Judging Java: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Coffee Columnist

Few things are as inescapable as time. No matter how hard you fight it, no matter how hard you deny it, time is going to pass. People will grow older, presidents will be replaced, new blockbuster film franchises will overtake old ones. The leaves will always change with the seasons and then fall. The roaring cold of winter will always overtake the brisk autumn, only to be replaced by the breath of springtime and the radiance of summer. 

Without fail, the years will pass, and things in our day to day lives will become uncertain. Each day can and will feel a little more hollow, like something has been lost. At times of the year we all expect certain things, and sometimes those things won’t come. Sometimes it will be because they won’t, other times because they can’t. 

Only one thing is for certain. Every year, Starbucks will bring back the Pumpkin Spice Latte. And every year, people will go nuts for it.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte has a very rich pop-cultural history. I went pretty in depth about the cultural significance of this drink and how it essentially saved Starbucks’ reputation and resolidified them as the top coffee chain. For the newer readers, or those who just happened to miss that issue, I’ll go over the background of the drink really fast.

In the year 2002, Starbucks introduced the Peppermint Mocha. (As a side note, the Peppermint Mocha is an absolute banger of a cup of coffee and is the only Starbucks drink to ever receive a perfect score from this column.) The Peppermint Mocha was a huge success, and in January of 2003 Starbucks executives began brainstorming ideas for other seasonal beverages. Out of these brainstorming sessions, the Pumpkin Spice Latte was born. It changed everything.

In the Fall of 2003, the drink was tested in stores in Vancouver and Washington D.C., and was a huge success. The drink was so popular that Starbucks had to begin expediting resources to the stores serving it. The next year the Pumpkin Spice Latte launched nationwide, and now it’s inescapable.

At the time, the Pumpkin Spice Latte was a coveted item. It was very much a word of mouth situation. Now, however, the latte is so engrained in coffee culture that every year there’s no need for word of mouth, the drink’s reputation sells itself.

But how does it stack up?

It’s great. I mean, what did you expect? It’s incredibly popular for a reason. It’s not my favorite thing on Starbucks menu, not by a long shot, but I still love it very much. Since not much has really changed with the Pumpkin Spice Latte since my review last year, I don’t really have a lot else to add, other than that it’s back and worth grabbing a cup of. That being said, I do have a few thoughts.

First, the drink is very syrupy. For a lot of Starbucks fans, syrupy is a selling point. I prefer my coffee as straight and traditional as possible, so I personally don’t love the sugary taste of the pumpkin syrup. However, this comes down to a matter of personal opinion, and there are plenty of people who prefer the syrupy drink and can’t stand the taste of straight coffee.

Second, the presentation of the latte was underwhelming. This is an incredibly minor complaint, and nothing at all against the Starbucks employee who made the drink, however the advertising for this typically shows pristine lattes with dollops of whipped cream and photoshopped perfect pumpkin seasoning. My drink was just sort of a latte. I’ve included a photo of it.

In general, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a great cup of coffee. But it isn’t a perfect cup. Give it a try if you’re a fan, but at the same time don’t expect it to change your life.

Got a recommendation for a coffee shop? Please email [email protected]. I try to accommodate all requests, it’s just a matter of when I am able to get to the respective shops.