Forget sweater weather, trees changing color, or that first brisk wind. These days, the real sign that fall has officially arrived is the flood of pumpkin spice everything! From the legendary and indulgent Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte to the ridiculous (pumpkin spice kale chips anyone?), it’s impossible to escape that sugary, spicy taste of autumn.
Once reserved for Thanksgiving dinner pies and bread, pumpkin spice has infiltrated coffee shops, breweries, pet stores, and candle vendors alike. This obsession even sparked a sizable backlash as consumers felt crushed by the overwhelming pumpkin spice marketing. Love it or hate it, this fall flavor isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But why did this particular blend of spices once reserved for Turkey Day transform into a seasonal multi-industry behemoth? Let’s dig into the world’s torrid love affair with pumpkin spice.
What Is Pumpkin Spice?
Before we dive into the madness, what is pumpkin spice anyway? If you think about it, many of the products don’t actually taste like or contain pumpkins at all.
First recorded as “pompkin spice” in a 1796 recipe book titled American Cookery, the mix was created to sweeten and enhance the flavor of the bland gourd. Technically though, the gourd itself isn’t necessary for the blend to be consider pumpkin or pumpkin pie spice. Despite the orangey color, even the Starbucks version didn’t contain actual pumpkin until 2015.
Though recipes can differ, according to the one and only Martha Stewart, pumpkin spice blends should be composed of:
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
Though heaps of sugar is added to many recipes, this simple blend has been applied to countless home and culinary delights—plus a few disasters—for generations.
The History of the Pumpkin Spice Obsession
Let’s take a trip back in time to the year of 2003. After the success of their wintertime Peppermint Mocha, Starbucks wanted fall to enjoy some holiday fun. After beating out other competitors like an orange spice latte or a cinnamon streusel concoction, the Pumpkin Spice Latte—also affectionately called the PSL—prevailed and was unleashed onto the coffee-drinking world.
It was an immediate hit and this year marks the 15th anniversary of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Boasting over $100 million in annual sales according to Forbes, over 350 million sold since its launch, and its own verified Twitter account @TheRealPSL, Starbucks clearly reigns as the Pumpkin Spice king.
But they’re not the only ones in the game. As soon as the craze took off, nearly every coffee shop coast-to-coast wanted in on the action from significant players like Dunkin’ Donuts to small, local mom-and-pop shops.
This still leaves the big question of—well—why? Of all the flavor combinations, how has a spice blend created to make gourds less boring taken the world by storm?
The obvious answer is simple. People love the taste! A perfect balance of sweet and savory, it’s a unique, versatile, satisfying flavor that’s easy to integrate with endless treats.
Many also attribute the love our love of autumn and the nostalgia that goes with it. Even before the PSL hit the market, those scents and flavors remind us of fall, family, and the upcoming holiday season. Pumpkin spice is essentially edible, aromatic happy memories—and what’s better than that?
Make Your Own Pumpkin Spice Coffee Drink
Inspired to create your own caffeinated pumpkin spiced coffee drink? We were too! However, since fall’s a little warmer here in Hawaii, we created our own delicious take by making a pumpkin spice cold brew using Carta Coffee’s own 100% Kona coffee beans.
We made our cold brew in a French press for 4 cups, so if you choose a different size, adjust the following ingredients accordingly.
Pumpkin Spiced Cold Brew by Carta Coffee Merchants
Makes 4 cups
- 1 Cup Carta Coffee beans, coarsely ground
- 4 Cups filtered, room-temperature water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Combine all dry ingredients into the French press
- Slowly pour in water while stirring with a wooden spoon
- Place French press lid on carafe and ensure plunger is up
- Let seep in the refrigerator for 12–24 hours
- When time’s up, take out of the fridge and slowly push down on the plunger to filter out all grounds, spices, etc.
- Pour your completed pumpkin spice cold brew into a tall glass cup and enjoy! Add a splash of milk, cream, or even a dash of cinnamon on top for an extra indulgence.
- To save any of your pumpkin spice cold brew for later, pour remaining brew into a separate glass jar or container and tightly seal.
- Store in your refrigerator for up to 7–14 days
Easy. Delicious. Nostalgic. No matter the weather, there’s always a good excuse to treat yourself with pumpkin spice. Tis the season, right?