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Starbucks’ PSL: A Flavor Born from Espresso Shots & Pumpkin Pies

When you think of autumn, there’s a good chance Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) comes to mind. But have you ever wondered how this iconic flavor came to be? Peter Dukes, affectionately known as the “father of the PSL,” spills the beans on the drink’s unique origin.

From Liquid Lab to Global Phenomenon

Back in 2003, at Starbucks’ “Liquid Lab” in Seattle (the earlier avatar of the coffee giant’s R&D space), Dukes and his team brainstormed a whopping 100 different flavor ideas for Starbucks’ inaugural autumn beverage. Among these was the concept of a pumpkin-infused latte. It was a risky move, but the company saw potential and embarked on a series of taste experiments.

Innovation Through Experimentation

Pumpkin-spiced products weren’t exactly mainstream two decades ago, leading the team to think outside the box. As Dukes recounts, “The idea of pumpkin in a beverage did not exist.” To find that perfect blend, they resorted to pouring espresso shots directly onto pumpkin pies, sampling the combined flavors to identify the ideal balance.

The results were more than encouraging. “We realized — wow, that tastes pretty good,” Dukes enthused. The process was communal, with team members either purchasing pies from local stores or baking their own, allowing them to experiment with varied tastes.

Multiple tastings later, they had fine-tuned what we recognize today as the PSL. “We knew we had something special,” Dukes said.

A Timeless Recipe

Today, Starbucks’ PSL combines signature espresso, steamed milk, real pumpkin purée, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Despite being over a decade old, the recipe remains unchanged. Dukes is convinced it’s here to stay, quipping, “I think we might have a revolt on our hands if we changed the recipe.”

A Drink Steeped in Nostalgia

Beyond its delightful taste, the PSL resonates on a deeper, emotional level. As Dukes reflects, autumn is synonymous with changes in weather, children returning to school, and the anticipation of upcoming holidays. The PSL, he believes, encapsulates these emotions.

“It helps evoke those warm, comforting feelings, reminiscent of sitting by a roaring fire with loved ones,” he mused.

In celebrating 20 years of the PSL, Starbucks isn’t just toasting a drink — it’s commemorating an emblem of fall, a flavor that has captured the hearts and taste buds of countless aficionados worldwide.

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