Dear Starbucks: We Just Want A Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte

Starbucks hot coffee cup cafe
Starbucks hot coffee cup cafe - Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Navigating the world as a vegan can be difficult. I've done it for most of my young adult life, and it never gets any easier to hear someone say, "Isn't that the same thing as being gluten-free?" or "Well, don't you miss bacon?" But the most challenging thing during the fall season is going for a coffee trip to Starbucks, reading the menu, and seeing the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). For most, the sight of this fall beverage listed on the menu is a welcomed sign of a beloved time of the year — filled with trips down the fall decor aisle of Target and cozy, oversized sweaters. But for vegans, seeing PSL listed on the Starbucks menu is an annual crushing blow to the heart.

Despite the company's overall movement towards expanding its plant-based foods and beverage offerings, it has thus far failed to offer Americans a plant-based, vegan version of the famed PSL. Neglecting to offer a dairy-free version of this beverage (or revamping the recipe entirely) doesn't just impact vegans either; it also means folks who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy products can't sip on a PSL during the fall season. Now, after nearly 20 years of neglect, it's time to finally make this happen.

Read more: 30 Best Hot Drinks At Starbucks, Ranked

PSL Consumption Is Growing, And So Is Veganism

Hands wrapped around pumpkin coffee
Hands wrapped around pumpkin coffee - Tenkende/Getty Images

The pumpkin-spiced beverage craze might just be one of the more remarkable beverage phenomenons of the past several decades. Every year, a cult-like group of devotees wait (not so) patiently for the arrival of pumpkin drinks, yearning for the taste of cinnamon and cloves.

Although the Starbucks PSL kicked off the trend, competitor brands like Dunkin' and Dutch Bros. have gone on to offer similar drinks, also containing dairy products. At the moment, plant-based sippers need to rely on vegan pumpkin spice beverages at Peet's Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (by substituting the powder for the syrup), Whole Foods, and 7-Eleven gas stations — but geography and accessibility issues can sometimes make that difficult. Starbucks undeniably has more locations than the rest, and this nationwide reach is one of the reasons it should be more accommodating to all.

But perhaps there is hope. In 2020, Starbucks in the United Kingdom made headlines for being the first region worldwide to offer plant-based Pumpkin Spice Lattes (with a vegan topping) on its menu. Unfortunately, it's now three years later and there has still been no movement by US stores to follow suit.

A Hidden Ingredient Makes The PSL Not Vegan

Canisters of pumpkin spice syrup
Canisters of pumpkin spice syrup - Skyler Sargent/Shutterstock

If a vegan were to substitute the dairy-based milk in a Pumpkin Spice Latte with a dairy-free alternative (and, of course, pay a surcharge in the process), you'd think that would be a solid solution. You'd be wrong.

Veganizing a Pumpkin Spice Latte is much trickier than you'd expect. The pumpkin spice syrup used in these beverages, whether hot or iced, is made with skim milk, alongside sugar, pumpkin purée, and other flavoring agents. Unfortunately, there is no secret menu hack to replicate the same flavors as a traditional PSL, minus the dairy.

Is it possible to make the syrup without the skim milk? It could be, but it would require Starbucks to engage in some recipe tweaking. Its mocha sauce, for the sake of comparison, is made dairy-free with sugar, water, and cocoa. While it is feasible that Starbucks could play around with thickeners and additives to reach the same creaminess as its skim milk formula (substituting, perhaps, oat milk), it would take some effort.

Starbucks Has Introduced Vegan Options In Recent Years

Starbucks non-dairy latte creamer
Starbucks non-dairy latte creamer - Starbucks

Over the past decade or so, Starbucks seems to have become notably more progressive with its vegan offerings. The best Starbucks drinks for vegans include the Toasted Vanilla Oatmilk Shaken Espresso, Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso, Iced Coconut Matcha Latte, and Nitro Cold Brew with Oatmilk Foam. So, why am I complaining about one beverage when there are other options to choose from? Because the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a signature drink, a high-profile entry that becomes ubiquitous this time of year. Excluding vegans just feels cruel.

In a scramble to get my Pumpkin Spice fix, I've been known to frantically rush to the refrigerator section at my nearest Target. After all, Starbucks does sell a vegan pumpkin-spiced coffee creamer made with almond milk and oat milk base. But, why can't the company just take that same commercially-available creamer and sell it in its cafes? I know it's not cool to carry around a flask of creamer, pouring it into my almond milk latte when I get to the counter. But at this point, desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Company Still Has A Long Way To Go

Starbucks with PSL sign
Starbucks with PSL sign - Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Although I might not be able to entirely decipher why Starbucks hasn't released a vegan PSL at its American stores, I can postulate into oblivion. For starters, is there enough demand to justify the money that would be required to research and development it? According to information gathered by plant-based meal replacement company Soylent, the number of vegans in American grew 30-fold between 2004 and 2019 — a window which, ironically enough, roughly coincided with the launch of the PSL.

Sure, researching and developing new products (or, in this case, a product modification) isn't cheap. But that cost is typically borne by the consumer, and vegans are already accustomed to paying that $0.75 surcharge for alternative milk. So, what's another surcharge, especially to those who already pay over five bucks for a cup of coffee? Furthermore, would the cost of substituting skim milk with another thickener really be that expensive?

I don't consider myself a complainer, and I realize I'm navigating a world that was not built with plant-based consumers in mind. Ultimately, I just want to sip my Pumpkin Spice Latte, in plant-based peace.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.