« 12 unpublished comments | Main | On the Hill Cafe and a Chinese proverb »

March 25, 2009

Why is Dunkin' Donuts coffee so good?



I know this week has turned into Coffee Week without my meaning it to, but I can't let the week end without following up on one thing that kept coming up in the comments.

In an era of true coffee snobbism, commenters didn't hesitate to say how good they thought Dunkin' Donuts coffee is.

We had enough people saying so that I'm going to believe it. I may even stop and get a cup on my way to work tomorrow to see for myself. ...

What I want to know is, Why? What exactly makes it so good? Why can't all fast food places have equally good coffee if Dunkin' Donuts can?

Tell me about why you like it as if you were a wine writer, only don't mention the overtones of leather.

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:14 PM | | Comments (69)


I don't believe it tastes any better or worse than anything else I've had at a fast food restaurant. Their cold coffee beverages are extremely terrible though!!!

I am convinced - and have been for years - the it's the styrofoam that makes the coffee so good and addictive. If I drink it in a paper cup, it's not so good. Same with brewing their beans at home.

I am often considered a coffee snob, and don't usually drink Starbucks or fast food coffee, but there really is something about Dunkin Donuts. You have to appreciate it for what it is: Totally reliable.

It's a bold coffee with omnibiblious overtones and a shy, yet wacky, finish of a chocolate donut with sprinkles. No, wait. That WAS a chocolate donut with sprinkles.

(I don't get it, either, but my relatives in New England drink nothing else.)

Finally. Thank you. EL

It isn't.

It tastes good because they spend millions of dollars in ads to tell you that it tastes good. Duh.

I think DD Drinker nailed it on the head with the word "reliable" -- in the bad old days before Starbucks launched a coffee emporium on every corner, the DD coffee was widely available and (compared to the stuff at McDonald's or Burger King) reasonably potable.

I got coffee and donuts there last Christmas because besides Starbucks in Pikesville (WHO KNEW?) no one else was opened. I thought the coffee was adequate. It was sort of to coffee what Applebees and TGIF is to food. Ok, hot and reasonable.

To offer a serious repsonse, it is a VERY mild coffee but doesn't taste like dishwater. People who complain that the regular Starbucks blend has a strong, bitter flavor (some say it tastes "burnt") find that DD coffee is the anthithesis of that, it has a rich flavor but isn't watery or washed out, and isn't as acidic as some stronger blends. Actually my husband and I have had foodies over who mocked our love of DD coffee (we brew it at home).

To answer your question about other Fast food joints and their coffee: The new McDonald's blend tastes pretty similar to Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme's coffee has a similar taste and aroma.

DD Drinker lost me when he said the styrofoam is the secret.

Someone still needs to explain coffee in general to me. Other than the caffeine buzz I simply do not get the attraction.

A good question, that I'm not qualified to answer. Anybody? EL

I've actually heard the styrofoam cup theory before.

I've noticed that if you buy the DD coffee beans there and brew it at home, the coffee is nowhere near is good. When I have brewed it at home, I haven't put it in the styrofoam cup, though.

As to what makes it good, I have little idea, but it's not overly strong.

Hmmmm. Styrofoam Theory. I wonder if that could be carried over to the food at McDonalds. Because the last time the burgers at McDonalds were good was when they were packaged in those Styrofoam boxes.

Well, those boxes are no more. Thank you, Al Gore.

What Claudia said - it's rich. not watery, yet also not ridiculously bitter like Fourbucks, and it tastes fresh. The finish is really really really smooth, too, which is the part I like the best.

I'm picky about my coffee and I think DD coffee is great, and used to buy it for home consumption until I got my magic Flavia machine. I bought coffee beans regularly at Zeke's too, and it was great sometimes, depending on the blend I chose. DD coffee held up against all but my very fav Zeke's blends, which I think speaks well of the DD coffee, because Zeke's is top notch.

It's all marketing. Dunkin Donuts never claimed there coffee to anything but a beverage to wash down their fatty breakfast.

Now that Starbucks has made the trend, DD is trying to position itself as the non-affluent place to hang out. Have you noticed the taste test ad now running on tv? "the hard working American."

Also, they introduced a 300 calorie egg sandwich tot compete with SB's low fat turkey bacon. SB reversed their intended cancellation of breakfast sandwiches after an outcry from dieters (see their website-it's 350 cals)

So like all consumer goods, it's great coffee because we told it is over and over and over again.

I think compared to most coffee available "on the fly", it's pretty good. Granted, the coffee snobs will say they can't stand it, but that's their hangup. I have a bag at the house right now that I dig into once or twice a week.

Not sure what it is, but for us who like coffee, there is nothing better than the smell of just-brewed coffee. I'm not a huge coffee fan, but I do enjoy a cup or two in the morning.

Long ago, in my high school years, I worked for Dunkin Donuts. I was a doughnut cook and cleaner-upper. Back then, all DD sold was doughnuts and coffee. And their coffee was really good. Not too bitter, not too weak, shy and assertive all at once.

(Trade secret: Munchkins weren't doughnut holes at all, we made them separately!)

I drink primarily decaf coffee, expressly because adding caffeine to my central nervous system is like adding a baby’s scream to a civil defense siren … it makes me just that much more annoying. Coffee has a nut-like taste spectrum that, to my palate, offers a diversion from, when not an improvement on, water. Moreover, with some foods -- chocolate, peanut butter and pastries come to mind -- coffee's complementary virtues raise it to the status of secret ingredient. I cannot remember the last time I tasted any of the above-mentioned trio when I did not pair it with coffee. Coffee is both lover and antidote to sweet. It also possesses a rare quality among gustatory pleasures: it is nearly calorie free. (Two calories per 8 oz.)
Of course, in its caffeinated state, coffee has the power to save lives, fuel educations, and win poetry contests.
That coffee’s popularity mystifies you is hardly surprising. I have tried for many many years to develop an addiction to, or even a tolerance of, cigars. Can’t seem to do it. I finally gave up. To heck with it. So it’s hardly surprising that some tongues never attain affection for coffee.

Two reasons people like it, myself included:

It's very smooth with almost a creamy texture.

It's flavorful without being bitter.

Apparently those who can't tell the difference have had their taste buds scalded by the acid in Starbucks.

Hey PCB Rob, I used to work at Dunkin Donuts too! The one on Joppa Road near Loch Raven Blvd. We wore those spiffy pink & white uniforms. The donuts were all supposed to be less than 4 hours old and the coffee less than 18 minutes old.

Matt, when I started drinking coffee, it was out of politeness (I was living somewhere it was always offered to guests). I continued because it was adult, I was waitressing and everyone else drank it too and because I was trying to work 3 jobs at once while going to college.

One day, I was wandering around the Internet, came upon some coffee sites and ended up ordering some whole Starbucks beans (this was when they were only in Seattle, before the original guys sold out). It was a revelation. It was *different*, more complex, interesting with layers of complimentary tastes.

So, I hit more websites, read all I could find and ordered coffee from speciality roasters all over the US. I discovered that Central and South American coffees bore me, for the most part, but that I love the bright, acidic thinness of the Africans and the rich, thick depth of the Indonesians.

I came across information on how to roast your own coffee, and I started doing that. This taught me the ways that roast length interacts with each bean, with the moisture content of the beans and how to use my nose.

Now, I'm probably a full-fledged coffee snob. I can tell if the coffee I'm being served was roasted yesterday, 4 days ago or 4 months ago. I've moved from dark roasts to lighter roasts. I can tell if it was brewed with water that was too cold or too hot. I can tell if it was ground just before brewing or long before.

Is it worth it? Not when I just want a nice cup of coffee after a meal, and I'm always disappointed. But, some of the beans I've tasted have been a delight. Some beans, some years (and, coffee beans are as bad as or worse than wine grapes) are complex, playful, ever-changing but always complimentary magic potions going down. I enjoy controlling the roasts of my beans, trying different beans with different brewing methods, trying different coffees and corrupting my friends. It is a relatively inexpensive and harmless way to let my control geekery and food snobbery go wild.

It isn't for everyone, and the best cup of coffee for you is the one you like, regardless of what the snobs and experts say, but it isn't the worst hobby on earth.

Now, may I offer you a nice fair trade, organic Papua New Guinea?

I'm suprised that more people don't know the answer to this. First, their blend is unique. Second, they roast their own beans and they DON'T over roast them the way Starbucks does. The flavor, when properly brewed is unique and distinctive and not bitter. The lower acid content makes the coffee a perfect match to one of their perfect glazed donuts.


The idea that I like DD coffee b/c of the commercials is incorrect.

I think regular Starbucks coffee is absolutely disgusting, and Starbucks advertises just as much (I believe).

I moved to New York City a year ago and have gone to many coffee houses, and I've been to the coffee houses in Baltimore too. Very few, if any, are even in the same league as DD.

DD coffee – the corrosion of conformity.

First of all, you CANNOT group DD with 'other fast food' establishments brew. Dunkin was established on the premise of good coffee as well as heart-stopping fried dough.
That being said, I do frequent the local corner baristas as well as the corporate megaplex known as Starbucks, so, I do know high end bean. However, I am always driven back for a cup from DD at least every week.
The reason might be the consistency, strength of brew and aftertaste that cannot be duplicated.

two cents

I don't drink coffee, but when I was in college on Long Island, I was always interested in the fact that DD's coffee was so popular, and so was the coffee at 7-Eleven, at least at the one in which I worked back then, When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth (early 80s). At that time you could actually buy 7-Eleven coffee in cans; I don't know if that's still an option but we did sell a pretty fair amount of the stuff.

Both Dunkin' Donuts and 7-Eleven had to compete with a lot of local delicatessens and diners up there, so there had to be something to their versions of this concoction.

Pretty simple. Rich taste, not overroasted.

Who sells the most coffee in the US, and has for years? Dunkin' Donuts.

There's a reason for that. And it's not advertising.

All of the attention to advertising reminds me of a one-liner: Advertising is incredibly effective and shapes peoples tastes and preferences. It works on everyone, except me.

Dunkin' Donuts coffee is like your go-to bottle of wine that costs less than $15 and tastes practically the same whether it's 2004 or 2009. It has undertones and notes of a really great bottle/cup of coffee without quite getting there. However, it's will do just fine to get one through the day. I love the DD!

I've heard that they put powdered soylent green in it.

It's good because you get to say coffeecreamandsugar all one word like that.

Though, as someone who lived in Boston for a few years. I have to say, very few Dunkin' Donuts outside of the New England area really get it right.

I don't know if it's so much the coffee as much as it is the chocolate glazed, honey dip, and toasted coconut donuts that go alon with it.

Darn you EL, I was trying to watch my figure, but this post forced me to indulge at D&D this AM.

Laura Lee,
I worked at the one on Harford Road and Gibbons, across from St. Dominic's. I had forgotten about the spiffy pink shirt and white pants that I had to wear.

We are getting our first DD down here, it should be open in a couple of months.

Actually, I don't think Starbucks advertises at all. The ubiquity and visibility of the retail locations is meant to drive the business.

I think the title of this post should be "Why is Dunkin Donuts coffee so popular?"

You ever notice how there is no self-service cream and sugar? The cashier is the one who adds your cream and sugar (if requested) somewhat mysteriously, behind the scenes. I'm just sayin', makes you wonder what they are really putting in there that keeps everyone coming back...

Seriously though, it's a mellow, comforting coffee and I agree that the best feature may be the consistency. Always tastes the same, never burnt, never too weak or too strong.

I do like DD coffee, although I agree with Betsy that the no self-serve cream and sugar is annoying. If you ask for cream, they put SO much in.

But I do like it. It tastes good, and to say that it's all advertising is really insulting to others' palates.

I think it tastes weak and watery. Probably because my tastebuds are used to Italian coffee.

PCB Rob,
I went to St Dominic's from 1968-1976 I had many a donut at that shop.:-)

PCB Rob and Laura Lee: IS there something sinister going on with the cream and sugar? What gives?

IT's OK, and no more than that. My wife and I like something stronger. I will have to dodge brickbats for saying so, but I think its popularity is like that of American beer; it has some flavor, but not enough to cause any offense, and it tastes the same everywhere.

I went there from 1971-73, having done the first five grades at St. Matthew's in Northwood. I may have made some of the doughnuts you ate.

small world, eh?

I don't know about the cream and sugar conspiracy. Its been a long time since I worked there.

Mr. McI has a point about American beer, at least the big name brands. But there are a lot of excellent craft and microbrews out there.

Just ask Rob Kasper.

I too am a DD coffee drinker. I think it's the reliability of the product. I used to buy a few bags each year at Christmas when they would run their 2 for 1 deal. But frankly I think it is just as good as 8 0'clock which is my standard coffee. I treat myself to a pound of Kona now and again. But DD is more reliable than the other franchises.... plus you can get a donut. Not a danish. Not breakfast biscotti. An old fashion donut. I like that.

My coffee addiction started while I was in college in Boston where DD is everywhere. Going to DD on a Sunday morning following the typical college Saturday was pretty much a ritual for myself and friends and the rest of the school. Since the coffee is the same everywhere it has a certain emotional attachment to college life for me, and I definitely miss being a college student in Boston.

Might it be the addictive nature of the accompanying doughnut that goes with the coffee that triggers a Pavlovian stimulus and thus cements it as a pleasure stroker?

And watch out in NE where there are 5 DD's on a 4 corner intersection, if you order it regular you'll get the cream and sugar added automatically.

All I'm gonna say is that there's a reason my coworkers at my last gig called it "Charbucks," and there's a reason my boss in college called DD's coffee "liquid crack."

Speaking of, I could really go for a medium DD coffee right now...

RoCK -

"Hmmmm. Styrofoam Theory. I wonder if that could be carried over to the food at McDonalds. Because the last time the burgers at McDonalds were good was when they were packaged in those Styrofoam boxes.

Well, those boxes are no more. Thank you, Al Gore."

Actually, it wasn't Gore, it was McD's and the Environmental Defense Fund together who dropped the foamed polystyrene.

McDonald's and the Environmental Defense Fund: A Case Study of a Green Alliance
Journal article by Sharon M. Livesey; The Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 36, 1999.

I remember reading about it in Rolling Stone back in the day -

Gifford, B. (1991, August 22). The greening of the golden arches. Rolling Stone, pp. 34-37.

And today I did a search and found this:

When I first tried DD coffee I fell in love! I thought it was like drinking coffee and eating a donut at the same time, without all the extra calories. It smells like donuts too!

Last year Consumer Reports reviewers agreed with YumPorchetta, also describing Dunkin' Donuts coffee as weak and watery --- and actually more expensive than Fourbucks. And then, they said in a recent issue that Eight O'Clock Columbian Coffee was the best-tasting ground coffee. I prefer tea but my java-fiend friends enjoy Cafe Bustelo espresso.

I find DD coffee weak and watery too but way better than 7/11 or Royal Farms. It's all relative.

BTW, our "newish" Royal Farms on Red Run Blvd has "Ethiopian" coffee as one of their 6 to 8 coffees they put out each morning. They all taste exactly the same (weak and burnt - how can you do that at the same time?). I'm just too lazy to make and then clean up from one cup at home, so anywhere in a pinch.

Rats! and I also meant to say that I HATE having someone else do my splenda and cream. I like to do it myself the way that I like it!

Ya know, I've always been able to add my own cream & sugar. Most of the ones I've been to will give you said items upon request. If I have them add, the results are usually disastrous.

weak and burnt - how can you do that at the same time?

Leave it on the warmer plate too long.

My office manager found a coffee that's almost identical to DD but uses it's own private roaster. While I'm not a DD fan, most seem to agree with the similarity.,12.htm

If you're sitting there eating one of those fried, sugar frosted donuts with sprinkles and coconut on top and M&Ms® baked inside, I could probably serve you hot panther sweat and you'd say "M-m-m good coffee."

Personally, I like my caffeine cold, carbonated, and sugar free.

The ONLY way to tell who has the best coffee is to drink it black. After all, each establishment may use different vendors for their cream/milk/non-dairy products as well as brands of sugar and non-sugar sweeteners. So, having been said that, I, who always drink my coffee black would give the award to the shop that:
1. grinds the beans immediately prior to brewing
2. sells the entire pot within 7 minutes
3. doesn't use Florida tap water to brew it!

Lone Lady - I know about the Florida tap water - you can't drink anything with ice in Miami 'cause the cubes even taste yukky!

Whenever I'm in a Florida supermarket I'm always surprised that they sell spring water from Florida. I believe it is called Zephryl Springs. I'm all in favor of eating local, but touting Florida spring water seems the same as exhaulting "Arizona shrimp."

True, in central Florida, the water has that nasty smell and taste. Is that sulfur?
Here in the Panhandle, the water is quite good. There are many natural springs not far from me where Nestle, Culligan, and others have their facilities. They're tucked way back in the woods too.

As for Zephyrhills, that stuff comes from the Tampa area. Its probably purified tap water.

Your best bet is to buy the store brand spring water.

I am from central florida and I agree the water is GROSS and makes brewing great tasting coffee a hassle. I went to school in the panhandle and that water is GROSS too! Pour yourself a glass of water from the tap in your home or get some from the water fountain and wait a minute or two-there is ALWAYS white stuff floating in the water which settles in the bottom of the glass...WTF is that?! It has to be a Florida water thing as a whole.


I just got a glass of tap water and waited for the white stuff to appear. It didn't.

I think the smelly water thing starts in like South Carolina and continues through Georgia into Florida.

The water in the Disney resorts is fine. I think they filter. I never thought about it much, but since they are the only Floridian location without yukky water, they must be doing something!

BTW, Universal's water is yuk too.

I have to add (this after drinking a medium DD with mocha syrup)..

three things:

1. The roast is, as was said many times, just well done. It gives me a 'happy' feeling. Starbucks coffee is.. slightly overdone.. good for doing hard work, no jokes, but not 'happy'.

2. I often speculate about the cream. I can get the 'happy' by brewing at home, but it's not exactly the same.

3. As as also said, it's the balance that does it best. I can get a cafe con leche here in Miami that will make me sing.. but it's too over the top.. Starbucks is too .. hard-core.. DD is just right, and they're not pretentious. Wendys, McDs, and esp iHop, these guys are also good, but DD wins out overall.

My 3 cents.

jason, you are right about the cream. I can make DD at home, but it is just not the same. I actually had to cut back on how much I drank after I noticed they use a "heavy" cream. But it definitely makes a difference!

Smooth creamytexture and Chicory, the not so secret ingredient. That's what makes it so good. I agree that it tastes better in the styrofoam cup too!

This coffee works like a comfort food, in the northeast at least. A freshly brewed pot makes the kitchen smell exactly like the DD shops, mmmm, donuts. The foam cups don't account for it, I'm old enough to remember it served in real cups inside, or paper for take out. The marketing didn't even concentrate so much on the coffee until recent times -- the coffee itself perhaps was the marketing, for the donuts. I think they did go out of their way to make something with that aroma that *carries*, it worked like those beckoning fingers that led Yogi and Booboo to pies cooling in windows!

What makes DD Coffee so special?
It's the water!!! Not to mention the blend of beans they use. It is bar far the best coffee ..Starbuck's is the worst..most bitter tasting brew ever..DD is so earthy and rich, a great cup of coffee!

There's a reason you don't find DD anywhere on the west coast...its because we know what a GOOD cup of coffee is. I've had DD and thought...thanks for the hot cup of brown water. Special blend of beans? HA! What a you also think McDonalds has the BEST hamburger ever just because of their "special" sauce?

I'm sorry to go on a rant but calling DD good coffee is like telling a Chinese person Panda Express has great food.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected