The Death of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

By Wayne Geiger

There’s something magical and wonderful about the changing of the seasons—even if we had to wait until October to experience it this year. Like you, I endured the relentless heat wave wondering if fall was ever going to arrive.

It was a dark night and I was headed home recently, just having turned onto Bucker Tarsney from Highway 50. Illuminating the otherwise dark road, there stood someone’s beautifully lit home—all aglow in orange. The illuminating, warm glow aroused a sensation of warmth and the reminder of wonderful things to come. “Fall has arrived,” I said to myself, smiling, “pecan pie is just around the corner.”

My five-year-old grandson loves the fall season and especially loves to decorate. He loves decorating even more than he loves playing Minecraft. One of his favorite phrases when he comes over is, “I want to do fall decorations.” He’s extremely artistic and has an eye for beauty. “I put some decorations on your desk,” he’ll say proudly. I smile and say, “wow, you’re a good decorator!”

As I sit on the couch in front of my faux fireplace powered by LED technology, I admire the mantle. Greeting me is a miniature, smiling scarecrow, an array of beautifully arranged pumpkins, and a homemade turkey decoration—all courtesy of my grandson, wife, and Hobby Lobby. We have fake leaves growing up our banister rail and even have them over the entrance to the dining room. Throughout the house, we have lanterns, red and gold leaves, and multiple gourds that adorn our living corners. Martha Stewart would be proud.

Like the mysterious power of the full moon, the entrance of the fall season compels us to do some strange things. Having leaves on the banister rail might seem concerning in other seasons and give rise to the need for me to bring out the weed wacker.

But, this is fall and somehow, it makes sense. I do enjoy the colors of the season. I am also looking forward to the thought of Thanksgiving and the opportunity to be with family and enjoy wonderful treats.

But there is one thing about the season that compels me to utter, “bah humbug”. Like clockwork, in late summer, people get a little cra-cra on social media and begin posting their passion for pumpkin spice lattes. To some, pumpkin spice lattes are the unofficial launch of fall.

If you’re not familiar with the concoction, pumpkin spice is a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves. Although I like pumpkin and spice—I’m just not a fan of the combination—unless it’s in a pie or other dessert. It’s not that I haven’t tried it. I have. It sounds yummy—it just doesn’t deliver.

So, where did this obsession with pumpkin spiced lattes come from? The craze didn’t just “organically happen.” Like Frankenstein’s monster, it was birthed deep in a dark, secret laboratory in Seattle complete with scientists, test tubes, pieces and parts. It’s creator: Starbucks.

In 2002, the java giant envisioned a drink that would embody the fall season and subsequently pad the bank account. Although they tested several seasonal flavors, the pumpkin splice latte was the clear winner.

The specialty drink was officially launched in 2003 and ever since then, pumpkin spice lattes have been “a thing” and have, in fact, like Frankenstein’s creation, taken on a life of their own, permeating our society and culture. Starbucks has sold more than half-a-billion (yes with a b) pumpkin spice lattes! According to CNN Business, “the pumpkin spice craze isn’t slowing down. Sales for pumpkin-flavored items increased nearly 5% in 2018 to $511.5 million.”

Over the years, other venues and businesses took notice, hoping to capitalize on the pumpkin spice wave. And now, pumpkin spice flavor is everywhere—even pumpkin spiced teas, pretzels, Cheerios, Oreos, ice cream, and even Cliff bars. Will it ever end?

Thankfully, yes. Of course, like the seasons, fads come and go. Although I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet, I believe the year 2019 will go down as the year that pumpkin spice died. I say, “good riddance.”

You’re probably familiar with SPAM. SPAM is short for spiced ham and is produced by Hormel. Did you know there are more than 12 cans of SPAM products devoured every second? In the fall of 2017, Hormel, just trying to be humorous and create some social media buzz, shared a picture of Pumpkin Spice SPAM on their Facebook page. They were honest and confessed that this was not a real product they were selling.

Not only did the post go viral, but what’s more amazing is that many people commented that they would be interested in such a product. I mean, what else is one expected to eat while sipping on a pumpkin spice latte?

Lo and behold, in August of this year, SPAM proudly announced that they were now producing a legitimate, limited edition, pumpkin spice product for the fall season. You could get your very own pumpkin spiced SPAM–but only through their website and online at Walmart.

The announcement brought cheers and jeers. However, in less than seven hours on the day of release, SPAM sold out all the product that they had.

On their comments’ page, one person wrote, “This spam taste like a sweet Christmas ham. It goes very well in a sweet potato hash topped with eggs! I got four cans and I’m saving the last two for Christmas. You should have made more!” Another person said, “I didn’t think I would like it and I thought it would be too sweet, it’s mildly sweet and savory at the same time with a nice aromatic spice… I was lucky to get this as I didn’t know they would sell out like this and not make more. Please spam come out with this again!” Not everyone was a fan. One person wrote, “What madness have you wrought Hormel? This is a crime against nature and man.”

And just like that, we’ve come to the end of an era—or perhaps an error. Just like Frankenstein’s monster was rejected by his creator, and the general public, people are turning their backs on pumpkin spice. For example, Rasha Ali, in USA Today, wrote, “pumpkin spice isn’t a condiment like ketchup or barbecue sauce; you can’t just slap it on anything you want.” For the New York Post, Lauren Steussy chimed in, “in the wake of the Pumpkin Spice Spam, even the PSL’s strongest base is distancing itself from the drink.”

And so, everything that has a beginning has an end. Naturally, history is best viewed through the rearview mirror, but I believe 2019 will mark the beginning of the necessary death of pumpkin spice.

Years from now, while my grandson is doing his fall decorations thing with Maw Maw, I will share the tale of this memorable day in history. As I sit by my faux fireplace and celebrate its demise, I’ll smile while I eat my pecan pie and drink my caramel mocha latte.

Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.

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