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America's Most Craveable Cup of Joe Comes From a Much Smaller Starbucks Competitor

Whether you take your coffee iced, with cream and sugar, or black straight from the pot, there’s no shortage of places to grab one.

The morning would be much scarier without coffee. Tens of millions of people depend on just a little bit of java (or a whole lot) to get up and go in the AM, and coffee mega brands like Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks are all too happy to offer seemingly endless ways to caffeinate.

Whether you take your coffee iced, with cream and sugar, or black straight from the pot, there's no shortage of places to grab a cup of joe. Technomic, a sister company of Restaurant Business, recently polled consumers on which chains offer the most craveable coffee—and a surprising brand claimed the coveted title of most craveable coffee.

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Caribou Coffee earned first place in the poll's top 10 list, beating out much bigger brands like Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Voted the most craveable coffee by 36.9% of consumers, Caribou Coffee was founded in Minnesota in 1992 and currently operates just under 500 U.S. locations. The brand is owned by Panera Bread's parent company (JAB Holding Company), and recently celebrated the opening of its first domestic franchise location.

So what separates Caribou's coffee from the rest? Consumers told researchers "the coffee tastes better in general—even plain hot coffee is enjoyable" and "the taste of the beans" earned major praise. Many specifically mentioned the brand's unique seasonal drinks, such as Caribou's signature turtle coffee, the campfire mocha, and iced cold brew caramel. Others said "I like the dessert-like blended coffee drinks" and "they have seasonal coffees I can only get from this restaurant."

caribou coffee cup
Caribou Coffee / Facebook

Peet's Coffee, meanwhile, missed out on the top spot by just .9%. Preferred by 36% of respondents, Peet's Coffee is actually also owned by JAB Holding Company, and boasts around 200 U.S. locations. Consumers called Peet's coffee "amazing," organic," and "high quality," with one commenting: "I stop here in the mornings on my way to work and it is really out of my way, so I leave a little early so I can get a great cup of coffee." Another said they chose Peet's because of "the amazing taste and smell to the coffee beans; it matters where it comes from and is grown." Specific drinks on Peet's menu mentioned by respondents included the horchata coffee drinks, the espresso, black tie iced coffee, and pumpkin spice.

Starbucks rounded out the top three, collecting 29.4% of the most craveable votes. "No other coffee place makes it how I like, or if they do it's inconsistent from one visit to the next. Starbucks makes it the same every time," said one person. Starbucks' menu is eclectic, and while some respondents cited more traditional offerings like brewed iced coffee, Pike Place medium roast, or nitro coffee, others mentioned holiday options like their peppermint mocha coffee.

Dutch Bros Coffee claimed number four (27.6%) on the list, followed by Dunkin' Donuts at number five (20.2%). One subject said "the coffees are great and hard to beat" at Dutch Bros, while many others highlighted the chain's selection of unusual coffee flavors like Captain Crunch and German chocolate cake iced coffee. Consumers also appreciate all of the flavors available at Dunkin': pumpkin spice, peanut butter, blueberry, French vanilla, etc. A significant portion of people also mentioned the assortment of food items available at Dunkin' like coffee rolls, hash browns, and maple donuts.

Canadian coffee brand Tim Hortons ranked at number six (16.6%), with one participant saying "their coffee is the best and I really don't care for any other company's coffee that much." The donuts at Tim Hortons, such as Timbits, cream cheese donuts and blueberry donuts, were also mentioned by many. Corner Bakery Café grabbed the number seven spot, with 4.5% of consumers calling the chain's coffee craveable. One person even said Corner Bakery Café offers "the perfect taste of the coffee."

Interestingly, the last three chains on this list share one similarity: They aren't exclusively coffee brands. Einstein Bros Bagels (4%), Baskin-Robbins (3.2%), and Cinnabon (3.2%) cap off the tail end of the craveability rankings, despite all three being more well-known for their foods than their drinks. One respondent said that Einstein Bros Bagels' mocha frozen coffee drink "tastes like a milkshake," while tons of consumers said they enjoy Baskin-Robbins' blended drinks that combine coffee and ice cream. Another participant said they like "all the different Cinnabon flavored coffees … soooo yummy."

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John