By Liz Drew
Right after Labor Day, my Facebook page started lighting up with images of the familiar white and green Starbucks cup labeled with the letters, “PSL.”
“It’s back! It’s back!” my friends exclaimed as if suddenly the clouds had parted, giving way to pure joy in the form of a warm, flavored, caffeinated beverage. The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte (familiarly known as the “PSL”) has returned for a limited time and is back this season earlier than ever before.
According to a recent article on CNBC.com, following the longstanding craze of the PSL, retailers are rushing to introduce new pumpkin foods and beverages or incorporate the flavor option into familiar menu items. But I’d argue it’s more than that – has any other product garnered so much brand/product loyalty as this celebrated beverage from Starbucks?
I don’t think its success is driven as much by the pumpkin flavor trend (the PSL celebrated its 10th anniversary this year) as much as it’s the emotional experience that comes with enjoying a “PSL.” For most, it signals the arrival of fall – turning leaves, crisper weather, shorter days and an escape from the humid summer – something that Southern Californians aren’t all too familiar with.
The signature drink even became one teenage girl’s last wish before she tragically passed away earlier this month from an epileptic seizure. After Alyssa O’Neill of Pennsylvania passed unexpectedly, her parents ordered 40 pumpkin spice lattes for customers at a local Starbucks, asking only that they enjoy them in her memory. Starbucks returned the favor and ordered 50 more and the movement kept going. Alyssa’s final request for a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has now inspired a global “pay-it-forward” campaign in her memory.
Growing up on the East Coast, my own personal connection with the Starbucks PSL brings me back to Saturday mornings in New York City, clad in wool sweaters, vests, fingerless mittens and knit caps, with only one important decision to make – “whip or no whip?” I could never have that same nostalgic experience ordering the same drink at Peet’s, Kean’s or anywhere else.
I think the wild success of and loyalty to the Starbucks PSL has less to do with a trend and more to do with nostalgia. There is no exact science or formula as to why it becomes more and more popular every year.
This Sunday, Sept. 29 is National Coffee Day. I’ll skip the giveaways and celebrate with my very first PSL of the season (probably sans vest and mittens). How about you?
I’d like to hear your thoughts as well as any favorite memories of the Starbucks PSL and if it marks the return of fall for you.