Why Is McDonald's Coffee so Good?

Updated on March 19, 2015

I'm not a gourmet coffee connoisseur or anything, but I like a daily cup of coffee both for the flavor and the caffeine. I noticed that McDonald's in particular seems to have surprisingly good coffee, and I was interested to hear that many people agree with me. But is it really better than the coffee at other chains? If so, what makes it taste so good?

To answer the first question, I devised a fun little informal experiment. My office is located within a block of a Peet's Coffee and Tea, a Starbucks Coffee, and a McDonald's. I purchased a small black coffee from each cafe and tried them together to compare the taste.

Of course, everyone has different flavor likes and dislikes, so I encourage you to try this experiment for yourself to decide if you agree or disagree. Here are the results I came up with from comparing the coffee of these 3 establishments.

NOTE: I am comparing only plain black drip coffee from each establishment. I do not address other types of coffee drinks (cafe mocha, iced coffee, cafe latte, cappuccino, etc) in this Hub.

Peet's Coffee and Tea

Cost: $1.23

Roast: Dark

Bitterness: Extremely Bitter

Flavor: Burnt

Peet's Coffee and Tea is a San Francisco-based West Coast coffee chain with locations in California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington. Peet's specializes in dark-roasted arabica coffee.

The black coffee I purchased at Peet's had an extremely strong burnt, bitter aftertaste. It was actually pretty awful. For a specialty roaster, I was thoroughly unimpressed.

A small coffee from Peet's Coffee and Tea.
A small coffee from Peet's Coffee and Tea. | Source

Starbucks Coffee

Cost: $1.65

Roast: Dark

Bitterness: Somewhat Bitter

Flavor: Mild, Dark

Starbucks is a Seattle-based global coffee chain with thousands of locations in 61 countries. Starbucks specializes in dark roasted coffee beans, though occasionally they offer limited lighter roast options.

The coffee I purchased at Starbucks was much better than Peet's in my opinion. The taste was somewhat bitter, with a very faint hint of smokiness. Overall, the coffee's flavor was mild. Not bad, but unremarkable.

A small coffee from Starbucks Coffee.
A small coffee from Starbucks Coffee. | Source

McDonald's McCafe

Cost: $1.09

Roast: Medium

Bitterness: Somewhat Bitter

Flavor: Slightly Nutty

McDonald's is a massive worldwide fast food franchise, and the McCafe is the McDonald's menu offering various types of cafe-style drinks such as espresso drinks, iced coffees, blended coffee drinks, and more.

The coffee I purchased from the McDonald's McCafe had the same level of bitterness as the coffee from Starbucks, but it contained much more flavor. I noticed a pleasant mild slightly nutty taste. Not bad.

A small coffee from the McDonald's McCafe.
A small coffee from the McDonald's McCafe. | Source


Coffees ranked by price from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. McDonald's McCafe Coffee
  2. Peet's Coffee
  3. Starbucks Coffee

Coffees ranked by taste from best to worst:

  1. McDonald's McCafe Coffee
  2. Starbucks Coffee
  3. Peet's Coffee

After tasting the coffee from these three chain coffee houses side-by-side, I have concluded that in my opinion, McDonald's is indeed the best. Don't get me wrong. Starbucks coffee isn't bad, it's just bland and unremarkable. Peet's, on the other hand, is foully bitter. If you find yourself in a Peet's, stick to the tea (which is quite excellent) or the blended coffee drinks.

Coffees from McDonald's, Starbucks, and Peet's.
Coffees from McDonald's, Starbucks, and Peet's. | Source

So, WHY Is McDonald's Coffee so Good?

Normally, McDonald's is associated with low quality, cheap merchandise. The title "Mc" is sometimes applied to other things such as "McMansions" to denote poor construction and lack of originality. So how is it that McDonald's coffee is outperforming its specialty competitors? Here are a few possible reasons:

McDonald's Coffee is Fresh

McDonald's locations and franchises brew fresh coffee every 30 minutes. You'll never get coffee that's been sitting out for hours or getting stale.

McDonald's Coffee is Gourmet

Surprisingly, McDonald's coffee is gourmet. Gaviña is the coffee supplier for McDonald's and they use a blend of arabica coffee beans grown in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

McDonald's Coffee is Medium Roast

McDonald's uses a medium roasted blend rather than dark roasted coffee. The lighter roast brings out the coffee's nutty, chocolaty undertones without causing excessive bitterness or a burnt flavor.

PROTIP: Lighter roasted coffee also means more caffeine. Caffeine is burnt off as the coffee is roasted, so the lighter the roast, the stronger the kick because the less caffeine has been burnt away.

Which coffee chain brews the best drip coffee in your opinion?

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    • profile image

      Susan 5 days ago

      I always go to McDonalds for my cup of black coffee when traveling and on the way to work. I have had breakfast in expensive restaurants and very few are any better and some not as good.

    • profile image

      Andrew Johnson 2 months ago

      For ice coffee, i think vienamese french style coffee is the best.

    • profile image

      Bobby Stafford 3 months ago

      I have long believed that McDonald's coffee is consistently better than Starbucks'. Since I do not usually drink "special" coffee creations, I have no opinion on different lattes, etc. My wife and I are both longtime coffee drinkers, and having spent many years in Germany, we still believe that German coffees, at least most of their brands, are far superior to other coffees. At home, we drink Keurig cup coffee, primarily Tully's and Green Mountain blends, most of which are excellent. But for coffee outside the home, nothing comes close to McDonald's.

    • profile image

      Simon brown 3 months ago

      I have always rated McDonald's for there coffe as I only like ground coffe and an excellent choice when I'm driving on a long journey and very good value too compared with other outlets. How ever I have recently had there coffee in two different reasturant in different parts of the country and I'm so disappointed as o not both occasions it's been instant coffee served. Has anyone else experienced this.

    • profile image

      Don 3 months ago

      Yes, MICKIE D'S the best.. I suggested to the owner of the Timmies store in our town to do a Blind test & compare.

      Didn't happen, they know McDonald's would be the favorite. Never mind the cost difference, because I only buy one small per day. Why pay more for less taste.

      Not in Don's world.

    • profile image

      Brad 7 months ago

      Hi I enjoyed your article. This reminds of me something that I noticed. I did a taste test and purchased various brands of coffee that were labeled 100% Arabica. They were in the packages and brewed by drip.

      I noticed that coffee from the USA was thicker and had a cocoa taste.

      The Canadian coffee samples were not thick and had no hint of cocoa.

      They both tasted great just different. I was surprised that 100% Arabica coffee could taste so different. I guess different regions of the world like different flavor profiles.

    • profile image

      Max 7 months ago

      I love Micky D's coffee. at home I use a percolator, yes, you read that right. trust me, best coffee in the world comes from a percolator.

    • profile image

      John 8 months ago

      Love your review and agree wholeheartedly! One part of MD's taste is a smokey, almost charcoaly flavor that isn't burnt like most dark roasts.

      So the question is: How can we recreate that taste at home? I've been trying for 3 years and can't do it.

      I think the secret is in the blend. Most 'gourmet' coffees are single origin. It's cheaper to do a blend and I think that is how they get their unique flavor profile.

      I want to try some experiments with differing proportions of light, medium, and dark roast beans.

      If anyone has any experience or has tried this, I'd love to hear it!

      - John

    • profile image

      finn liam 9 months ago

      I agree with you that McDonalds is much better than the other two you mentioned and I never quite knew why. It is the cheapest and the tastiest - especially when you add cream and sugar. I always thought starbucks tasted burnt too

      thanks for the summary

    • howlermunkey profile image

      Jeff Boettner 10 months ago from Tampa, FL

      I am a Starbucks guy. I usually drink a pot of Sumatra so I can make it back to the machine to brew a second pot of Sumatra.

      And then I ran out of coffee filters......and there was no way I could face the grocery store ( I could barely drive), without my first pot of coffee. So I raced to McDonald's, and I must say, that there coffee was freakin spectacular. So now Im eating mcmuffins everyday and have gained a dangerous amount of weight. Thanks delicious McDonald's coffee!

    • profile image

      Angela 10 months ago

      McDonald's coffee is the best, period.

    • profile image

      Joey Chestnut 14 months ago

      You always don't know quality coffee

    • profile image

      Juan Miguel 24 months ago

      I could NOT believe it when I saw McDonald’s coffee on the shelf next to Starbucks, Peet’s, etc. But, there it was.

      - http://coffeelounge.net/colombian-mccafe-makes-its...

    • profile image

      Carlo Z 24 months ago

      In my opinion, Gavina is one of the best coffee roasters in the country. I owned a euro style cafe in NY suburbs for 10 years and Gavina's coffee was my choice for daily blends and flavors.

      It's no surprise that the blend they exclusively provide McDonalds is so good. I love it too.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      I drink decaf so if I am in the mood for a regular decaf I go McDonald's. It's good and cheap. However, they don't have decaf versions of their gourmet drinks so off to Starbucks I go. If I am in Michigan, I go to Biggby Coffee. Far better than both Starbucks and McDonald's just not as widely available.

    • profile image

      Tim S. 2 years ago

      I've enjoyed McDonalds coffe for over 30 Years. It always seemed to keep me going ALL day with just a small cup. Now I have a cup of McDonalds coffee once a week as my indulgence. The rest of the week my coffee comes from a Keurig.

    • profile image

      nico 3 years ago

      People still drink drip coffee???

    • profile image

      Olivia Verde 3 years ago

      I had a McD's decaf coffee last night, and it was...well....Delicious! Better than I make at home! by the cup! And I have to admit, I was actually looking for info on their creamer...it makes their coffee taste extra creamy, with less than I use at home. And I do prefer a med. roast, darker roasts are too bitter. I normally buy my beans at Sprouts, where they have a good selection of organic coffees. But I'll have to checkout Gavina...thanks!

    • profile image

      Rdrnnr88 3 years ago

      I just purchased a box of McD's coffee in a K-Cup. It is just as delicious from the K-Cup as from the restaurant.

    • profile image

      Ina Jam 3 years ago

      I have a heart condition and use. light coffee blend. but I get chest pain sometimes . But not with McDonalds coffee. thanks for the pro tip

    • nathalia27 profile image

      Nancy 3 years ago

      I still like starbucks coffee.

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 3 years ago

      I didn't actually know that McDonald's coffee was that good lol. Now, I think I'll have to give it a go in the morning and compare it to my Keurig coffee maker.

    • profile image

      Jeanette Harris 3 years ago from 11996 Valley Falls Loop Spring Hill Florida, 34609

      I think it so good is because is freshly made, and its nice and hot; especially when you want to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee.

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Hi Vanessa,

      That's a very good point! I do indeed prefer medium and light roast coffee. I do like the flavor of some dark roasted coffees, though, and Peet's and Starbucks are not among them. I have tried Starbucks medium and light roasts as well and thought both left a lot to be desired.

      Unfortunately, there aren't any Seattle's Best locations in my area, but if I ever get the chance, I'll have to try it!

    • profile image

      Vanessa 3 years ago

      Not that I don't agree with you that McDonalds has amazing coffee, but from what you said in this article, it seems to me that you just don't like dark coffee. You said yourself that the coffee you tried from Starbucks and Peet's was dark roasted, but McDonalds was medium roasted. Have you ever tried a medium roast from another coffee chain? Every Starbucks I've ever been to brews three kinds of coffee daily: light, medium and dark. They also brew fresh coffee every 8 minutes, and rotate between the three brews, meaning each batch will only sit for a maximum of 24 minutes. Granted, I live in Seattle, so perhaps that is why there are more brewed coffee options and why their coffee is fresher than what you've experienced? I noticed when I lived in Florida that Starbucks' coffee didn't taste even remotely as good as it did in my hometown... But anyway, McDonald's coffee is like... magically fantastic. It doesn't even make sense lol.

      Seattle's Best Coffee is still the best tasting coffee I've ever had. Shame on Starbucks for continuously closing their locations =(

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Adam, McDonald's company policy is to brew fresh coffee every 3o minutes, even if all the previous batch was not purchased.

    • profile image

      Adam 3 years ago

      "You'll never get coffee that's been sitting out for hours or getting stale."

      Unless you go to almost every McDonald's....haha. Almost every cup of coffee you buy at McDonald's has been sitting for at least an hour. Unless you go in the morning, when it's selling faster than it's going bad. If you buy a cup at Lunch and want it fresh, please say "make it fresh" otherwise you'll be getting coffee made during breakfast.

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 3 years ago from Montreal

      I tried an iced McCafe a few days ago and liked it, tho it was a little too sweet and I got throat and brain-freeze.

    • profile image

      Gabriel 4 years ago

      Have you lost your mind or your taste buds?! You could use their coffee to remove oil stains off of concrete. Hell, they're now GIVING their coffee away, because no one wants to part with a buck and a half to have their mouth insulted.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the best restaurant coffee you can buy is Tim Horton's, followed by (believe it or not) Dunkin' Donuts.

      But McDonald's coffee? Ain't lovin' it...

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 4 years ago from Northeast United States

      Thank you for this very interesting hub :). In the end it always comes to the palate and how the coffee is brewed or roasted. I for one am not a coffee critic but my hubby, on the record, does not like mickey D's coffee at all. Thank you for taking the time to experiment and write your personal thoughts on an interesting topic. Have a wonderful week :)

    • profile image

      Jeanette Harris 4 years ago from 11996 Valley Falls Loop Spring Hill Florida, 34609

      My parents and I enjoy Mc. Donalds coffee

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      You are so right Christy, Macca's coffee is really great! I am a bit of a coffee snob & only like mine strong & sweet & certain brands but I do get Macca's from time to time especially if I'm traveling long distances! And did you no that they use fair trade coffee..here in Australia anyway!! Great hub..will share, pin & tweet..cheers

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      So the Coffee Wars continue. I think often people buy the experience more than the drink. Interesting that McD goes to the trouble to buy gourmet blends. Sharing

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, tillsontitan! A lot of people think that the darker roasted coffees have more caffeine because the flavor is stronger, when actually it's the opposite. It's a good thing to know when choosing a brew. I always drink dark in the evenings because I don't want to be up all night! :)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      I don't drink coffee but my husband and children do. I was blown away by your Protip and know what 'roast' I will be buying from now on. I liked your comparisons and reasoning too.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I agree completely, EuroCafeAuLait! It seems like a lot of places just charge for atmosphere.

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Voted up and useful, thanks for calling my attention to this. Price does not always equal quality.

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I don't think we have Tim Horton's coffee in San Francisco, though if I see one, I'll have to try it!

    • Ardot profile image

      Ardot 5 years ago from Canada

      I prefer Tim Horton's coffee, I find the McDonalds coffee to weak and watery.