About two weeks back, Roasted was knee-deep in a mostly interesting coffee-biz conversation between an area coffee roaster and the owner of a local coffee shop when the two started talking about the coffee at Dunkin Donuts.
And that's when a realization of apparently epically embarrassing proportions sunk in: Roasted had no solid opinion of Dunkin Donuts' beans. Good, bad or otherwise.
Well, that's not entirely true.
Roasted hadn't tasted the brewed coffee at the "world's largest coffee and baked goods chain" since sipping from our Old Man's cup on a donut run when we were a wee you'll-stunt-your-growth-drinking-that-coffee-kid kid.
So, that day, Roasted's not-so-humble opinion of the donut chain's brew -- that the coffee was probably mass-produced, mediocre coffee good for chugging when needing a wake-up-in-a-cup, but not something that we'd want to regularly sip or savor -- was an assumption that wasn't based on actually sampling Dunkin's coffee.
The local roaster insisted that in the northeast where he was from "Everybody loves Dunkin Donuts' coffee." This roaster went so far as to say that "up there" the coffee stood as a sort of gold standard, or standard bearer, or some such remark, and that those fine folks love Dunkin's coffee almost as much as they love Dunkin's donuts.(For the sake of consistency, Roasted has decided to use Dunkin's spelling of "donuts" rather than the more stylistically correct "doughnuts.")
On its website, the chain says it's "America's largest retailer of coffee-by-the-cup, serving nearly 1 billion cups of brewed coffee each year," so Roasted figured it was high time to find out if the coffee really is as "Worth the Trip" as the old ad claimed.
On Sunday morning, knowing that there was no way in hell Roasted would get up early enough on a Monday morning to drive to a Dunkin Donuts, Roasted googled directions to the nearest location.
After a not-so-brief detour to pick out mom's Mother's Day bouquet, Roasted and our lady friend made the trek north of I-635 to check out the Dunkin Donuts at 13535 Preston Road. And you'd be hard-pressed to miss the spot on your approach because the sign for the donut shop is downright monolithic.
We walked in just before 11 a.m., to find ourselves behind five other families waiting to place their orders, which gave us plenty of time to marvel at all the signs and posters inside promoting all the options the chain offers besides coffee and donuts, like a whole slew of kolaches, wraps and muffins, as well as lattes, cappuccinos and iced coffee options.
But we didn't want any of that. We just wanted coffee and donuts.
There were plenty of employees manning the counter, but the line was moving pretty slow. Though, when there's such a huge assortment of donuts to choose from, you can see the reason for the wait as each customer or family takes their time customizing their dozen.
We read over the coffee menu and settled on our order. Roasted would try the Original Blend and our lady friend would order the French Vanilla.
When it was our turn, one guy took our order and money -- a half-dozen donuts and two coffees - while another "prepper" guy started pouring our coffee.
"Do you want those with cream and sugar?" the prepper asked. We looked at each other , hesitated for a second, and then said to make the Original black and the French Vanilla with cream and sugar.
He handed us our coffees, and then we started pointing out which donuts we wanted to round out our dozen.
With our box and Styrofoam cups in hand, we sat down to taste Dunkin's wares. The French Vanilla coffee was really good. It tasted very much like a vanilla latte from a standard coffee shop. But it was far too sweet for either of us to finish -- especially between bites of a delicious Bavarian Kreme Donut.
The Original Blend proved a far better between-Donut palate cleanser. The coffee was served steaming hot, but the brew looked and tasted very weak. Neither of us found it to have much flavor or character to speak of. (Especially when stacked up against Danny's Motor Oil.)
Later that evening as Roasted contemplated the so-so coffee, the thought occurred to us that we'd be remiss to judge Dunkin Donuts' coffee as a whole, based on just two cups. After all, one of the employees that morning might not have measured out enough coffee for the batch. And Roasted does like it strong.
So, on the way to the office on Monday morning, Roasted bought a bag Dunkin Donuts Original Blend. First, we brewed up a batch of drip coffee using the measurements suggested on the bag, which yielded a bland cuppa. But, the second batch, brewed with some extra grounds in the filter, tasted smooth, and had some very nice nutty notes. And Roasted felt sufficiently caffeinated.
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But, as most coffee snobs will tell you, the only way to truly taste a coffee is by brewing it up in a French Press. So, Roasted did just that and then passed out samples around the office - without divulging the brand of the bean. The consensus in the bullpen was that the coffee was smooth, with very light acidity, but a bit on the bland not-much-character side.
Fittingly, the one person in the office who really liked the sample hails from the northeast. "Takes me back," he said.
Which takes Roasted back to our not-so-humble pre-tasting opinion, which is the same as the post-tasting opinion. But, while Roasted won't ever buy another bag of Original Blend, we don't think Dunkin Donuts has too much to worry about, because as their in-store marketing proudly proclaims in that chubby Dunkin font: "Pound for Pound America's Favorite Coffee."