What’s in the Pumpkin Spice Latte? A history of your fave fall drink

There are a lot of things we look forward to every fall: Halloween, cooler temperatures, the pretty changing leaves, and of course, the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Whether you drink it hot, iced, or even as a Frappuccino, chances are the PSL is one of your favorite fall traditions. But how did it all start? How long has the PSL been around? And once and for all—what is in the Pumpkin Spice Latte? All your questions are about to be answered.

It’s not like it just materialized at Starbucks one day—there’s actually a PSL origin story. In fact, the drink was originally inspired by other holiday drinks that had become popular: the Eggnog Latte and the Peppermint Mocha.

According to Peter Dukes, the granddaddy of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, he and a small team met in 2003 at the Liquid Lab—a research space where Starbucks dreams up all of our favorite drinks—to test out ideas for a new fall drink.

They tasted pumpkin pie followed by sips of coffee, trying to figure out which flavors worked together and which didn’t, and then spent three months perfecting the recipe. They ended up using pumpkin spice sauce, which includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, to flavor the drink we know and love today, adding that to espresso and steamed milk, and topping it all off with whipped cream and pumpkin pie seasoning.

But the PSL wasn’t immediately the fall drink.

According to SeattleMet, the PSL was one of four drinks forwarded along to Starbucks’ top brass for final approval; the others were an orange-flavored latte, a chocolate-caramel drink, and a cinnamon streusel latte (that we now know as the Cinnamon Dolce Latte).

But the PSL ultimately reigned supreme, and the launch was a major success.

Starbucks typically tries out new drinks with a market test, and in the case of the PSL, this means that the drink was released to 100 Vancouver and Washington, D.C. stores in fall 2003 first to see how people liked it. Spoiler alert: They loved it.

“Within the first week of the market test, we knew we had a winner,” Dukes told Starbucks. “Back then, we would call store managers on the phone to see how a new beverage was doing, and you could hear the excitement in their voices.”

Today’s PSL clocks in at 380 calories per 16-ounce cup, and these are the exact ingredients in the drink, according to the Starbucks website:

"Milk, Pumpkin Spice Sauce [Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% Or Less Of Fruit And Vegetable Juice For Color, Natural Flavors, Annatto, Salt, Potassium Sorbate], Brewed Espresso, Whipped Cream [Cream (Cream, Mono And Diglycerides, Carageenan), Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid)], Pumpkin Spice Topping [Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove, Sulfiting Agents]."

These days, PSLs are everywhere, and it’s hard to imagine fall without them. So next time you order a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks, remember how it all happened—and how, if things went differently, you might be drinking something else entirely when the leaves start changing.