We Tried The Lowest Rated Fast Food Coffee. Here's How It Went

When it comes to coffee, the quality spectrum is vast. On one end, there's really, really good coffee that's a (literal) spiritual awakening for the senses ... and then there's brown bean water that tastes like cardboard. Fast food coffee sits somewhere in the middle, depending on which drive-thru you're in.

A recent Mashed survey found that Taco Bell's coffee was the absolute worst compared to other chains. Nearly 40% of survey respondents said the Mexican chain's coffee was the worst in the batch, compared to offerings from McDonald's (which offers the second-worst coffee according to survey results), Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Wendy's, and Dunkin' Donuts. This isn't wildly surprising, given that Taco Bell breakfast is relatively new, rolling out nationwide in 2014, according to the brand, and it's not as if, when you think international coffee culture you think fast-food Mexican fare. However, we needed to find out if Taco Bell's coffee was truly as bad as survey respondents said it was and that's how we found ourselves at an empty Taco Bell in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

Taco Bell coffee overview

Taco Bell offers two types of coffee: premium hot coffee, at 10 calories a cup (it only comes in one serving size) and $1.79, and its Hot Cinnabon Delights Coffee, coming in at 160 calories per cup and a cost of $2.29. According to the brand's website, Taco Bell's coffee is 45% Rainforest Alliance Certified (what happened to the other 65%?). The only noticeable difference (at first, based on Taco Bell's descriptions alone) between the two coffees is that the Hot Cinnabon Delights Coffee is just the premium roast hot coffee with vanilla creamer and Cinnabon Delights flavoring added.

Both coffees were served in plain, nondescript cups, at extremely hot temperatures. We asked for a side of sugar and cream to go along with the plain coffee and received a handful of sugar packets and a plastic condiment container filled with a very, very sweet liquid that was supposedly the cream. However, it's strongly suspected whatever we received wasn't actually plain cream, and was instead the vanilla creamer and Cinnabon Delights flavoring that's used in the Hot Cinnabon Delights Coffee.

How does Taco Bell's coffee taste?

The premium hot coffee was black, abrasive, and bitter. It tasted a little like you made coffee from the same old coffee grounds you've been using for a week, in an old, unwashed coffee pot, and then poured it into an old, unwashed coffee mug. The more you drink it though, the more bearable it gets. In comparison, the Hot Cinnabon Delights Coffee was amazing. It tasted like a Cinnabon cinnamon roll. Would the Hot Cinnabon Delights Coffee have been as good, had it not been standing starkly in comparison to its lackluster sibling? Possibly not, but we could see this pairing nicely with a Taco Bell bacon breakfast quesadilla.

To give the premium hot coffee a fair shot, we added a bit of the sugar and cream in, to see how it impacted the taste, but the so-called creamer was wildly sweet and weirdly thick, in its plastic condiment container, leading us to believe it wasn't really creamer in the traditional sense. Regardless, the cream and sugar only made the coffee bittersweet versus better.

Was the survey correct?

Actually, yes. We've had coffee from all the other surveyed restaurants featured in the initial Mashed survey that found Taco Bell's premium hot coffee at the bottom of the pack, and, yes, it really is bad compared to the plain coffee offered at McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Wendy's, and Dunkin' Donuts. There's just something undeniably bad about Taco Bell's coffee. It's almost like you were eating the coffee-stained cup it came in, rather than drinking the coffee itself.

We're not alone in our thoughts on Taco Bell's coffee either. A Forbes article published in 2018, five years after Taco Bell first released its coffee to the world, found that coffee was one of the restaurant's weak points, especially when compared to McDonald's. Even Taco Bell's Melissa Friebe, senior vice president of brand marketing and consumer insights at the time, agreed. Still, when we left the Taco Bell location, did we throw out that utterly bad coffee on the way out the door? ... No. Perhaps the coffee is just one of those things you have to suffer through until you're used to it.

How could Taco Bell improve its coffee?

We did find one way to improve Taco Bell's premium hot coffee, but it did require making an extra purchase. A 12-count of Taco Bell's Cinnabon Delights was in order after all that bitter coffee and the sweet, icing-filled pastries actually made the bitter coffee more palatable. However, if you're looking to make the coffee tastier with just the addition of a bit of sugar and Taco Bell's mysterious creamer, you're out of luck. It won't work. Additionally, do note that the Cinnabon Delights are only a good pairing alongside the premium hot coffee; the Cinnabon Delights paired with the Hot Cinnabon Delights coffee was quite the Cinnabon overload (if you believe such a thing exists).

As for what Taco Bell could do to improve its coffee, it would be worth looking into a different coffee bean or roast altogether. The current option is not doing it any favors (and what's with that 45% Rainforest Alliance certification status? Surely Taco Bell can do better).

This is the best fast food coffee

So if Taco Bell's coffee is the worst, what's the best fast food coffee? With fewer than 8% of survey respondents saying they dislike Dunkin's, the well-known coffee chain gets top marks for its fast food coffee in the Mashed survey. This rating makes sense. After all, whereas Taco Bell's whole shtick is tacos, Dunkin' Donuts is all about those doughnuts and coffee. The chain has had plentiful practice over the years, whereas Taco Bell is just getting used to the breakfast biz.

Sure, Dunkin' coffee used to be a lot more affordable, but for that increased price, you get more quality from Dunkin' coffee than you probably think. The brand sources 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified Arabica coffee beans, sells approximately 2 billion cups of hot and iced coffee per year, and attracts customers in more than 12,000 locations across 45 countries. And the best Dunkin' coffee drink of them all? The Dunkin' Classic original blend, served straight-up, no extra frills necessary.