Despite the availability of pumpkin spice, it took several decades more before people had the history-altering idea to combine it with America’s favorite caffeinated beverage. In the “Nutrition Talk column of the March 1980 edition the Montreal Gazette, authors Jane Hope and Dr. Elizabeth Bright-See first mention pumpkin pie spice as a sugar substitute. “Five cups of coffee with just a level teaspoon of sugar adds up to 90 calories a day you really don’t need,” they wrote, while pushing for cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or ginger as possible substitutes.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that some coffee roasters initially began experimenting with pumpkin spice flavoring. A roaster called Home Roast Coffee near Tampa, Florida, appears to have been among the first to combine pumpkin and coffee, according to a report from the Chicagoist. Within two years, the nascent pumpkin spice movement had spread to as far away as Allentown, Pennsylvania.
In a 1998 profile on a new joint venture between longtime Pennsylvania company Fasig’s Coffee and the ice cream brand Breyer’s Coffee, “Pumpkin Spice” was mentioned three times as an exotic and appealing coffee flavor.
Randy Fasig, the owner of Fasig’s Coffee, told DCN that he first began flavoring roasted coffee with pumpkin spice in the fall of 1997. Said Fasig, “It wasn’t until the early 2000s that it really took off, though.”
While there may have been some isolated dabbling in pumpkin and coffee concoctions, the big bang in pumpkin spice can be traced straight to 2003, when Starbucks first introduced the PSL.
“The handcrafted Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) was born in 2003 and is Starbucks top-selling seasonal beverage of all time [sic]” a Starbucks media relations representative wrote in an email to DCN. To date, the coffee retail giant has sold more than 424 million of its fatty, sugar-filled pumpkin spice lattes across the globe.
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