Answer by Nadia Singer, former barista:
Pumpkin spice latte and peppermint mocha seasons were some of the busiest times of year at the Starbucks I used to work at. It was interesting to see how many new people would show up just to drink one of these “delicacy” items and also to see people who ordered the same thing for 300-plus days a year make the switch. There wasn't a day that passed by leading up to fall that a customer didn't ask when the pumpkin spice latte would be back.
Peppermint mocha season was always a little more strange to me. I know that the drink signifies the “red cup” and holiday season, but the drink is now actually available year around. The drink consists of both peppermint and mocha syrup, milk, espresso, and whipped cream, which are all available in stores 365 days per year. (The only thing not available throughout the year are the little red sprinkles, which don't actually add any flavor, and I'd almost always forget to put them on top. I think they have since been swapped out and are now topped with little chocolate droppings.) I would try to explain this to customers, but it just didn't seem to click. The drink would be ordered at a magnitude higher during the holiday season, but the minute the red cups disappeared, so did the orders. I still only know one person who orders a peppermint mocha throughout the year.
It was a fun, energetic, and busy time of year, with people so happy to have these drinks back in stock, but I definitely would notice a shift in store environment. Retail environments are generally busier to begin with, but it always seemed even a tad more chaotic with an increase of customer complaints. New and existing customers who weren't drinking their typical coffee beverages would find these beverages too rich, too sweet, or too heavy, and I'd find myself remaking drinks at a higher rate than the rest of the year.
I think the things I loved most during this time of year were the decorations and the customer energy. The signage was always so festive. There were lights, gifts, and lots of bright colors. It was always a little warmer and felt a bit cozier outside of the morning rushes. Even with some remakes here and there, customers were so excited about both drinks, and they were embracing the energy of the season and were more appreciative, excited, and jolly.
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