Whether you love it or you hate it, pumpkin spice season is back! Time for cozy sweaters and pumpkin patch photoshoots... but wait, isn’t it still summer? As someone with absolutely no interest in pumpkin spice anything, it seems like the return of the PSL is always a smack in the face saying that summer is over, and it’s time to go back to school.

I personally was convinced that the launch of pumpkin spice season was getting earlier each year, so I decided to do some sleuthing to see if my assumptions were correct. The true queen of pumpkin spice is Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, so I started my research there.


The infamous, trendsetting drink, originally created in 2003, initially contained no pumpkin ingredients after recipe testing showed it to be better with just the spice and no pumpkin. Only in 2015 did Starbucks add actual pumpkin to the ingredients. Today, pumpkin puree can be found in the list of ingredients on the Starbucks website.

Photo by Heidi Kaden on Unsplash

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In the past five years, the release date of the drink has floated around the end of August. From 2018 until 2021, the release date had been getting slightly earlier, but this year is almost a whole week later than last year’s debut.

2022 - August 30th

2021 - August 24th

2020 - August 25th

2019 - August 27th

2018 - August 28th

A Business Insider article from 2019 also discussing whether the Starbucks launches are getting earlier helped me locate the release dates from even longer ago. Between 2011 and 2017, the pumpkin spice season hovered around September 5th, give or take a few days.

As is evident, the date has fluctuated in the last decade but not by such extreme degrees. One reason posited in the article for the seemingly earlier arrival is climate change. No, really. As August and September have been getting increasingly hotter, the release of a fall-themed drink seems more incongruous. It physically still feels like summer, but capitalism is telling you otherwise.

How Competitors Compare

Despite Starbucks’ release date staying relatively consistent, especially in the past five years, other pumpkin spice competitors may be a contributing factor to why the season seems earlier. Dunkin’s pumpkin menu was reoffered starting August 10th and Krispy Kreme's even earlier on August 8th. The rage against pumpkin spice is a bit more understandable when pumpkin spice ads are showing up during what is, for most, still pool party season. McDonald's actually has the latest pumpkin spice offering, just one day later than Starbucks – August 31st.

TJ's Pumpkin Palooza

However, it’s not just the drink world that has been sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; just take a look inside your beloved Trader Joe's. Each year, Trader Joe’s puts on what is affectionately called the “Pumpkin Palooza" (technically, this year, dubbed the "Pumpkin Product Parade"), a release of the pumpkin-everything lineup of products from overnight oats, to dog treats, to alfredo sauce, and much, much more. Finance Buzz understood the assignment of tackling the many pumpkin products and uncovering which are the best, putting out a listing for a "Pumpkin Spice Pundit." This job entails trying all the pumpkin products, photographing them, and rating them on several factors. Finance Buzz will then use the information to recommend to shoppers what to purchase.

In 2020, two YouTubers, Kristen and Jen, from The Kitchen and Jorn Show decided to take on the challenge of trying all of Trader Joe’s fall foods without the monetary incentive. (Note: they tried all fall-related foods, not just pumpkin ones.) In the video, they taste and rate 29 fall-themed food items. Our very own Spoon colleagues performed their own Trader Joe's pumpkin spice taste test a few years back and found some big hits but also some misses. Needless to say, Trader Joe’s really goes all out for fall. Though some of their products might miss the mark, their fall spirit never fails to astound. 

Instagram Staying Ahead of the Trends

Even Instagram bakers already began releasing their seasonal recipes in August. Tessa from Handle the Heat captioned her August 30th post of pumpkin bars with brown sugar frosting saying, “I tried to wait until September but just can’t do it anymore.” A lot of us may have rules in our heads about when we are allowed to begin and end the pumpkin spice celebration, but is more celebration really a bad thing?

So, Why Not Have the PSL Always?

If people like pumpkin so much, why not have it the whole year? In the witty food podcast, A Hotdog is a Sandwich, Josh Scherer talks about the seasonality of the McRib. He suggests that manufactured scarcity is purely a marketing tactic, saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder." While PSLs are only briefly mentioned in the episode, the same logic can likely be applied to them. As they are a limited-time treat, people rush out to buy these seasonal items; as a result, they have a novelty that they would lose if offered year-round.

Even if Starbucks isn’t really releasing the PSL that much earlier, there is undeniably an earlier celebration of fall each year. Which begs the question: why are we getting into the spirit so early? I think the end of summer and back to school make for a difficult time of year for everyone, and having these scents, foods, and drinks helps ease the transition by creating something to look forward to. So, if the start of the semester and soon-to-be dropping temperatures are daunting to you, ignore the haters, go out and grab a PSL, and know that the summer coming to an end may not be such a bad thing — because pumpkin spice season has arrived.