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Why Is McDonald's Drip Coffee So Good?

Christy is a coffee enthusiast who has found the best coffee chain cup of joe.

How does McDonald's coffee compare to other brands?

How does McDonald's coffee compare to other brands?

A Review of Drip Coffees

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?

My Experiment

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 three 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 article.

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

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

Drip Coffee Comparison: McDonalds, Starbucks, and Peet's

 McDonaldsStarbucksPeet's

price (12 oz)

$1.34 (small)

$2.15 ("tall")

$2.45 (small)

roast

medium

dark

dark

bitter?

somewhat

somewhat

very

flavor

slightly nutty

mild, dark, smoky

burnt

A small (aka "tall") coffee from Starbucks Coffee.

A small (aka "tall") coffee from Starbucks Coffee.

Starbucks Coffee

Cost: $2.15 ("tall")

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 (see below) 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 12 oz. coffee from Peet's Coffee and Tea.

A small 12 oz. coffee from Peet's Coffee and Tea.

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Peet's Coffee and Tea

Cost: $2.45

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. (They do often offer lighter roasts, though.)

A small coffee from the McDonald's McCafe.

A small coffee from the McDonald's McCafe.

McDonald's McCafe

Cost: $1.34

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.

Which Coffee Is Best?

Coffees ranked by price from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. McDonald's McCafe Coffee
  2. Starbucks Coffee
  3. Peet's 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 (or at least the dark roast I tried was). If you find yourself in a Peet's, stick to the medium roast, tea (which is quite excellent), or blended coffee drinks.

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.

Pro Tip: 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.

Questions & Answers

Question: What kind of creamer does McDonald's use for coffee?

Answer: McDonalds doesn't make public the company it contracts with to provide its coffee creamer, however the creamer is 6% fat (whole milk is 3.5% for comparison). Its ingredients include: Milk, Cream, Sodium Phosphate, DATEM, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Sodium Citrate, Carrageenan. You might consider mixing whole milk or half and half with a powdered creamer to get the fat content up in order to make a McDonald's creamer copycat, though it might take a little experimentation to get the flavor just right.

Question: Does McDonald’s give free cups of coffee to senior citizens?

Answer: McDonald's locations are franchises, so it will vary from location to location. Many participate in senior discounts, but I don't know if this includes a free cup of coffee at any of them.

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