The Great Dunkin Donuts Coffee Test of 2016

In what comes as a shock to no one, last week I complained about coffee. I’ve been spoiled since I was 18, when I got a job at an actual Italian grocery/deli and my boss made me every espresso drink known to man from a Bialetti machine he brought with him from Italy. It looked like a much simpler version of this behemoth, and I was terrified to learn how to steam milk with it.

My complaint, along with many, is how bland and tasteless American drive through coffee has become. I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys the coffee at Starbucks, and the people that claim to are the ones that order the coffee equivalent of bread pudding in a cup of cream. Barf.

Dunkin Donuts has long been a New England staple, and has become a national chain with consistent taste across the country. It isn’t the best coffee, but their seemingly billion locations do offer convenience. And I tried to find out how they do it.

Last week, I posted how I would go about it.

  • Dunkin brands coffee is sold ground, whole bean (original only) and as K cups.I will buy 2 bags of original ground, whole bean ground, and a pack of original K cups. I will also buy a large black coffee.I will grind the whole bean coffee in coarse, medium and fine grinds, and compare the size of these grinds to the bagged ground coffee.I will use my own drip coffee maker, which I will clean thoroughly before the experiment.

Now, here comes the tricky part! About 30 years ago, my mom worked at Dunkin. She still knows the brew and ratios for sugar/cream/half and half, etc. I will have her make a pot of each of the 4 coffee type the way she knows how they do it, and then I will make a pot of each coffee type based on how I usually make my coffee, and then I will make 2 K cups.

I know for a fact that pouring cream and sugar into the cup first makes a difference in the finished product, and if I take my coffee that way I will do it as well. For the sake of science, I will also have a test cup of each the way I prep my coffee, and the way mom knows.

So I did that. All of that. My mother looked at me like I was insane, but I wanted to prove a point. Here is the process of reaching that point. Mind that the coffee was brewed as soon as possible after opening for peak freshness, according to Dunkin’s official brewing tips.

  • The whole bean was ground, with a burr grinder, to match as close as I could to the pre-ground version, which was a medium grind. I did an eye test and the weight of 1 full dry measuring cup, and a medium grind seemed to match what they use the best. There was no need for the coarse and fine grinds, which is good because now I had more coffee that I could use for later!
  • I brewed 10 cups using mom’s direction (which is also the way I brew drip), with 1 TBSP per 2 cups of water.
  • While this happened, I went to the nearby (3 minutes because of a damned red light) drive-thru and got a medium hot black, and a medium regular (3 cream 3 sugars) coffee, as well as 4 extra cups/lids of the same size.
  • When the drip brew was close to done, I made 2 K-Cups - one black, one with cream and sugar.

I drank the black coffee first.

  • The version I bought from the store actually tasted worse than the either of the black coffees I brewed at home. I attribute this to freshness, though they claim it was a “fresh” pot - a “fresh” pot can be held for quite some time before it needs to be replaced.
  • Don’t drink K-Cups black. It tastes like water.
  • I tasted very little difference in the whole bean vs. ground bags that I bought. The whole bean had more aroma to it, but hardly any improved taste.

Then came the cream/sugar versions. A medium regular Dunkin’ coffee is 14oz, with 3/3 - 1 measure of each to 4.6oz of coffee. Here’s the important part. Cream and sugar are added first. Seriously, have you ever seen someone spoon sugar or actually pour cream into your coffee? Nope.

I used 3 teaspoons each of sugar and 3 of those little coffee creamers with the drip brew and the K-Cup.

  • Once again, K-Cups suck. This was only tolerable because there something more than water.
  • Virtually no difference in taste between both the pre-ground, ground and store brewed. The store brew seemed to be blended a bit better, but the taste hardly varied.

What I learned:

  • Brew at home with beans as fresh as possible. Don’t store them in the space above your burr grinder. Also, use a burr grinder! Blades are useless here and you don’t get the same consistency.
  • If you need to go somewhere, get a well insulated travel mug. I have a 20oz Contigo and it keeps my drinks incredibly cold or unbearably hot.
  • If neither of the above applies, you’re in a rush, or you just hate money, head to the drive-thru.
  • I have too much time on my hands.

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