Coffee is a cureall, from gently waking you up in the A.M. to offering a much-needed energy boost in the afternoon. Whether you guzzle black coffee like there’s no tomorrow or you drown out the bitterness with a gallon of heavy cream, its healing powers are undeniable. We’ve already dished on the best fast food iced coffee this past summer, but now that a polar vortex is underway for the winter, we’ll all need something hot and strong to get us through.
So, where’s the best place to grab a fast food coffee? The 2020 Power Rankings are in with our top nine choices (and they’re all under $2!). Plus, we’ve got all the best food pairings to order with your beverage. Godere!
Best Fast Food Coffee
Most fast food coffee you’ll read about below is brewed from Arabica coffee beans. Nothing fancy – all that means is that you’ll taste subtle hints of fruit, and the flavor will be on the softer side, rather than the rich side. This may have to do with the fact that fast food coffee drinkers are looking for more of a pick-me-up than they are a hand-crafted espresso.
Note: Each of the prices outlined below reflect a small black coffee, unless specified otherwise.
People love to hate on Starbucks, just as much as people love to hate on Kanye West and Facebook – but the success speaks for itself. With a Starbucks on every street corner, they are doing something right, and that includes their hot coffee. For a regular cup of joe, you can choose from the Blonde, Pike, and Dark roasts. Sometimes they offer seasonal roasts around Christmastime. Add in a splash of milk from one of their many choices – 1%, 2%, coconut milk Half & Half, heavy cream, nonfat milk, soymilk, almond milk, and whole milk. Then, further customize your coffee with sweetener, sauces, syrups, and toppings.
Don’t feel like you have to add chocolate sprinkles and soy milk to every order. If you’re not into all the frills, Starbucks black coffee is a solid option to pep you up in the morning. One complaint we’ve heard from customers is that the medium and dark roasts taste burnt. There is a bitter aftertaste, but it’s much more tolerable than other fast food coffee.
But one thing we’ve noticed over the years is that Starbucks capitalizes on its cold drinks – frappucinos, iced coffees, and refreshers. While it may be easier to slurp down a latte that tastes like chocolate milk, it’s time to give their hot coffee some love, too. And if you’re not into spending $6 on a latte, check out when the next Starbucks happy hour takes place.
Pair it with: A cheese danish. The buttery, flaky crust and creamy filling with help offset any bitterness from the coffee.
Caribou Coffee has one of the most-unique tasting brews on our list. It’s not another Dunkin or Tim Horton’s; they serve specialty coffee made in small batches. They aren’t as concerned about serving the masses as they are about serving high-quality pours. You’ll notice foreign terms on their menu like “Breve” and “Depth Charge,” steeping you into true coffee culture before you’ve even taken a sip. Caribou carries the essentials: a light, medium, and dark roast, as well as decaf and flavored coffees like Chocolate Wonder, S’mores Cabin, Caramel Hideaway, and Vanilla Hazelnut Dreamstate,
But sipping a coffee inside Caribou gives you more than a caffeine high – it gives you an experience. The dim lighting and cabin-inspired interior of each store will instantly relax you. Their coffee matches the decor’s woodsy vibes with hints of spice and fruit.
Pair it with: Asiago Bagel with Cream Cheese
Chick-Fil-A has a knack for nailing down random menu items: mac and cheese, grilled chicken nuggets, peach milkshakes, and of course, coffee. Chick-Fil-A coffee is made from Thrive Farmers Coffee, a producer that’s all about sustainability. Chick-Fil-A gets its coffee through Thrive’s farmer-direct model, which means the product is organic, environmentally-friendly, and free of unhealthy chemicals that are often added to fast food coffee to preserve its lifespan.
With flavors of caramel, cocoa, and citrus, this arabica blend is high-quality, smooth, and served fresh at all times. Unlike Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t make you choose between a million options; there is just a regular coffee and a decaf one, which can be paired with cream and sugar. It’s the best option for a simple, smooth cup of coffee without all the frills.
Pair it with: Chick’n Biscuit. Wash down the savory chicken and buttery biscuit with a perfectly-sweetened coffee.
Dunkin’s bread and butter isn’t donuts anymore, it’s coffee. Ground and brewed fresh all day long, Dunkin’s hot coffee is one of the cheapest, high-quality options on our list. Like most fast food coffee, it is brewed from Arabica beans. Choose between three blends, Original, Dark Roast, and Decaf. If black coffee isn’t your thing (we don’t blame you), add unsweetened, sugar-free flavor shots like vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, blueberry, raspberry, and coconut. And while milk and cream are options, you can also spice up your cup with a flavor swirls, which are essentially flavored creams. They come in caramel, french vanilla, hazelnut, and mocha.
If you find a roast you like, you don’t need to swing through the drive-through to pick it up. Dunkin’ sells whole bean and ground coffee at grocery stores all over the country so you can brew your own from home.
Fun fact: If you’re feeling adventurous, try a flavor shot of blueberry and vanilla in your coffee. It sounds bizarre, but it tastes like a liquid muffin and will be your new guilty pleasure.
Other hot coffee options include,
Pair it with: Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Croissant, Blueberry Donut Holes
Panera is a place you’d expect to have good coffee. Its cozy, border-line hipster atmosphere calls for it, and between their Light Roast, Dark Roast, Columbian Decaffeinated, and Hazelnut roast, we’re pretty satisfied. Panera is one of the only cafes to leave the pouring to customers. At most locations, you’ll notice a couple of giant coffee containers with labels that let you know when the coffee was prepared. It’s not like they’re going to set out four-hour-old coffee for everyone to see, so you can bet your cup will be freshly brewed. In addition to regular hot coffee, Panera has a whole menu of crafted espresso drinks like lattes, cold brew, and cappuccinos. We’re huge fans of their new Madagascar coffee creamer (comes in vanilla and hazelnut).
The only major downside of ordering Panera coffee is that you have to get out of the car at most locations, which is not ideal in the winter. But if you’re not as lazy as us, then you should be fine. You can also buy Panera ground coffee and K-Cups at the grocery store.
Pair it with: Anything. Panera’s entire menu is filled with light options, baked goods, and indulgent treats – nothing that clashes with a classic cup of coffee.
Tim Horton’s is Canada’s favorite coffee – at least that’s what their website says. In the past, the coffee chain dominated the market up north, being comparable to how Starbucks is viewed in the States. But over the last couple of years, there has been a decline in Tim Horton’s brand identity, with the overall consensus being that the coffee shop is “bland.” However, we haven’t lost hope in Tim Horton’s quaint, home-grown business and their classic cup of joe. It’s not the worst, but it’s not the best either, hence the #5 placement. Choose from the Original Roast, Dark Roast, or Decaf blend, and pair it with one of their grilled paninis, breakfast sandwiches, or muffins. On top of their coffee blends, Tim Hortons serves craft beverages like coffee mochas, cappuccinos, lattes, and their signature French Vanilla & English Toffee.
One redeemable aspect of the business is Tim Hortons Coffee Partnership, a program the company has developed to help local farmers and improve sustainability. Coffee for a good cause? We’re all in favor, as long as we get our caffeine buzz.
Pair it with: A blueberry muffin. They’re made fresh every day.
While you can’t expect anything from McDonald’s to be the highest of quality, McCafe is a big deal in the fast food coffee department. From Frappes to Cinnamon Cookie Lattes and French Vanilla Cappuccinos, McDonald’s serves some of the most decadent coffee drinks. Whether you’re a black coffee drinker or someone who needs to drown out the bitterness with a pound of sugar, you’ll find something your tastebuds agree with on the menu.
As for plain ol’ coffee, you can choose from their Premium Roast coffee, or decaf, blended with sugar, sweetener, milk, and/or cream. They even brew a new pot every 30 minutes, according to their website. McDonald’s may not be up to par for coffee snobs, but it is a solid – and extremely cheap – option when you’re in need of a quick caffeine boost.
Pair it with: Sausage Burrito
When you think Krispy Kreme, you probably envision the soft glow of the red, Hot Now light. It signals to passersby that there are fresh, pillowy, piping-hot donuts on the other side of the glass. There’s truly nothing better. And since donuts and coffee go hand-in-hand, so our expectations for Krispy Kreme were high from the get-go.
So, did they measure up? In a word: no. Their brews are as good as gas station coffee. They’re watered down and don’t taste fresh. And you surely don’t need to be a coffee expert to know that it tastes burnt. Whether you try the Smooth Brewed Coffee or the Rich Brewed Coffee, your socks will stay on your feet. But if you drown the charcoal-taste in creamer, you won’t have a problem with it. We’ll give Krispy Kreme the benefit of the doubt and assume they put all their blood, sweat, and tears into their delicious original glazed donuts.
Pair it with: Original Glazed Donut
Wendy’s pulls through with their random expertise. Who expected them to be the go-to place to get a good salad? When it comes to hot coffee, Wendy’s isn’t a bad option. It is most definitely not our first choice, but if you’re swinging by to grab a quick bite to eat and need a pick-me-up, it does the trick. There’s nothing fancy about it – choose between a medium roast or decaf, and add some cream and sugar if you’d like.
We will say, the appeal of Wendy’s coffee has gone way up since the announcement of their new breakfast menu. If you didn’t hear, Wendy’s will roll out a full breakfast menu in 2020, complete with all the essentials: biscuits and gravy, breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, oatmeal, seasoned potatoes, cold brew coffee, and more.
Pair it with: Maple Bacon Chicken Croissant (coming in 2020!)