Finding the best coffee

Our taste test results reveal the best – and the rest - of 10 coffee chain beans.
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02.Consistency is the key


In our small sample, US giant Starbucks came out on top for consistency. Matthew attributes this to an established tradition; in the 1950s, the Americans introduced consistency as a key element of the then-new restaurant chain concept, McDonald’s.

He warns that “if you favour a stronger, bolder flavour, the Starbucks consistency isn’t necessarily going to yield you a great-tasting coffee.”

By contrast, Gloria Jean’s exhibited extraction rates that were all over the place, which Matthew says possibly indicates a lack of knowledge about how the grinder works and its importance to taste. One Gloria Jean’s barista didn’t use a thermometer and the milk wasn’t hot enough (ideally, it should be 65ºC).

On average, Michel’s Patisserie coffees were the best-tasting in our sample and, according to Matthew, “were most likely to appeal to those of us who favour a coffee with strength”. Michel’s high average score was bolstered by an excellent coffee in one establishment, whereas the other two outlets produced coffees of much poorer quality.

Coffee with a conscience

Much of the coffee we drink comes from regions such as Africa and Central and South America, where poverty and the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture are major concerns.

The aims of certification schemes such as organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ include ensuring equitable trading arrangements for disadvantaged farmers, improving basic working conditions, improving the health and safety of workers, reducing or better managing the use of agro-chemicals and the restoration of native vegetation. So buying coffee certified by these schemes can have a positive impact on people, communities and the environment in regions where the bulk of the world’s coffee is grown.

Six chains on test use certified coffee beans as standard in their machines, and most have certified options on the menu. Standard offerings from

  • Coffee Guru, Hudsons and Jamaica Blue aren’t certified.
  • Coffee Guru’s decaffeinated blend is 100% organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified.
  • Hudsons and Jamaica Blue have a 100% organic Fairtrade blend on the menu.
  • Gloria Jean’s Special Espresso Blend, served in all its coffee houses, contains 66% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans, and its default decaf espresso blend is 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified.
  • Muffin Break is the only chain not to have a certified option on offer.

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