This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in the August 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Should you have a "high-impact, full-bodied" McCafé in your "cubiclé," try an instant Starbucks "just like the Starbucks coffee you know and love," or say "You kin' do it" with a Dunkin' Donuts latte? Yes, the coffee wars are heating up again, with new products, price cuts, and Starbucks firing full-page ads at its challengers. We tried a few new coffees, and though each is a bit different from the competition, none is outstanding.
Tasters compared the new Starbucks instant coffee, Via Ready Brew, with Starbucks brewed ground and whole-bean coffees—all in Colombian medium versions. (Via comes in Italian Roast, too, but there's no decaf version.)
We also sent tasters to four McDonald's, four Starbucks, and four Dunkin' Donuts stores in New York and New Jersey to compare new espresso-based McCafé hot and iced plain lattes with Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts lattes. (All come in mocha, too.)
The Starbucks instant and brewed coffees are similar in quality, but that quality is good, not great. The brewed coffees have the bitterness and darker roast we've found in previous tests of Starbucks Colombian; Via instant has more subdued flavors, is not as bitter, and has a slight cereal taste.
McCafé hot latte has more coffee flavor than the competition and tends to be slightly bitter, though taste varied from store to store. Iced is bitter and sour, with burnt or smoky notes.
Via is OK, but if you love the signature bitterness and darker-roast character of brewed Starbucks, you might not love it. McCafé hot latte is a bit more coffee-ey than lattes from Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, but neither the hot nor iced stands out from the pack. Choose based on price or ambience.
If you favor flavored latte, choose with care. A large hot whole-milk McCafé Mocha topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate, for instance, has 400 calories and 14 grams of fat—about one-fifth of most people's suggested daily intake.