I tried the signature roast at 4 coffee chains, and there’s only one I would never order again

I tried the signature roast from four popular chains to see which had the best black coffee. Erin Ajello for Insider
  • I tasted hot black coffee from four major coffee chains: Tim Hortons, Gloria Jean’s, Dunkin’, and Starbucks.
  • The signature roast at Dunkin’ tasted watery and didn’t have much flavour, but I think that might appeal to those who don’t like bitter brews.
  • Tim Hortons’ coffee tasted dry, and I think it’d be better with milk.
  • Starbucks’ signature roast was far too bitter for my liking, and I would never order it again.
  • Gloria Jean’s coffee was strong and smooth – it was my favourite.
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I basically drink only black coffee, so it’s important that I like a chain’s signature roast enough to not need milk or sugar.

But since I don’t really use sweeteners and syrups, I know very well that not every coffee is created equally.

To figure out where I can find the best hot black coffee, I ordered a small cup of the signature brew from four popular coffee chains: Gloria Jean’s, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Dunkin’.

Each cup of coffee cost about $US2, so I didn’t factor price into my ranking. Read on to see how the signature roasts stacked up.

The easiest coffee to drink was from Dunkin’.

The coffee was a bit watery, but I didn’t necessarily think that was a bad thing. Erin Ajello for Insider

Dunkin’ is a popular coffee chain in the US, particularly on the East Coast, and it claims to serve “America’s favourite cup” – but it’s not my top choice.

Though it’s a medium roast, the coffee tasted a lot lighter and less intense than the other coffees I tried.

The coffee also looked lightest in colour and seemed a bit watery, but it did not taste bitter at all. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed drinking this coffee even though it lacked any particular flavour.

Though light, thin coffee may not appeal to everyone, people who aren’t huge fans of bitter black coffee might enjoy the mildness of this brew.

The coffee from Tim Hortons was served piping hot.

This coffee wasn’t bad, but it could use a splash of milk. Erin Ajello for Insider

Tim Hortons is a mainstay in Canada with several locations sprinkled throughout the US.

The chain’s signature brew is a medium-roast coffee, which I usually prefer. This coffee had more flavour than the one from Dunkin’, with a crispness to it.

I was surprised that this coffee was served so hot – even after waiting for it to cool, I worried I’d burn my tongue.

Temperature aside, this coffee lacked a certain sweetness.

Though this coffee tasted fine overall, the dry aftertaste and scorching temperature made me think it would taste much better with some milk.

Starbucks’ signature roast was too bitter for my liking.

I wouldn’t order this again without some sugar. Erin Ajello for Insider

This Seattle-based chain is a coffee mainstay throughout the world, but I wasn’t too impressed.

The Pike Place roast is Starbucks’ signature coffee, and though it’s a medium roast, it definitely tasted dark to me.

Whereas Starbucks describes this roast as rich, I would describe it as overly powerful and very bitter.

Starbucks’ website describes this blend as having notes of “chocolate and toasted nuts,” but I did not experience those flavours.

As I’ve learned, the downside of drinking only black coffee is that you quickly learn which places serve roasts that are meant to be diluted with sweeteners to improve the taste – no wonder Starbucks is known for its flavorful Frappuccinos and mixed drinks.

I wouldn’t be able to drink this coffee again without pouring a ton of milk and sugar into it, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to order it in the future.

Gloria Jean’s coffee was strong and smooth.

The coffee tasted rich. Erin Ajello for Insider

Gloria Jean’s began in Chicago but is now huge in Australia, with a few locations throughout the US.

The chain’s signature drinks are its chillers: cold, sugary drinks blended with coffee. This was my first time buying plain hot coffee here – and I was surprised by how tasty it was.

The coffee tasted as rich and as smooth as Gloria Jean’s advertised it. Though people who aren’t used to drinking black coffee might balk at the intense flavour of this coffee, I loved how strong it was.

Overall, the coffee from Gloria Jean’s was my favourite.

Gloria Jean’s coffee had such a smooth, strong flavour. Erin Ajello for Insider

Though Gloria Jean’s is known for its cold drinks, the chain’s hot coffee tasted the best out of all the ones I tried.

Because of its strong flavour, Gloria Jean’s coffee is the one I’m most likely to drink again without adding any milk, sugar, ice, or flavour shots. I also think fellow black-coffee fans would enjoy its slight kick.

But perhaps my biggest takeaway from this taste-testing is that if you’re in a hurry, ordering a hot black coffee is an efficient move.

At every chain I visited, my coffee was handed to me less than a minute after I ordered it, despite how crowded some of the locations were.

If you like your coffee a bit diluted, it may be worth the wait to get your usual order, but if you’re looking to run in and out of a crowded chain, a simple hot black coffee is the way to go.