Return of the Great Pumpkin Beverages!

Pumpkin coffee and lattes are back at Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants nationwide.

Too soon for pumpkins?

We’ve become accustomed to pumpkin beers starting to show up on shelves and taps in late August. But if what Dunkin’ Donuts is doing is an indication, the annual pumpkin-flavored beverage craze is only getting hotter.

The coffee and donut chain has already started rolling out its array of pumpkin-flavored coffees, doughnuts and muffins in its New York stores, and plans to have them in selection at all locations nationwide. The company also plans to offer a pumpkin macchiato this fall, and is pushing along its line of salted caramel beverages.

"Dunkin' Donuts' entire autumn array offers one of the largest varieties of pumpkin choices of any national restaurant chain, available all day long," the company said in a press release. "Guests can savor the season with Dunkin' Donuts' delicious pumpkin-flavored coffee and lattes, served hot or iced."

The new and earlier introduction shows just how little the actual weather has to do with consumers’ willingness to take on limited time offerings, especially in terms of flavors. Bars and restaurants are right now still doing well with fruits like watermelon and peach which are peaking right now in many of the northern parts of the country, but the coffee niche has always taken more to the dark, earthy, spicy and mellow flavors more often associated with the fall.

How does a bar take advantage of the growth of pumpkin in beer and coffee? Well, commercial pumpkin syrups are widely available, and many culinary minded bartenders have been concocting drinks based on house-made pumpkin syrups around Halloween and Thanksgiving for some time. And I’m sure there has been at least one pumpkin pie vodka on the market. But what about the possibilities of a chilled and quaffable pumpkin drink for this time of year, rather than when the chill arrives? Dunkin’s coffees are routinely sold iced as well as hot. It’s not as if house-infused spirits aren’t still a vibrant area for exploration; in fact, I’m seeing a surge of that sort of experimentation on menus lately. Maybe some pumpkin-infused bourbon or rye or rum is worth considering as a way to stand apart when it comes time to create the fall drink line-up.

Guessing in advance what flavors are on trend is sometimes risky but I think, if Dunkin’ Donuts is a leading indicator, it will be pumpkin’s autumn.

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