The TONY blind coffee taste test

Does Stumptown really taste better than Starbucks? We took branding out of the equation and asked a panel of coffee drinkers to evaluate five NYC brews. Plus: Vote for your favorite cup!



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* HOW WE DID IT All coffees were served black in the same paper cups; the tasters had no prior knowledge of which brands they would be served. Beverages were purchased directly from the stores using their usual brewing techniques; delivery was staggered to ensure that none were left to sit for more than 20 minutes after preparation. Panelists assigned each pour a score ranging from 1 (undrinkable) to 10 (outstanding), with the scores averaged to determine our rankings. The brands were not revealed until all coffees had been tasted.

The judges

The coffee snob
Kate Singleton, 27

Founder of Art Hound (, a blog and consulting service focused on affordable art for
the home
Favorite NYC coffee: "I mostly drink French press at home with Gorilla Coffee beans. When I go out, my favorite places are Black Gold and Cafe Pedlar."

The to-go guy
Seamus McKiernan, 26

Television and film extra
Favorite NYC coffee: "I skip around throughout the week, but I go to the Dunkin' Donuts on 34th and Park a lot. The staff is stellar, and it's one of only a handful of kosher Dunkin' Donuts shops in the
five boroughs."

The expert
Nick Cho, 37

Cofounder of Washington, D.C.--based Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters; certified Q grader (professional coffee taster); 2007 Southeast region winner, United States Barista Championships
Favorite NYC coffee: "I usually hit Bluebird and Third Rail."

1st place (tie): Stumptown

(Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Tumticha, brewed via Chemex)

The coffee snob: "I like this a lot. There's a nice amount of acidity, and it's pretty balanced, with a nice finish." 8.5/10
The to-go guy:
"This would make a good daily coffee. It's really smooth and not too
strong. I'd walk three, maybe four blocks out of my way to get it." 7/10
The expert:
"There's a nice, pleasing acidity—sort of limelike—and then a little bitterness in the aftertaste. It's quite complex." 8/10
Available at Stumptown Coffee Roasters Ace Hotel, 18 W 29th St between Fifth Ave and Broadway (646-214-5749). $4.25.

1st place (tie): Joe

(Ecco Caff Seasonal House blend, filter-brewed)

The coffee snob: "I like it but don't love it. It's very fruity, but not bold enough for me." 7.5/10
The to-go guy: "This is really strong and bitter. If I was eating a breakfast sandwich, it would totally overpower the food." 7.5/10
The expert: "It's got very nice sweetness and balance, but it fell apart as it cooled. Not to sound like a dork, but that's a sign of mistakes in brewing, not the beans." 8.5/10
Locations throughout the city; visit $1.80--$2.25.

3rd place: Starbucks

(Pike Place Roast, filter-brewed)

The coffee snob: "I could definitely chug that. My guess is Starbucks Pike Place. It's bold, but generically bold." 8/10
The to-go guy: "To me, it's almost not really a coffee. There's none of the acidity that seems central to what a coffee is." 5.5/10
The expert: "It's got to be Starbucks. The roasted, burnt flavors dominate." 3.5/10
Locations throughout the city; visit $1.85--$2.50.

4th place: Dunkin' Donuts


The coffee snob: "To me this is pretty much average deli coffee: drinkable, but pretty generic." 3/10
The to-go guy: "It's a bit watered down, but on the plus side, you could drink a lot of it if you really wanted to. There's something psychologically appealing about a huge coffee." 6/10
The expert: "This is probably a blend—maybe Dunkin' Donuts? There's a nice caramely sweetness, but it tastes like it's been sitting in an urn for at least an hour." 6.5/10
Locations throughout the city; visit $1.48--$2.49.

5th place: McDonald's


The coffee snob: "This is pretty close to undrinkable. It's so sour it made my mouth pucker. I'd rather have tea." 1/10
The to-go guy: "It reminds me of the coffee I had the other day at 7-Eleven—good for large quantities of strategic caffeine ingestion." 4/10
The expert: "This one's really roasty at first, but as I got into it, it had a kind of bittersweet chocolaty flavor that was quite nice. It's a little on the weak side, though." 6/10
Locations throughout the city; visit $1--$1.79.

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