A Serious Taste Comparison Between Cold Brew from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts

updated May 1, 2019
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There is nothing I love more than free stuff. If my neighbors leave last summer’s best sellers in the lobby of my apartment building, I’ll pick them up. If the Y stacks up the snacks left over from its after-school camps, I’ll take them. And if I ever see vinyl records beside the curb on trash day, they’re all coming home with me, even if they’re all in French. (Yes, this has happened.)

But last weekend, when Dunkin’ Donuts was giving away free samples of its cold brew, I wanted nothing to do with it. Zero dollars is still too many dollars for a cup of what tastes like weak coffee and human tears.

I recently took it upon myself to compare the cold brews from both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts — and it wasn’t even close.

First, some notes about cold brew. Yes, it’s served over ice; no, it’s not the same thing as iced coffee. To make cold brew, the coffee grounds are steeped for upwards of 12 hours to produce a coffee concentrate that can be diluted with water or milk. Iced coffee is just, um, regular coffee that’s poured over a cup of ice. The grounds used in cold brew never get heated, which results in a different, often lighter and less acidic cuppa.

Cold Brew at Starbucks

The cold brew at Starbucks is “an artful blend of coffees from Colombia’s Nariño region and from East Africa” that has been steeped for 20 hours. I don’t know Nariño, Colombia from Columbia, South Carolina, but the end result does have a smoother flavor and less bitterness than most of Starbucks’ offerings. It finished with a pleasant nuttiness and, although I didn’t taste the chocolate it promised, the splash of sweet cream made up for it.

Cold Brew at Dunkin’ Donuts

Meanwhile, Dunkin’s cold brew is made from 100 percent Arabica beans that have steeped for 12 hours. The result, according to the Double D, is “velvety.” That’s true-ish, since I’d compare it to sucking a week-old coffee spill from a soft fabric sofa cushion — possibly even a velvet one! The flavor is weak and bland, and seems less deliberate and more like you just added some tap water to whatever was left in your mug from yesterday. No thank you.

I don’t have a real loyalty either way — I tend to go for small locally owned shops with logos that out-of-towners don’t recognize — but if I’m in an airport or another enclosed space where Starbucks or Dunkin’ are the only choices at my gate, I know which one I’m ordering.

Even if the other one is free.

Do you have a preference? Discuss in the comments below!