It’s 2020: Why Is The Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Part Of The Zeitgeist?

It’s been 17 years since Starbucks first introduced the PSL. Despite all that’s happened (especially this year), here’s why people can’t stop guzzling it.

Batten down your palates and gird your tastebuds: pumpkin spice season is here.

Never mind that we’re still deep in the sweltering depths of summer, the simple idea of woolen sweaters and scarves enough to give us hives. Or that a global pandemic is upending lives, ravaging the economy, and keeping people indoors. Even now, savvy as we have become about being gaslit or lied to, food purveyors are trying to convince us there is a distinct nip in the air and the soft crunch of foliage underfoot. 

And what better way to embrace sweater weather than by mainlining cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice?

Starbucks, the ur-purveyor of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, is dropping the seasonal offering today, almost a month before the official start of fall, embracing the “pumpkin creep” that has pushed the drink up the calendar with every permutation. 7-Eleven plans deploy its pumpkin-flavored coffee —“easily [its] most successful flavored hot beverage,” Jacob Barnes, its senior product director for proprietary beverages, said in a statement — as early as Sept. 2. Dunkin’ Donuts is already offering a full cornucopia of pumpkin-flavored coffee and espresso beverages, pumpkin-spiced drinks, pumpkin-infused bakery treats to bring Americans the “familiar and favorite flavors of the season…earlier than before,” it touted in a press release. 

Despite a pandemic, wild cultural shifts, a backlash to “Becky habits,” and an increase in negative press about Starbucks in the wake of Black Lives Matter, the PSL, as its aficionados refer to it, has maintained its relevance even after the upheaval of the past six months. The answer, it turns out, has everything to do with all the reasons the public should be over a drink that’s already enjoyed a 17-year position within the zeitgeist.

One of the faithful counting down the hours is Marshall Robin, 51, a game developer from Santa Monica, Calif., who starts throwing back PSLs as soon as Starbucks starts selling them. “Because it’s only offered around Thanksgiving, I associate it with that time of year,” he says. “I’m fond of that time of year, so naturally my good feelings about it rub off on the PSL. Also, it tastes good.” The pandemic is unlikely to alter his consumption. “We’ve definitely cut back on a lot of shopping, but we do go out and grab a Starbucks drink multiple times a week,” Robin says about his household. 

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