Consumer Reports: McDonald's Coffee Better Than Starbucks

From MSNBC:

Starbucks may be the world’s largest coffee shop chain in the world, but what they serve isn’t as good as what McDonald’s brews, Consumer Reports says.”

McD’s also beat Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts.

“In the March issue, the magazine called the fast food giant’s Premium Roast “cheapest and best….” Consumer Reports sent “trained testers” to two of each restaurant’s locations, where they drank coffee with no cream or sugar.

They characterized McDonald’s coffee as “decent and moderately strong. Although it lacked the subtle top notes needed to make it rise and shine, it had no flaws,” and complained that Starbucks was “strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open.”

We’ve yet to try McDonald’s new joe, but we’ve always been partial to making our own coffee, anyway. —MEGHANN MARCO

A triple-venti-Americano-decaf surprise? [MSNBC]

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  1. AcilletaM says:

    Sadly, McDonald’s coffee is Seattle’s Best which is owned by Starbucks.

  2. Smashville says:

    McDonald’s coffee, amazingly, is damn good.

    I disagree that it’s better than Dunkin Donuts, though…

    All of Starbucks tastes burned…whether I make it at home or get it in the store…it’s like they roast all of their beans to the point of burning…

  3. Lars says:

    At least out in the Northeast, McD’s is going with Paul Newman’s Organics (which for all I know may be supplied by Seattle’s Best) and I have to say that it is not good. I have gotten McD’s coffee along highways in New England and a few restaurants in Boston and elsewhere and I’ve found their coffee to be consistently watery. I also find it annoying that they have flavor shots available, but won’t put that in your hot coffee because it’s only for iced coffee. Seems like they could make more money putting it in whatever I ask for, it is just chemical sugar goo after all.

  4. alexanac says:

    “Chemical Sugar Goo” is a great band name.

  5. timmus says:

    It seems that Consumer Reports of all organizations should know that two locations doesn’t make a very representative sample size.

  6. Scazza says:

    I don’t know about the states, but up in canada, McD’s coffee really isn’t all that bad, its just that for every McDs, there is a Tim Hortons beside it, which usually has 3-5x better tasting coffee…

  7. scourge15 says:

    Will this consumer report “study” be debunked like the child safety seats one was?

    Personally I’m a fan of Juan Valdez coffee here in DC.

  8. OrtizDupri says:

    Here in Hawaii, McDonald’s uses some fancy coffee from Kona, which apparently is amazingly delicious (I don’t drink coffee, but I know that the same brand in stores is fairly expensive). Seems like McDonald’s uses different brand coffee in different places throughout the country. If Consumer Reports really wanted to do a comparison, they’d use the different locations of McDonald’s serving different brands of coffee. I mean, if it was a national magazine or something.

  9. Trai_Dep says:

    Consumer Reports sometimes drops the ball when evaluating items that have aesthetics as part of their bundle of benefits, as we say. Taste, heavenly user interface, style… Their strength is when comparing things quantifiably, and their ferocious lack of bias is a godsend.

    I recall they didn’t like the iPod either, since on a $/MB level, and a checklist of “extra” (read: superfluous to the task of rockin’ & rollin’) features, other MP3 players were “better”. Can’t squeeze iPod’s superior design, UI and click-wheel in a 5×5 table, I guess.

    Seems this might be an issue here.

  10. yahonza says:

    Also, this study is seriously flawed in not being “blind.”

    By sending the tasters to locations to taste rheir coffee, the tasters knew which coffee they were rating. So if they were biased against Starbucks it could influence their judgment. And I can’t imagine two “trained tasters” don’t already have an opinion about just about every popular coffee.

    I just don’t understand why you would do it this way instead of a true blind test, if youwanted reliable results.

  11. TWinter says:

    @yahonza

    I totally agree on the possible Starbucks bias, particularly because they complain that Starbucks tastes burnt. I used to hate Starbucks for the same reason, but I think Starbucks made some changes two or three years ago. I had avoided them for a long time, but I was in another city and went into a Starbucks in desperation and surprise surprise the coffee wasn’t burnt like it used to be. Ever since then, I’ve gone to Starbucks when it’s convenient and I’ve bought some Starbucks beans at the supermarket a couple of times and I haven’t had a single burnt tasting cup. I don’t think that Starbucks is the best coffee in the world, but the burnt charge strikes me as hold-over bias from a couple years back.

    BTW, I always suspected that they burned the coffee on purpose so that customers would switch to higher priced (higher profit!) drinks including lots of milk and sugar which didn’t have the burnt taste.

  12. McDonalds coffee in Chicago is absolute crap. It’s watery and has a hint-o-ass scent. Must be a regional thing like OrtizDupri says…

    I think Starbucks is getting better.. totally agree with you TWinter.

  13. bluwapadoo says:

    Starbucks coffee is way too bitter tasting. I just drink black coffee and cannot stand it. I do think they try to encourage people to buy the more expensive drinks.

    McD’s coffee can be okay. I’ve had good and bad. I am absolutely shocked that they would think McDs was better than Dunkin’ Donuts. DD coffee is great.

    Peet’s coffee is the best, in my opinion. They are always offering different types and it tastes good. If you have a Pete’s Coffee and Tea in your area, I suggest you try it out.

  14. marike says:

    My brother worked at a variety of Starbucks locations over an 8-year period (they were really good to him). He would often tell relatives to avoid the Coffee of the Day at Starbucks – it’s often made with expired coffee beans (on purpose) and will indeed be burnt (which may or may not be on purpose depending on the location and the baristas).

  15. 24fan24 says:

    I believe McDonald’s recently changed their coffee formula so those of you who haven’t had it within the last year or so may be under the wrong impression.

  16. reginae says:

    I’ll never trust Consumer Reports again.

  17. saintjohnson says:

    McDonald’s just changed their brew sometime last year around the time that they had those McGriddle commercials with black guy who noticed his wife for the first time.
    I don’t know what they’re doing in New England, but I’ve gone to a number of McD’s in the southeast and the coffee IS consistently good and better than Starbucks. I don’t know what BK does with their coffee, but when I tried it after noticing McD’s improved coffee, it tasted like potted soil.

    I spoke with a Barista who has worked at Barnie’s and Starbucks and she said that Barnie’s is a better coffee chain.

    She also tells me that Starbucks roasts their coffee beans to point of almost burning the bean to get the most caffeine out of it. That’s why coffee tests show that Starbucks coffee has 3-5 times more caffeine.

    Thats also why Starbucks coffee tastes burned no matter where you make/take it, whether its at your home or your neighborhood chain.

  18. spanky says:

    It’s been years since I’ve even tried Starbucks. I used to try it periodically, at different times, in different places, to see if I was just super unlucky or something, but I gave up eventually.

    I may try it again the next time I feel like buying a one million dollar cup of coffee.

    Anyway, when I’m away from home, like on a road trip or something, I’ll usually just get coffee at 7-11. In the bigger ones, they’ll have a few different kinds of coffee, and I just get whatever seems to have been brewed most recently. It’s not great or even really good, but if you get it fresh brewed, it does not suck.

    When I’m at or near home, though, I stick with local roasters and shops. Assuming some minimum quality standards in roasting techniques and beans, the freshest roast is usually the best bet. (In the Denver metro area, I like Boyers beans and Peaberry’s for already made coffee.)

  19. zolielo says:

    As far as I know as a former coffee importer McDonald’s uses local importers to special bend for them. They do have some quality control to ensure that there is not too much variance however there is bound to be some variance.

    Consumer Reports has been letting me down lately…

  20. Sorenso says:

    I will take the Pepsi challenge on this any day! Was it consumer reports that recently had the issue with the children’s car seat testing? If so, maybe they got these mixed up :)

    Seattle’s best is owned by Starbucks I believe.

  21. Amry says:

    I have always found McDonald’s coffee to be universally nasty. So nasty, in fact, that one time I drank almost an entire cup full before realizing that the extra-nasty taste that day was due to the fact that someone had mixed up the tea filter and the coffee filter and I was drinking watered-down, creamed and sugared hot tea mixed with leftover coffee. Ugh.

    Tim Horton’s has the best fast food coffee ever. If you’re in the South and don’t have access to one, Krispy Kreme is always a close second. If you’re out west, I can’t help you.

  22. Motor_Head says:

    Were they comparing it to Starbucks’ house blend, verona, espresso roast, sulawese, etc?

    I personally love Starbucks’ house blend, followed by either Tim Horton’s or Dunkin Donuts.

    Seriously, I understand the value of Consumer Reports putting consumer-oriented information out there for the masses, but I trust consumerist.com a hell of a lot more.

    This “study” is yet another nail in the coffin for consumer reports (imho). They should have compared coffees of the same cost/class like they do with autos, and base it on non-biased blind tests (like they try to for autos).

  23. Smashville says:

    I find it weird that Burger King is even considered in the test…BK – I’m fairly certain – uses robusta beans (cheap “filler” beans that are generally found in your Folgers/Maxwell House) – as opposed to the better tasting/higher quality Arabica beans…

  24. valel says:

    I’m normally a big critic of McDonald’s however lately I’ve been grabbing a cup of joe to start out my long and helllish day. So far the coffee has been good. One thing you have to remember is that different franchise owners determine the quality of certain menu items and some items are more closely followed.
    As for Starbucks. The other day I was on my way to campus and stopped by their “drive-thru” and bought a cinammon concoction and a raspberry scone. Total cost: 8.59. The girl threw me the bag with the scone and what I assumed was a bag with sugars and creams. I grumbled about the price but was in a big hurry to go. Like the joe pesci guy said in Lethal Weapon 2: “They F*** you in the drive-thru”. I get to class only to find that the bag had a bananna muffin as well. Ahem, that’ll teach me to watch those people more closely next time. I’m really cranky in the morning and might turn into the frank booth character from “blue velvet” if they pull that crap again.

  25. valel says:

    test

  26. valel says:

    test

  27. DieBrucke says:

    Starbuck’s overroasts their coffee. It is quite commonly known that they do this for the reason specified above.

  28. Falconfire says:

    DieBruckee nailed it, Starbucks uses cheap robusta beans too in their coffee which is why its overroasted to hide this fact.

    no one who actually likes coffee ever buys it from Starbucks.

  29. Smashville says:

    Starbucks may overroast their beans and overprice their coffee, but they most definitely do not use robusta beans.

  30. WindowSeat says:

    I have no great love for Starbucks and I usually drink it in airports when there’s nothing else, but their website says they only use arabica beans. I’m going to take them at their word on it. I will say they make a good espressoand their Sumatra is good when it’s on the board.

    As for overroasting, I thinks its all a matter of taste, I like the darker roasts but Starbucks House Blend is pushing my limits. Something about it messes with my stomach.

    Now give me some Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend and I’m happy. I have about five cups of Peet’s between breakfast and lunch and then I switch to Illy Caffe espresso around 3:00PM.

  31. Kornkob says:

    The lack of a blind test in this case is the largest failing of this article, although a large portion of CR ratings have a personal preference component in them– even their car reviews.

    That’s not to say their reviews are bad– I just think that the idea that their testing processes are or every have been purely objective is incorrect. They make an effort to not be biased and they try to make realistic testing scenarios but they are just a reviewer like any other, with their particular point of view and their preferences are reflected in their results.


    However, a couple months back the local Micky D’s had a ‘free newspaper’ promo for their new coffee, which is as good, if not better, than the coffee I make myself.

  32. NewEnglandCliff says:

    I believe we have some posters here who appear to work for Starbucks’ competitors, from their posts of disinformation. “Tests show Starbucks’ has 3-5 times the caffeine”? If such test results were proclaimed it would be the last test from that group as it would be shown to be absurdly ridiculous. “Common knowledge” that they over-roast their beans to increase caffeine? Back to your schools fellas because the more you roast the beans the more you REDUCE the caffeine. Check any serious coffee site or book. And no, Starbucks uses absolutely no robusta beans.

    Starbucks offers many different coffees in many degrees of roast. They do have dark roasts that some palates find too much or burnt, but calling any of their lighter roasts “burnt” would be claiming an practical impossibility.

    Consumer Reports making a declaration by comparing only 2 coffees from only 2 stores is obviously flawed. Still, I know plenty of people who prefer Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds over Starbucks. Many people will always prefer a burger over lamb chops with a garlic aioli, as well.

  33. 4dawgswoof says:

    I have been drinking Seattle’s Best Coffee since the 1970s. It is far superior to starbucks which has a bitter after taste. Somehow though, Mcdonalds has figured out a way to brew Seattle’s Best Coffee with absolutely NO TASTE in the pacific Northwest. I’ve been meaning to ask my friends at starbucks if they sell Mcdonalds a crappy blend of beans.

  34. HaxRomana says:

    While Starbucks may over-roast its beans, they aren’t doing it to make them more caffeinated. A darker roast has less caffeine, as caffeine leaches out of the beans as they are roasted…or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I think it’s different if the coffee is measured out by weight or by volume, because a dark roast has less water; i.e. a half pound of light roast coffee will have less beans in it than a half pound of dark roast. The difference is nominal either way.

  35. lazyazz says:

    What is so surprising about this. Starbucks has never been that great, just convenient. I think they probably go through more milk than coffee anyway.

  36. Bye says:

    Not sure why somebody is claiming that Starbucks’ drip coffee has 3x the amount of caffeine as other coffees because of the “over-roasting”.

    If anything, this “over-roasting” will reduce the amount of caffeine in the bean. It won’t make more caffeine magically appear.

  37. bourgeoisie says:

    Starbucks has been roasting its coffees the same way since the late 70’s, and the original beans and roasting techniques were learned from Alfred Peet himself.

    No matter how much the general public seems to want it to be true, Starbucks is not conspiring against society.

    PS If you’ve ever looked at a Starbucks coffee brewer you would know that it doesn’t have the ability to burn the coffee, it only insulates the hot water that the coffee is made with.

    Also, coffees are brewed fresh every hour, and that’s a standard, so if you feel like the manager needs to lead their team a little better, say something! It can’t get any better if you don’t let the store leadership make an effort to fix things.

  38. B says:

    Who goes to Starbucks and gets a brewed black coffee? I thought the whole point of that place is to get a double-mocha frappachino. And Starbucks just leaves the brewed coffee sitting around on a hot plate all day. McDs or Dunkin moves more brewed coffee, so it’s not sitting around and doesn’t get all acidic.

  39. alicetheowl says:

    My husband and I got a gift certificate for Starbuck’s for Christmas. I got a hot chocolate, and tried a sip of his black coffee. Yep; it still tastes burnt.

    I miss Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, actually. I’m too far South to have any nearby; the closest I have is Krispy Kreme. It isn’t the same.

    So instead, we just buy beans from Higher Ground, and make it at home.

  40. Peet’s all the way!

  41. DCAview says:

    Looks like there’s at least some support for the idea that Starbucks’ coffee has higher caffeine content than other chains’.

    A 2003 study at the University of Florida found that a 16 ounce serving of Starbucks coffee (unclear which blend) contained an average of 259 milligrams of caffeine. The same size serving in a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee had 143 mg.

    A second portion of that study also found that the amount of caffeine in a single Starbucks blend could vary from day to day. UF tested Starbucks’ Breakfast Blend daily for six days and found that a 16 ounce serving ranged from 259 mg to 564 mg.

    (Press release online at http://www.napa.ufl.edu/2003news/caffeinecontent.htm)

    For me, I’ll take Dunkin’ Donuts or Wawa over Starbucks any day (although Starbucks’ Verona blend is mighty tasty, if not always available.)

  42. dsokolowicz says:

    I’m going to have to agree not having these professionals blinded may have had an effect on the scores. Another thing that may have played a huge effect was what Starbucks Coffee were they making and how did they brew it? In a brewer, or a French press? It will come out stronger in a french press.

    As an employee of Starbucks, they have us taste the coffees on a normal basis. Some of the coffees such as the Verona, Komodo, and Gold Coast are roasted to taste very bold, smokey, and earthy. At the same time there are coffees such as Columbia, House Blend, and our new Organic Espresso especially that are very smooth and evenly balanced. They do not have those potent burnt flavors. With the way it sounds they didn’t ask for the mild coffee and were given the default (bold coffee)

  43. dsokolowicz says:

    @Bon Jour, Pee Wee: Petes sucks Go Starbucks!
    A Glamorous grande Late!