Want to try a delicious real pumpkin latte, but can’t make it out to the cafe? Try this great home recipe here!


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One World Roasters
967 North High St,
East Haven CT 06512

United States
Phone: 1.203.376.1589

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