Dunkin' Vs Starbucks: Why Dunkin' Makes Better Coffee

Between Starbucks and Dunkin', where do your coffee loyalties lie? Some of us only hold our brand devotions by necessity — after all, there are a couple thousand more Starbucks locations across the United States than there are Dunkin' locations — but others have the luxury of picking their poison. If you fall into the latter category, you've probably already chosen your preferred java drive-through based on proximity to your home or work, price, taste, and menu variety.

You probably aren't too worried that you're missing out on better coffee from the other brand ... but could you be? Besides, who has the time to order a bunch of coffee off of both the Starbucks and Dunkin' menus and compare them side by side to once and for all answer the question of who makes the better coffee? The answer is us, actually. And that's exactly what we did: We pitted the core menu items from each location against each other to test taste, value, and overall coffee quality.

Who makes the better cold brew?

We sampled the plain cold brew from each store — no nitro and no flavorings. There were a couple categories here that we fully expected to be a close race, and cold brew was one of them. The drink from Dunkin' was very smooth, tasting like a robust medium roast. We picked up on dark chocolate and toffee flavors in the coffee, but the brew itself was a bit weaker than Starbucks'. That brand's cold brew tasted brighter, like a lighter roast with a hint of acidity. It was more floral and winey on the palate.

The Dunkin' cold brew would satisfy more coffee drinkers on average, we think, while the Starbucks brew seems to keep specialty joe enthusiasts in mind with its focus on terroir flavors. We are personally partial to darker roasts, so the Dunkin' brew was tastier, but the Starbucks brew was more prepared with more craft.

Who makes the better craft cold brew?

Our local Dunkin' didn't offer nitro cold brew, so for this test we pitted the Starbucks chocolate cream cold brew against the new Dunkin' caramel chocolate cold brew. The Dunkin' craft cold brew drink is made with caramel chocolate syrup, then finished off with chocolate cold foam and chocolate caramel sprinkles. The Starbucks cold brew is sweetened with vanilla syrup, and topped off with chocolate malt cold foam.

The Dunkin' cold foam struggled to hold its shape, sinking into the coffee after just a few minutes. Meanwhile, there was still a thick cloud of cold foam on the Starbucks beverage almost 20 minutes later. And overall, the Starbucks foam was more velvety and smooth, with an interesting taste, thanks to the malt powder. While very visually appealing, the delivery on the Dunkin' drink just fell short: The foam sank too quickly for us to enjoy it, making sipping up the crunchy sprinkles impossible. There wasn't enough of a caramel flavor for us; it was swallowed up by chocolate. For this sample, Starbucks definitely did it better.

Who makes the better frozen coffee?

A clear winner emerged in the showdown between the coffee Frappuccino from Starbucks and the frozen coffee from Dunkin'. As clear in the pictured samples, the Starbucks frozen beverage didn't maintain its blended texture nearly as well as the Dunkin' drink did, and was separating by the time the barista handed it to us. Dunkin's frozen coffee was smooth and well-blended, and didn't devolve into liquid and ice at all like the Starbucks drink did.

But when it comes to taste, Starbucks faced no competition. Sweet and milky, the Frappuccino had a strong coffee taste that was balanced out by the drink's sugariness. The Dunkin' frozen coffee was incredibly disappointing in taste. It was bitter, too concentrated, and almost tasted burnt. We've tried flavored frozen coffee drinks from Dunkin' before and didn't find them to be this unpleasant, so either we got a bad batch for this sample, or the flavoring is needed to balance out Dunkin's coffee.

Who makes the better brewed coffee?

When it's a simple cup of black java you want, which brand does it better? We tested Starbucks' Pike Place against Dunkin's original blend. The Dunkin' coffee, like its black cold brew, was less sophisticated than the counterpart from Starbucks, but also easier to drink for the average coffee lover. It reminded us of diner coffee in the most nostalgic and complementary way possible.

Pike Place is more complex, rich and robust with a little bit of smokiness and nuttiness. It seems to be a darker roast than the Dunkin' original blend, likely a city roast with a bitterness-free smooth texture. The Pike Place roast is the one we'd find more pleasant for sipping on a mug of plain black joe, whereas we'd want to add espresso or cream to the Dunkin' original blend to make it a bit more interesting. As much as we thoroughly enjoyed both coffees, we offer this win to Starbucks for a more flavorful brew in Pike Place.

Who makes the better mocha?

Starbucks and Dunkin' make two very, very different mochas. The Starbucks espresso drink is intense and bittersweet; it celebrates the flavor union of espresso and dark chocolate with no interest in altering the taste with sweetness. It's a smooth and very well-made drink, but the strong espresso and none-too-sweet chocolate make the Starbucks option less universally enjoyable.

We could have been easily convinced that the Dunkin' Cocoa Mocha Signature Latte, on the other hand, was just a hot chocolate. There wasn't much of an espresso taste at all — a pro for some coffee drinkers, a con for others. The Dunkin' drink was also profoundly sweet, too much for our palates personally, but it would probably hold more appeal to the majority of sweet coffee drinkers than the Starbucks mocha. However, since we couldn't even taste any espresso in the Dunkin' drink, Starbucks takes the point here.

Who makes the better latte?

Is Starbucks or Dunkin' better at the simple marriage of espresso and steamed milk? Truthfully, both locations put a bit too much foam into the drinks for our liking; lattes are intended to be mostly textured milk with a very thin layer or foam on top, and we felt there was enough foam on both drinks to qualify them as cappuccinos.

The Starbucks latte had even more foam than the Dunkin' drink, though, and had a very intense, almost bitter coffee taste. This was likely exacerbated by the overly-foamy milk; more air bubbles means less milk by volume to balance out the coffee. It could have been a bad shot of espresso, but we'd only order a plain caffe latte from Starbucks again if we were to try it blonde. Dunkin's latte was creamy and balanced, not bringing an overwhelming taste of espresso. This sample was more enjoyable to sip on and the one we would choose to order again, so the win goes to Dunkin'.

Who makes the better caramel drink?

It wouldn't be a complete Starbucks-Dunkin' showdown without comparing caramel-based drinks from both stores. For this test, we went with the most popular Starbucks drink, the iced caramel macchiato, and pitted it against the Caramel Craze Iced Signature Latte from Dunkin'.

There was no contest here. The iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks isn't all that sweet, caramelly, or interesting. It's no secret that it's not actually supposed to be a strong caramel drink, but we don't taste any caramel in it at all — just vanilla and milk. It's an overrated Starbucks menu item, in our opinion, and if it's a caramel overload you want, it's the Caramel Craze you need. For one, the Dunkin' latte is topped with whipped cream, caramel, and cinnamon powder — the macchiato only gets the caramel drizzle. The caramel in Dunkin's drink is sweet, but not overtly so, and strong even against the milk and espresso.

Who makes the better americano?

Another classic drink tested from both menus was the americano. The simple combination of espresso and water was the perfect opportunity for each brand to showcase their pure, unadulterated espresso. The Dunkin' americano was bold and full-bodied, with a smoky and slightly charred taste. The Starbucks americano, by contrast, was more watered-down and milder in flavor. While not as complex, the Starbucks americano was easier to sip on for its closer resemblance to plain black brewed coffee.

We'd drink either of these americanos again, but found the Dunkin' one to be more in line with what we like — bold dark-roast flavors. Overall, it was apparent that Dunkin's coffee is generally a darker roast with a bolder flavor, while Starbucks tries to mimic the light-roast complexities of specialty roasters. Starbucks' espresso does well in craft drinks where milk and other flavors are involved, because that way, the acidity of its coffee is softened.