- When Peter Dukes helped invent the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003, he had no idea that the drink would become an icon – and a symbol of what it means to be “basic.”
- Coming to terms with the incredible success of the PSL was “definitely a process,” Dukes told Business Insider’s podcast Household Name.
- Today, Dukes said he doesn’t think too much about the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s reputation. But, if people having fun with the drink means it is basic, “so be it,” he said.
- Listen to Business Insider’s new podcast “Household Name,” to hear the history of the PSL from Dukes’ perspective. To hear the full story, subscribe to the podcast for free here.
The inventor of the Pumpkin Spice Latte had no idea what the drink would become when he helped create the iconic beverage in 2003.
At the time, Peter Dukes was helping Starbucks try to come up with a seasonal beverage that could fit the fall menus. One idea the team came up with was a pumpkin pie-inspired coffee.
The drink that would become the Pumpkin Spice Latte was a long shot, Dukes told Business Insider’s podcast Household Name, with focus groups struck by how unprecedented the combination was. But, it struck a cord. And when Starbucks began testing it in stores, it immediately became apparent that Starbucks had a hit on its hands.
“I’ll never forget coming in and pulling the numbers and looking at the numbers and how well it sold and then you just knew you had a winner,” Dukes told Household Name.
Now, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is an icon. A symbol of both fall and mainstream basic culture, it has a larger than life reputation – one that Dukes has been grappling with over the last 15 years. According to Dukes, coming to terms with the incredible success of the PSL was “definitely a process.”
“I am now comfortable with when my daughters’ friends come up and say, ‘Oh you worked on the PSL,'” Dukes said. “I’m like, yeah it was a fun experience, I worked with a great team on it and you know, you never know when you take risks, you never know what’s going to happen with it.”
Dukes, who still works at Starbucks focused on espresso-based innovation, has two decades of experience in the coffee business. So, there is a bit of irony in one of his creations being seen as a basic icon.
Noreen Malone, a features editor at New York Magazine who wrote an analysis of the term basic in 2014, defined the word as a term “some women were using it to describe other women who they didn’t think had interesting taste.” In other words, it’s not a label a coffee connoisseur would necessarily enjoy.
Still, Dukes insisted he doesn’t think too much about the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s reputation today.
“People seem to have fun with the PSL,” Dukes said, noting the beverage has become a “marker of fall.”
He added: “And, if that’s basic so be it.”
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