McDonald’s Beats Starbucks in Coffee Taste Taste

McDonald’s new not-scalding-hot coffee beat Starbucks in a taste test.

In the ultimate coffee smackdown, it was yuppie Starbucks vs. Ronald McDonald. And the clown won.

Consumer Reports magazine said today that in a test conducted at two locations of each emporium, its tasters found McDonald’s coffee to be “decent and moderately strong” with “no flaws.” On the other hand, the Starbucks brew “was strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open.” The March issue of the magazine, due out Monday, thus advises, “Try McDonald’s, which was cheapest and best.”

Actually, not all that much cheaper. McDonald’s now charges $1.35 for what the magazine considers a “medium” sized cup of Joe. Starbucks gets $1.55 for about the same size cup. But of course, McDonald’s has yet to offer half-cap lattes and it’s hard to imagine Ronald in basic barista black.

Other fast-food coffees in the test included those from Burger King (“tasted more like hot water”) and Dunkin’ Donuts (“inoffensive”).

No matter how much McDonald’s revels in its win of the taste test, the company might be hard-pressed to use it in promotions. Consumer Reports, which takes no advertising, strictly prohibits companies from using its findings in ads.

Actually, I’m not sure how CR could do that. Surely, McDonald’s has a free speech right to mention favorable stories mentioned elsewhere, even for commercial purposes.

Regardless, though, this is the silly type of “research” done by Consumer Reports that finally caused me to cancel my subscription years ago. I need help in differentiating expensive items like cars, washing machines, DVD players, and so forth that I rarely purchase and whose technology is rapidly evolving. Even doing comparative analysis of routine consumer items like, say, laundry detergent is useful when 1) there is an incredible variety of products from which to choose and 2) there is a reasonably objective measure by which they can be compared.

By contrast, few consumers who are likely to purchase coffee have not already tried both McDonald’s and Starbucks’ coffee. Further, the fact that more people prefer one to the other is of virtually no use to me in judging which I would prefer.

Most coffee snobs agree that Starbucks over-roasts its beans. Few of those people are going to find McDonald’s brew particularly satisfying, either. Again, though, they’ve probably had a cup of each and figured that out for themselves without the help of a magazine.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay says:

    I can’t imagine much coffee exists that doesn’t beat Starbucks. It’s like the QWERTY of coffeeshops, or something.

  2. just me says:

    Well I am hardly a coffee snob, but I agree with you that what a bunch of people in a magazine say they prefer hardly helps me decide which I prefer.

    AFter all I don’t care much for McDonald’s coffee or Starbucks-neither would top my list of coffees of choice.

  3. jim says:

    The article also shows a little ignorance of the types of coffee offered at some McDonald’s locations. The McCafe units will offer enough combinations for all but the most pretentious coffee drinker.

  4. Stephanie Rothberg says:

    McDonald’s coffee is definitely better than Starbucks. Starbucks coffee is like a cup of strong mud. McDonald’s coffee seems to have that “true” coffee flavor. Plus the PRICE makes it taste better!!!!