Why is McDonald’s Coffee So Good?

No matter whether a drive-thru is peddling McMuffins, chicken biscuits, or donuts, the cornerstone of any respectable fast-food breakfast is a cup of coffee you try not to spill on yourself as you’re driving. And because we want you to order only the best morning joe, we put six of the biggest fast-food brands’ coffees to a taste-test.

How we judged every chain’s coffee

For this test, we visited Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chick-fil-A. Starbucks and the like were left off this test because they’re coffee-focused chains, rather than just fast-food establishments. Dunkin’ Donuts was on the fence, but since breakfast food is their primary offering (and people love their coffee), we decided to let them compete.

Each coffee was ordered during traditional breakfast hours to ensure relative freshness and drank black, without milk and sugar. Those additives might have made the coffee more palatable, but we went without it in order to get the clearest impression of the flavors.

Although I’m far from a certified coffee judge, I tried to use the same descriptors as the pros by consulting the Specialty Coffee Association’s flavor wheel (so language like “mineral oil” and “cucumber” isn’t just me being fancy). Read on to find out which of these coffees deserves to be more than just a vessel for waking up.

Removing the lid made me think of entering an attic, because I was hit with a strong whiff of nostalgia, dust, and a pronounced lack of action figures (although that’s my fault for not ordering a Happy Meal). You get a quick hint of roasted hazelnut, but not without a seriously skunky wet soil note. It’s the most watery brew on this list, but still manages to maintain a strong ashy flavor profile that’s immediately recognizable, for better or worse.

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