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!
Tue Dec 7 2010
* 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 coffee snob
Kate Singleton, 27
Founder of Art Hound (arthound.net), a blog and consulting service focused on affordable art for
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
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 joetheartofcoffee.com. $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 starbucks.com. $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 dunkindonuts.com. $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 mcdonalds.com. $1--$1.79.
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