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REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Coffee Beverage

The sweet, milky coffee beloved by half the country arrives in a bottle. FINALLY.

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee occupies a very sharply defined niche in our collective consciousness, fueled mostly by the company’s “America Runs on Dunkin'” advertising campaign. It’s a clear delineation; while Starbucks is busy making everything taste like Gingerbread Salted Caramel, the hard working men and women who visit Dunkin’ Donuts are getting the job done with a medium hot, two and two. While Starbucks is figuring out how to get you to pay six dollars for a latte (and possibly a cd of holiday music), somewhere in New England, an EMT is suiting up for an overnight shift, a piping hot Dunkin’ Donuts coffee by her side.

It’s this rough-and-tumble, coffee for the people, by the people ethic that makes Dunkin’ Donuts such a beloved brand, particularly here on the East Coast. And we get it; on those days when the thermometer dips below zero, the roads are some hellish layer upon layer of ice, salt, and packed slush, when you pull up to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive through, cracking your door to pay for your order because your car windows are frozen shut, a hot coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts can seem like a small miracle, a spot of warmth in an otherwise frigid, gruesome day.

It was only a matter of time, then, before Dunkin’ Donuts jumped into the “premium bottled coffee beverage” game. But does this highfalutin’ designation go against everything Dunkin’ Donuts has come to represent as a brand? From the press release:

“This new product introduction will increase consumption of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and increase our brand relevance with existing and new consumers, including many younger customers, which we believe will in turn, drive incremental visits to our restaurants,” Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis said in a statement.

Man, if that kind of talk doesn’t get you fired up, we don’t know what will. Increased consumption! Brand relevance! Incremental visits! UNGH!

The Coca-Cola -produced drinks, which will be made with “Arabica coffee blends” and “will include real milk and sugar” measure 13.7 ounces, and come in four flavors: Original, Mocha, French Vanilla, and Espresso. For the purposes of this tasting, while it was tempting to pour the bottled coffee into a glass over ice, this probably isn’t the way most people will be enjoying this beverage, so we raw-dogged it straight from the bottle. A few thoughts on each flavor:

Original: This tastes like a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee on its best possible day, when the coffee isn’t all bitter and the guy working the window doesn’t dump a thousand pounds of sweetener into the cup. It *is* a sweet drink, and seems much thicker and more velvety than an iced coffee from the store, likely because it hasn’t been poured over a gallon bucket of crushed ice. There’s not much that we would be able to pick out that makes this a “signature” Dunkin’ Donuts flavor, but this is a perfectly agreeable bottled iced coffee.

Mocha: A lot of “Mocha” coffee flavors get it all wrong, bottling up chocolatey overly-sweet concoctions that taste more like boxes of chocolate milk. Dunkin’ keeps it subtle, with light chocolate notes and a pleasant malted milk powder flavor that doesn’t overpower the coffee.

French Vanilla: Ooh la la. The vanilla flavor is powerful, here. Even overly so. In fact, when you unscrew the cap from the bottle, an overwhelming scent of cake batter assaults your senses. People who love the taste of coffee won’t find much to like, here, but if you’re into that synthetic, throat-burning chemical vanilla flavor, this is going to be your jam.

Espresso: Our favorite of the bunch, “Espresso” offers a light touch of the scent of roasting coffee, with a slightly more robust coffee flavor than the Original variety. Make no mistake: You’re not going to suddenly feel like you’ve been magically transported to a coffee shop in Italy. This is still bottled iced coffee made by Coca-Cola. But if you like your ready-to-drink iced coffee to carry a bit more coffee flavor, in the same full-bodied, silky beverage base, this is the best of the four.

Overall, these are four perfectly drinkable bottled iced coffees. While there’s not much about them that screams “Dunkin’ Donuts” (aside from a really well-designed bottle and label), it’s nice to see the brand extend into convenience stores and new geographic regions including the west coast, which is something of a Dunkin’ Donuts wasteland. At 290 calories, it’s hard to imagine drinking one of these every morning (unless you use them as a meal replacement), but as a once-in-a-while afternoon pick-me-up, they make a lot of sense.

The real issue is the cost. We paid just under $3 per bottle for these (Amazon  is selling 12-packs for just shy of $45, making their price $3.75 per bottle), which is where we get kind of lost on the concept. This makes a bottled iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts more expensive than an ACTUAL iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, where you can buy almost otherworldly quantities of iced coffee, including luxuries like “ice” and “straws,” for less money.

Pricing these coffees in the $3 to $4 dollar range seems to position them more to compete with premium bottled coffees from Starbucks, which carry an enhanced brand perception and much wider market share and distribution. Further, a $4 bottle of iced coffee seems to fly in the face of the company’s “America Runs on Dunkin'” campaign, elevating ready-to-drink bottled coffees from an “everyman” drink, to more of a premium offering.

Most of the people we know love Dunkin’ Donuts because of the way it fits into a morning routine, right in between smoking your first Marlboro of the day, and watching the sun come up over the blade of your snowplow. Pricing the bottled version of the coffees so highly transforms them into a “pinkies up” beverage, which may not be appealing to the brand’s most loyal base, and forces them to compete with higher-quality, more recognizable bottled coffees.

All in all, a solid effort by Dunkin’ perfect for transplanted East Coasters looking for a nostalgic fix from their home state, but with less to offer for regular Dunkin’ Donuts customers.

Written by Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm is the author of "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as a frequent contributor to Serious Eats, Down East Magazine, The L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. When not poisoning his body with garbage and then posting sardonic commentary about it on the Internet, he also owns and operates the 'Wich, Please food truck, named Eater.com's "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015.

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