This morning, we brought you an interview with flavorist Marie Wright, who helped demystify the cultural phenomenon of pumpkin spice flavors and why everyone is either obsessed with them, or obsessed with hating on them. Of course, with pumpkin spice being the cultural touchstone that it is, there are a lot of voices out there working to make sense of its celebrity. And Jasmin Malik Chua, writing for Refinery29 this week, is one of them.
Chua’s deep dive into pumpkin spice, “It’s 2020: Why Is The Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Part Of The Zeitgeist?”, is well worth a read, as it unpacks the feelings associated with this autumnal flavor combination and how each successive year of its reign (it’s now been 17 years since Starbucks introduced the PSL) adds to the mythos of what is otherwise a rather simple combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and allspice.
“What Starbucks did in January 2003 was bounce pumpkin spice from baking to beverages,” Chua explains. After the spice blend made this leap—and after brands everywhere saw how successful it was—there was no reason not to introduce it to anything and everything, both edible and non. Anything to awaken our senses to a cozy, highly marketable time of year.
Indeed, looking at this year’s earlier-than-ever release of all things pumpkin, from beer to coffee, it’s not immediately clear that consumers are actually seeking the comforts of fall ahead of schedule because of a miserable COVID-addled summer they’re hoping to forget. Instead, it’s that corporations like Starbucks need us to feel that way so they can extend the sales season of its reliable top performers, and they’re hoping that the power of suggestion (more like an onslaught this year) is enough to convince us that, yes, actually, we could do with some cinnamon and nutmeg right now, thank you for asking!
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Chua’s whole pumpkin spice history can be found here. After reading it, though, I still found myself craving the Oatmilk Honey Latte more than anything else.