Starbucks is bringing back the Pumpkin Spice Latte earlier than ever this year. Workers at the coffee chain told Business Insider that the iconic autumnal drink will hit menus on August 27.
Starbucks has not yet officially announced the 2019 Pumpkin Spice Latte launch date. A representative told Business Insider on Monday that the company had nothing to share on the topic at this time.
The news immediately sparked backlash online as people rallied against what they saw as a premature return for the drink.
“Another undeniable sign of climate change,” tweeted presidential candidate Seth Moulton.
While an August 27 launch date may feel premature or a sign that the seasons are shifting, it isn’t that far off of Starbucks’ typical PSL launch period.
August 27 is the earliest official launch ever, but the PSL early release was even earlier in 2014. Even the latest launch ever was less than two weeks later, on September 8 in 2015.
So, why do people complain every year that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is launching earlier than ever?
It’s a question I’ve spent the last six years considering, ever since I started on the franchise and fast-food beat. Here is my best attempt at a unified theory of why it feels like the Pumpkin Spice Latte launch date gets earlier every year.
Starbucks’ official launch dates are getting earlier
Looking at the chart, it is clear that this year’s launch date is actually earlier than years past. But, it still sticks with the established pattern of PSL launch dates.
Prior to 2018, the Pumpkin Spice Latte officially launched on the Tuesday after Labor Day every year. In 2017, Labor Day was on September 4; the PSL launched on September 5. In 2016, Labor Day was on the 5th; the PSL launched on the 6th. In 2015, Labor Day was on the 7th; the PSL had its latest ever launch on the 8th.
During this period, Starbucks superfans could get the Pumpkin Spice Latte early. Typically the chain offered special passes or scavenger hunts to those who craved the PSL the most — often gold card carriers. These early launches happened up to a week before the official, Tuesday-after-Labor-Day launch.
However, as Starbucks revamped its rewards programs, it essentially did away with its gold status-centric tiered system. It makes sense that Starbucks has also ended early launches for a select tier of fans, instead allowing everyone to order the PSL on the same, pre-Labor-Day date.
Starbucks apparently still wants to stick with its Tuesday launch date strategy. As a result, Starbucks has now moved the “official” launch to the Tuesday before Labor Day in 2018 and this year.
If the strategy remains consistent, we can already guess the 2020 launch date. PSL fans, mark your calendars: we’re betting on a September 1, 2020 launch, prior to a later-than-usual Labor Day on September 8.
The hype is getting out of control
So, Starbucks’ official launch has moved from the Tuesday after Labor Day to the Tuesday before. Why does one week make that much of a difference, especially since PSL superfans long had early access to the drink?
It feels like Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte launch date is inching up far earlier than the calendar would suggest. And, a large part of that is the hype around pumpkin spice.
Starbucks may not launch its Pumpkin Spice Latte until around the week of Labor Day, but other brands have no qualms about bringing back their own pumpkin spice products earlier. Kit Kat launched a pumpkin pie flavor in early August. Dunkin’ is debuting its fall lineup on August 21. Even Starbucks got in on the August PSL action, debuting a pumpkin spice creamer on August 1.
These August launches — many out of Starbucks’ control — make it feel as though PSL season is starting earlier than ever, even if Starbucks brings the actual drink back at around the same time every year.
There’s also the customer hype factor. People started talking about the Pumpkin Spice Latte on social media in late July. When people are hyping a drink weeks before it hits menus (something I certainly have fed into by reporting on the launch date), it feels as though the PSL is returning earlier than it is.
Climate change is real
So, we can accept that the PSL’s early debut stretches even further into summer due to competitors’ launches and customers’ hype.
But, I think the weather factor also needs to be accounted for. According to NASA data, 18 of the 19 warmest years in global history have occurred since 2001.
And yes — this affects PSL season.
The average temperature in Newark, New Jersey, the week of September 1 in 2011 was 73 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2018, the average temperature the week of September 1 was 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The temperature didn’t steadily rise every year from 2011 to 2018. But, hotter summers can make the arrival of Pumpkin Spice Latte season feel like whiplash. After all, who is ready to curl up with a PSL when it’s in the 90s?
Ultimately, there are many reasons that people complain about the Pumpkin Spice Latte returning earlier every year. Starbucks’ calendar is changing, the hype can be overwhelming, and our planet is getting warmer at a dangerous rate.
At the end of the day, the most we can hope for is that the lead up to and arrival of Pumpkin Spice Latte season brings a bit of joy to PSL lovers in late August.
Or we could start preparing for PSL season next year — estimated launch date, September 1, 2020.