After many years of searching to always find the best cup of coffee in the morning – in a hurry, I've compiled a kind of impromptu list from my daily journals from notes I've taken about the morning cup of coffee that most of us are forced to drink or run head into.
Over the years, I've gone from a non-coffee drinker, to someone who used to order Ethiopian beans in huge bags off the internet and roast my own every morning – to now – a person who doesn't really give a damn excepting the fact that I hate shitty coffee and I know exactly what it is and where it will likely be found and thus easily avoided. If this list helps you at all, then I've done my work.
This is a list built of my own opinion, hence it is not gospel, however, I'm sure if a list were constructed by unbiased experts, I'm betting I wouldn't be far off.
First the top ten, then I'll post a brief description or explanation of each entry. There really is no benchmark in this, because the real benchmark should be the stuff you make in your kitchen that you're perfectly content with, but that's really more of a high-water mark, or rather high-coffee ring, so to speak.
- Jack in The Box
- Burger King / Seattle's Best
- Circle K
I've left Karl's Jnr off the list because seriously, the coffee isn't their strong suit and it's a relatively unvisited franchise even on the East Coast, which is known as Hardee's. Dunkin Donuts also have good coffee but their franchise base has diminished to such a level that they're more popular in the Grocery Store now. Peets coffee is also in the same boat. If I were to make a list of Grocery Store brands, this list would obviously look diffferent.
Honorable mention goes to Sheetz for some of the best tasting and the most thoughtfully constructed experience in the business. I've had Sheetz several times, and sadly only on the East Coast when I was out visiting family, but here's a group of folks that don't take coffee lightly. If Sheetz was West Coast – they'd be in the number 1 spot, just sayin. If you've had their coffee – you'd agree.
- 7-11 … This place takes their coffee duties very seriously and if you've ever seen the episode of Undercover Boss where they featured the CEO working as a grunt for the company, you'll know just how serious they take the business of coffee. 7-11 understands it to be the reason of their success and they have it down to a science. The coffee is typically consistent, as it can be, rarely burnt or burnt tasting and always in stocked supply. You just cannot go wrong. The coffee is damn good, not acidic and the milk and creamers safe.
- Jack in The Box is a place that most people wouldn't normally associate good coffee with, but when it comes to high quality, superb and consistent tasting coffee this fast-food franchise tops the list. They, like 7-11, specialize in the idea of coffee as they take their breakfast menu as serious as gospel. If Zagat rated them, they'd have a sticker in the window for sure.
- McDonalds, as everyone knows does – these days – have fantastic coffee. It's tasty, full flavoured and mostly consistent. The downfall though is that it's TOO DAMN HOT. I have to wait almost five to ten minutes every time I get a cup to cool down or I'll burn my face off. There's no reason to be serving coffee that hot, but yet they do. It's almost as if someone at McDonalds realized they had great coffee and then stopped thinking about everything after the taste. For this reason, if you come later in the morning, the likelihood of getting a burnt cup of coffee exists and is more likely the later it gets and the older the pot is. C'mon people. Fix it.
- Starbucks should be the benchmark for everyone as they're the most prolific, but they're just not the best. Most people's chief complaint with Starbucks is that the coffee – the stuff you get for just over a buck that's not espresso based or mixed – is always burnt tasting, badly acidic and too bitter. I have a belief that this is something that occurs in their roasting process because it's also evident in the bags you can buy either at the store or in the Grocery mart. Even at home, after I've ground it and brewed it, it's still bitter harsh and burnt tasting. Most people say the same thing across the board about Starbucks, but year after year, they don't address it and don't seem to care, agree or even offer a real alternative. Their smooth blend is just as acidic as the rest. There is likely a disconnect between coffee and coffee snobbery in this equation.
- IHOP or International House of Pancakes makes a damn fine cup of mud, the coffee is good, usually not painfully strong, but just enough and often -- just right. The only problem they have is when they're busy, they have the tendency to serve watered down or stale coffee and often the coffee canisters they have never seem to be washed thoroughly between servings. A cup of coffee at two in the afternoon is likely being served to you in a canister that has been in service since 4 am. The other breakdown is their coffee cups which sometimes come dirty and usually end up giving you a stomach ache and force you to run to the bathroom as soon as you get home.
- Burger King makes decent coffee. It's Seattle's Best brand, and if you haven't already caught on, Seattle's Best suffers from the same curse that Starbucks does. It's often too strong, too burnt and typically inconsistent. I've been told by people who have worked for Seattle's Best that they use a lot of the same machinery that Starbucks does to mass-roast their beans for consumption and that they also use the same specs that Starbucks does during the roasting process, thus the similarity in taste and obvious similarity in dissatisfaction. Seattle's Best is everywhere and you'll often find it in Airports, in the mall and other smaller restaurants that have decided to carry it. They've done a good job in getting the brand out, but they suffer from being too much of a Starbucks clone and user error, like letting coffee sit, or dirty cups in places that serve in mugs.
- Denny's is honestly the last place you want to get coffee simply because the dirty cup error rate is through the roof. Coffee goes from being a good stimulating beverage to being nasty, greasy laced grump water that will have you running for the can. It is what is. They do use good premium coffee though and if you have a cast iron stomach and bowels, you'll likely survive it. They should actually just serve coffee in disposable paper cups like Starbucks and move on to be safer. Get it together Denny's.
- AmPm Coffee, across the board, is pretty bad and most people usually have to suffer a cup whenever they're driving somewhere or have no other option. The have that 'High Voltage' coffee that I wouldn't give to a coma patient or a Red Bull addict. They do strong sales on the stuff because they often are found in places where their isn't much choice and folks are usually in a daze or coming down from a high from something else. The coffee is often cold, stale and too acidic. I can't think of anyone who actually likes this stuff, speaks highly of it or goes out of there way for it. On top of it, when I've gone in and had to get a cup, driving away several times, I've noticed a surcharge on the coffee because I paid with my ATM. Damn them. I paid extra for a mixture of crude oil and stomach acid?
- Circle K really needs to overhaul their coffee operation as it's an embarrassment. I've seen employees, with my own two eyes, when making the coffee recycling the coffee bags for a second go round, which is just mind-numbing. Circle K doesn't mean Recycle the Koffee, even though it should. The coffee is ALWYS burnt and old and I'm often too scared to use the creamers and milk as I once poured out sour milk from the canister and on another occasion the little creamer things looked older than time itself. Circle K can take umbrage with this post all they want, but they have an employee-coffee handling-breakdown that is just unacceptable. I would also imagine that store owners tell them to recycle the coffee bags in order to save money. Sad.
- Subway is also Seattle's Best but if you wish to taste the coffee at Seattle's Worst, go here. Whatever they're doing, it's all wrong. The interesting thing though is that there is so little employee interaction with the coffee, the failure really isn't due to user error like at Denny's, but the way the process was thought out. The coffee is ALWAYS too damn strong, (look at the miniature thermos's they use) usually on the cold side and often stale, and typically because MOST people DON'T go to Subway for coffee because they've failed in creating a worthwhile and memorable cup of joe. Their breakfasts are fantastic, I just wish the coffee would get it together and became as spectacular. I might spend more early mornings there enjoying some, but alas. They come in last because this kind of thing is like suicide on your business. If you can't bring people in for breakfast, you're losing out to someone else like Jack in The Box or McDonalds. Sorry. You guys need to get it together quick. Buy some real equipment to handle your coffee, it'll pay for itself quickly. No brainer.Earlier this summer, my Krups coffee machine broke after many years of valuable service and I've been using a French Press thus discovering how good and simple a cup of coffee can be and how easy to attain without fuss.All the best ...Steffan