Dunkin’ Donuts Makes the Best Terrible Coffee in America

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So average, so good. Photo: Melissa Hom

By its own count, Dunkin’ Donuts sells an average of 4,657,534 cups of coffee every day. That’s 1.7 billion cups each year. It is a torrent of Arabica that only a few massive competitors — Starbucks, Peet’s, McDonald’s — can rival. It is enough coffee to help caffeinate everyone who watched the original airings of The Night Of’s first four episodes. More than 4.5 million cups of coffee is a lot of coffee to serve in a day. Even more impressive: Every single one of those cups is filled with the best shitty coffee you’ll ever drink.

The chain doesn’t exactly enjoy a sterling reputation, not that people trash it too often, either. Mostly, coffee drinkers don’t think about it at all. It has neither the massive following of Starbucks nor the open loathing of 7-Eleven. That is, perhaps, because Dunkin’s coffee is unimpeachably inoffensive, which is a hard cause to get too worked up about.

There is one place where people get seriously worked up over Dunkin’: New England, where the chain started out, and where it enjoys a following that rivals lobster rolls and the Red Sox. If you’re driving up to Maine, or hauling down to Cape Cod, Dunkin’ locations will be everywhere. There will also probably be Starbucks everywhere, but — if you are a New Englander, and you are in need of coffee and possibly a little food — you will do your best to hit a Dunkin’.

That is because Dunkin’s coffee actually tastes fantastic in its perfect averageness. Cheap coffee has its charms, but there’s something else going on with Dunkin’. Starbucks tastes like burnt coffee. Gas station stuff tastes like weak coffee. But Dunkin’ Donuts coffee just tastes like coffee. They add the milk and sugar, which no matter how much you ask for (a pinch, a splash, a heap) always seems to be doled out in the same amounts. Through some magic alchemy, it always tastes like the Platonic ideal of coffee, best enjoyed in the early morning, when the air’s a little crisp, and you get one of those giant Styrofoam cups.

New England’s affinity for Dunkin’ is not a nostalgic embrace of the middling. It’s recognition that not everything in life has to be a challenge. Unlike truly bad coffee, Dunkin’s doesn’t taste like bitter mud. Unlike most really high-end coffee — the kind served at third-wave places that talk about their beans’ terroir — Dunkin’s coffee doesn’t taste too fruity, won’t make you feel like you’re giving your mouth an acid bath, and is always consistent. You don’t have to wait for a pour over or some strange siphon brewing that looks like it should be done in a lab. You just get your coffee and get on with your day.

In fact, at least one of the East Coast’s hippest coffee mini-chains serves iced Americanos that taste like someone left a cigarette butt in the carafe overnight. It is objectively not good, yet people queue up daily for the privilege of paying $4 per cup. About a block away from that chain’s Tribeca store, there is a tiny Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the small, kinda junky ones that seem to be everywhere in New York, and is easily overlooked, which is fine. It’s nothing special, and that’s what makes it perfect. You may forget about Dunkin’ from time to time, and never truly appreciate it for everything that it is, but you can also take comfort knowing it will always be there, exactly as serviceable as it’s always been.

Dunkin’ Donuts Makes America’s Best Terrible Coffee