Coffee taste test stirs hot debate

Times Staff Writer

In the coffee smackdown, it was yuppie Starbucks versus Ronald McDonald.

And the clown won.

Consumer Reports magazine said Friday that its tasters found McDonald's coffee to be "decent and moderately strong," with "no flaws," and that the Starbucks brew "was strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open."

The March issue of the influential magazine advises, "Try McDonald's, which was cheapest and best." But does Seattle-based Starbucks have grounds for protest? After all, the survey was conducted by just two tasters who tried the coffees on-site.

"We assemble panels of at least six testers to taste the coffee under tightly controlled conditions," said coffee consultant Willem Boot, who trains tasters for the Coffee Quality Institute in Long Beach. "Doing only two samples in this case is crazy."

Consumer Reports co-taster Erin Gudeux, a magazine staff member, defended the test as a guide for consumers. "They've got the pocketbook and they've got the choice," she said. Other fast-food coffees fared worse, including those from Burger King ("tasted more like hot water") and Dunkin' Donuts ("inoffensive").

The test is likely to be taken seriously by the chains. Starbucks said in a statement, "Choosing a brand of coffee is a personal decision, as taste is subjective."

But Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp. was obviously lovin' it. "It was great news," company spokeswoman Danya Proud said. The chain, with 13,700 restaurants in the U.S., changed its coffee blend last year.

Proud said the company was developing new coffee products. What's next, a half-caf latte with a Happy Meal?


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