Monday, April 10, 2017

Dunkin' Donuts - The Drinks

Update Review December 2016

A crazy thing happened to me on my holiday visit to the east coast in December.  I decided, perhaps long overdue, that I don't really like Dunkin Donuts.  At least, not the coffee.  It just isn't very good.  I'm sorry, I know I'm upsetting a lot of people right now.  And really, for what it is, it is expensive.  I had my years of loving the place, but I think I was into it in my younger years because of all the cream and sugar, and, well, I didn't really appreciate coffee itself.

During that visit, I still went a few times, got coffee, and didn't really care for it.  On my last day, I realized that I had a birthday freebie reward about to expire.  I didn't want another mediocre coffee.  I knew that way back in the day I loved Coolattas, except, I didn't want caffeine (although, it turns out, Coffee Coolattas have *very* little caffeine content, barely more than decaf!)  I thought I could perhaps try a fruity Coolatta for the first time, assuming it was basically just a slushie drink, but then I saw just how much sugar was in it (88 grams!), and thought better of it.  Instead I opted to go totally off menu, and make up my own icy beverage, somewhat inspired by exploring off-menu Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  Did you know you can do that at Dunkin' Donuts?  I didn't, until I tried.
Vanilla Bean Coolatta + Blueberry + Whip (Large).
"Rich and creamy, our Vanilla Bean Coolatta® is a refreshingly divine treat at any time of day."

I don't think Dunkin' Donuts is known for custom, off-menu drinks.  But I wanted an icy beverage, that wasn't caffeinated, and wasn't just sugar.  This left me with exactly one option: a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  But I've had it before, and remembered that it was basically just sweet, and I didn't like it either.  So, I decided to try adding in a flavor shot, normally for the coffee obviously, but, I figured they could add it to a Coolatta too, and come up with a custom, sorta fruity, creamy, blended beverage.

The person taking my order clearly hadn't ever had someone order like this, but was really into it.  I think he was more excited than I was, particularly when he saw it was my birthday creation.  I think he wished me a happy birthday about 10 times.

Flavor shots are available in french vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, coconut, blueberry, and raspberry.  I opted for blueberry, but I think coconut or raspberry would be delicious too.

It sorta worked.  I did like the creamy blueberry flavor, and with just one shot in the large drink, it wasn't too much.  But the drink wasn't really as icy as I hoped, it was very thin and liquidy for the most part.  I wanted it to be thicker, more like a milkshake.  I think this is me just not really liking Coolattas, not a failing of my creation.

The man who prepared my beverage also went a bit crazy with the whipped cream, which I didn't mind at all, but, as you can see above, it looked rather insane.  So much whipped cream, but honestly, that *was* the best part.

This thing was perhaps the worst thing, nutritionally, that I possibly could have ordered, which is saying something given that I was surrounded by donuts.  Not counting the whipped cream, it turned out to be even worse sugar-wise than the fruity Coolattas, which I didn't realize until far too late.  174 grams of sugar (!!!).  How is that even possible?  A whopping 850 calories too, again, not including the very, very generous amount of whipped cream.  "Neutral Base", with its cream and every form of sugar imaginable, really did add up!

I can't say I'd get this again, as even I can't justify that much sugar, but, I'd consider a kid's size one, and try coconut next time ...

Original Reviews, 2013 - 2015

I've shared my thoughts on the west coast coffee chain darling, Peet's, and the nationwide Starbucks, so it seems only appropriate to post about the place I grew up with: Dunkin' Donuts.  Or Dunks, as I knew it.

Dunks is where I learned to drink coffee.  Now, granted, what I thought was coffee then and what I think is coffee now are two very different things.  But it still holds a very special place in my heart.

As a kid, no birthday party was complete without a giant box of munchkins.  Once I could drive, no road trip was complete without several stops at Dunks to get a hot coffee and a muffin.  And no summer day was complete without a refreshing Coolatta or an iced coffee.  They seemed to have a product to fit whatever stage of life I was in.

But then I moved to the west coast, where there are no Dunkin' Donuts.  And I started drinking my coffee black, and then even just drinking espressos, and started caring which single origin coffee I was drinking, and what extraction method was used to prepare it. My days of Dunks were behind me.

On my last few visits to the east coast however, I've tried it out again.  While still satisfying in the nostalgic sense, it actually isn't very good.  I claim it has changed.  For example, my coffee of choice, the french vanilla, used to be actual french vanilla coffee, and now it is just the regular coffee, with a squirt of flavored syrup in it.  They only brew basic regular and decaf now, and just use syrups for the rest.  The donuts and muffins are no longer baked fresh daily on site, but rather in big distribution centers and shipped in.  And ... they sell bagels?  And breakfast burritos?  And ... tuna salad sandwiches?  And my precious Coffee Coolatta is now called "Frozen Coffee Drink".  Whaaat?

Anyway.  I've tried out a bunch of their products again, and my notes on the drinks are below (to read about the baked goods, and donuts, visit that review).  The only thing that I used to love that I haven't tried recently is the muffins, particularly, the corn muffins.  They had a big sign on them boasting "new recipe!" so I shied away.  I'll let them stay in my memory as the amazing thing they once were.

Notes below include both standard, and seasonal special, offerings, compiled over the course of 2013 - 2015.

Hot Coffee

I found a lot of variety in the hot coffee.  I think the biggest difference was likely how fresh the coffee is, particularly the decaf.  Unlike Peet's, they don't have any policies regarding freshness.  Several times I asked how fresh the decaf was, and the worker told me it was from that morning (when it was late in the afternoon).  Yikes!

Back in the day, when you ordered a coffee at Dunks, it came with cream and sugar, by default.  If you didn't specify anything, that is what you got.  And not just a little bit of each, they'd load it up with a giant scoop of sugar and a generous glug of cream.  Not half and half, cream.  It was sweet, it was creamy, and I guess there was coffee in there somewhere.

Times have changed a little.  Now, if you just order a coffee, they ask, "cream and sugar?"  And if you say yes, you still get the massive amounts of it.  I tried some black a few times, and must say, it wasn't very good at all.  But load it up with cream and sugar, and it is still pretty much what I remember.

Standard Flavors

Other things that have changed?  How the flavor is added.  I used to always love the french vanilla and hazelnut coffees.  Back in the good old days, these were actually flavored coffees.  Now all flavors are added as syrups.  Most are just sweetened syrup with some flavors, although the "flavor swirls" also include sweetened condensed milk, so you have to be careful if you get one of those and also ask for cream and sugar ... it gets crazy sweet and creamy fast!

For the shots that are just flavor, options are blueberry, raspberry, coconut, mocha, and toasted almond, plus  caramel, hazelnut, french vanilla.  The later options are also available as the aforementioned "swirls", with sweetend condensed milk already added in.
Small Hot Coffee, Hazelnut.
Hazelnut is my current favorite.  I used to love the old brewed French Vanilla flavor, but the new syrup I do not like as much.  Hazelnut adds a nice aroma and flavor, although the standard number of pumps of syrup tends to be too sweet for me.  I prefer one fewer pump than standard.

Other Flavors:
  • Blueberry: I tried this really just out of curiosity.  Blueberry coffee?  Wat? Well, it was exactly what it said it was.  Blueberry flavored coffee.  No reason to get this again, but it was decent blueberry flavor.  
  • Caramel: The aroma on this was lovely, but the taste ... awful.  I'm not sure if it was the caramel, or the stale, rancid old coffee it was added to, but, it was undrinkable, and I haven't been brave enough to try it again since!
  • Cinnamon: Not bad, but obviously just cinnamon flavor syrup.
  • French Vanilla: A tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit vanilla-y, and a bit "fake" tasting.  I still like having the flavor, but its not what it used to be.
  • Toasted Almond: A bit burnt tasting perhaps, not good.

Seasonal Specials

Throughout the year, Dunkin' Donuts introduces seasonal specials, usually inspired by holidays, or recent partnerships (like when they merged with Baskin' Robbins, and started offering all sorts of ice cream inspired flavors).  These flavors come for a few months, and then go, although sometimes they repeat again the next year.

  • Peppermint Mocha (Seasonal, Winter 2014): Slightly pepperminty, but not very strong.  Didn't taste any chocolate or "mocha"ness.  Least sweet of all the flavor swirls.
  • Pumpkin Swirl: Very pumpkiny, spiced, and insanely sweet.  This is one of the "swirl" flavors, so it has sweetened condensed milk, very sweet, very creamy. 
  • Red Velvet Swirl: Another "swirl" flavor, very sweet and creamy, actually kinda tasty!  [ Very sweet, very creamy, enjoyable. ] [ A single pump isn't enough for a medium to really give it the richer red velvet flavor.  But standard order (2 pumps?) is a bit too much for me, the cream left a nasty mouthfeel and coated my throat. ]
  • Sugar Cookie (Seasonal, Winter 2014): This was a flavor swirl, so, again loaded with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  I got a small, and I think the amount of syrup added would have been sufficient for a large.  Way, way too sweet. I'm not sure what I was expecting from "sugar cookie" flavor, but all this tasted like was sweetness.  Would not get again.

Other Hot Drinks

Dunkin' Donuts sells a number of other hot drinks, including tea, chai, hot chocolate, lattes, cappuccinos, and the "Dunkaccino®".  I can't imagine ordering these beverages, but, some people must.


[ No Photo ]

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.


"Now you can enjoy the doubly tasty sensation of sweet and salted caramel in your cup of hot chocolate."

My sister ordered a hot chocolate since she doesn't like coffee.  And ... I stole a sip.  It was crazy sweet.  Like way, way too sweet.  And not very chocolately at all.  It did have a nice froth on top, but I think it came from a machine, not a skilled barista.  Certainly not my thing.

Iced Coffee

My old standard summer drink was always iced coffee.  Like the hot coffee, the flavors now come as a flavor syrup, rather than brewed flavored coffee.  And like the hot coffee, once loaded up with Dunk's signature amounts of cream and sugar, it was pretty much exactly as I remembered.  Sweet, creamy, refreshing, exactly what I wanted on a hot summer day.

Standard Flavors

The standard flavors available for iced coffee are the same as for hot coffee.
Medium Hazelnut Decaf Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk. $2.59.

This is my classic summer drink.  Warm weather and iced coffee just go hand in hand.  My favorite flavor for iced coffee at Dunks is hazelnut.



I never like my iced coffee black, so I always sweeten it, and add milk rather than cream.  I'm not cream-adverse, but for some reason in iced coffee it always tastes cloying to me, and coats my mouth in an uncomfortable way.  So, milk it is.

I loved this, on a hot day, it was oh-so-satisfying.
Dark Roast Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk, Hazelnut (3 pumps).

For National Coffee Day, Dunkin' Donuts gave out free medium sized coffee (hot or iced) of their relatively new Dark Roast only.  I'm usually a decaf drinker, and don't actually like dark roasts, but, I can't resist a freebee.



I added milk and hazelnut as I always do.  And ... it tasted exactly like the decaf I had the day before.  It certainly didn't seem particularly dark.  And I guess that means that the decaf doesn't taste particularly funky?  I really enjoyed it, and the associated caffeine high that came from sucking it down in all of 3 minutes flat.  Whoops.

Other Flavors:
  • French Vanilla: Not much flavor, meh. Somehow "fake" tasting.
  • Coconut Caramel Swirl: Crazy sweet since it is a "swirl" flavor with sweetened condensed milk already in it, so don't get sweetener with this flavor.  Coconuty, caramely, and quite tasty!
  • French Vanilla + Coconut + 1 Cream, small: Decent, but still too much cream for me, and I wanted to add sweetener anyway.

Seasonal Specials

Just like with hot coffee, Dunkin' Donuts offers seasonal and special flavors that can be mixed into iced coffee (or really, any drink you want, if you go for lattes, cappuccinos, or even hot chocolate).
Medium Decaf Cookie Dough Iced Coffee.  $2.39.

It turns out, that in the years since I've left the east coast, the classic Dunkin' Donuts order of cream and sugar is no longer sufficient: the new flavor "swirls" available already have dairy and sweetener mixed in!  The flavor shot includes sweetened condensed milk, cream, light cream, and milk, plus high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and brown sugar.  Seriously?  ALL THE CREAMS AND SUGARS!  Were people starting to get healthy and order skim milk and splenda instead of cream and sugar, so they had to up the ante and hide the crazy?  Anyway, this was crazy sweet.  It did taste kinda like cookie dough though, and I liked it more than I expected too.



Other flavors:
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Not nearly as creamy, nor as sweet, as the cookie dough, although it still obviously had both dairy and sweetener in it.  I wish I'd taken a photo, because it looked so different, and it makes no sense to me, given that the Dunkin' Donuts website has the same nutritional and ingredient information for the two varieties.  Given that the first one seemed way too creamy sweet, perhaps they added the correct amount to this one?  (Although, I'd expect the number of squirts they do must be standard, so I'm not sure why there is so much variance).  Like the cookie dough flavor, it did taste remarkably like mint chocolate chip.  Which, it turns out ... is not what I want from my coffee.  I wouldn't get this again.
  • Butter Pecan: Again sweet and creamy, but I didn't care for the flavor.  It tasted a bit burnt.

Frozen Beverages

Ah, Coolattas.  For the times where you want to splurge.  Or for when you are younger, and have no clue how horrible these things are.

Coolattas are frozen, slushy, iced concoctions, sorta like Starbucks Frappuccinos, except made from a mix, not freshly brewed coffee to order.  Back in the day, I'm pretty sure they were all coffee based, but now there are fruity options as well.  All are loaded up with tons of sugar and random chemicals.  They are not available with decaf coffee, since the base is "Frozen Coffee Base", which already includes "Frozen Coffee Concentrate", made with coffee extract, not even real espresso.  The Vanilla Bean flavor uses "Frozen Neutral Base", a terrifying mix of chemicals, sugars, and cream, yielding a 850 calorie treat, complete with a whopping 174 grams of sugar.  The fruit flavors are marketed more at kids, and, as you can imagine, are just sugar bombs.

They also generally come topped with whipped cream.

I did used to love these, perfect for a hot summer day, for an indulgent treat.  I've tried them again as an adult, but, alas, the magic has been lost.
Oreo Vanilla Bean Coolatta, Child Size, Whip.
Oreo was a featured flavor of the month, not one that I had before.  It looked delicious in the picture displayed all over the store.  I couldn't resist, but I opted for the off-menu child size, to keep my sugar intake in check.

It was very sweet, like a liquid Oreo.  It had tons of Oreo crumbles in it.  It was nicely icy, well blended,  and actually, quite enjoyable.  Basically a milkshake.  The whipped cream on top really helped balance it out.  This size was perfect though, anything more would have been way, way too much.

Previous notes: The first time I tried it, I just had a small sample, and it was too sweet and not well blended.  The whipped cream on top was necessary to help balance it out.
Coffee Coolatta, Coconut, Medium, Whip.
I decided to try a new flavor.  I've been on a bit of a coconut kick lately, so I went for coconut.  It was ... ok.  I did like having some coconuty goodness in it.

The base had some slight coffee flavor, but not much.  It was blended decently, although it quickly separated, leaving a watery layer at the bottom and a icy layer on top.  Overall, it was also very sweet.

Standard whipped cream on top, Garelick Farms brand, from a can.

I didn't love this; the flavor just wasn't intense, it was kinda icy and separated ... meh.


[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Coffee Coolatta.

This was my old standby, during the summer, when I wanted a treat.

It was very, very sweet, with a slight vanilla flavor, and a slight coffee flavor.  I remember why I liked these, but ZOMG serious sweet.

Update:  I had another, the next summer  It had that classic Dunkin' Donuts french vanilla flavor that I recalled from my youth.  It was nicely blended, with no icy chunks.  The whipped cream on top was good.  It was definitely too sweet for my general taste these days, but really was fun to try again because it really was exactly what I remember!

Update: And the next year? Way too sweet.  I didn't want more than a few sips of this.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Bean Coolatta.

This was an ordering mistake.  I thought I was getting my Vanilla Coffee Coolatta, but instead I seemed to have ordered a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  Oops.

This was just sweet overload.  It did not have a good vanilla flavor.  It was not very slushy.  It was just sweet, sweet, sweet.  But the whipped cream was awesome.  Did I mention it was sweet?  ZOMG.  Not including the whip, this thing had ... 130 grams of sugar in it!  The perfect thing to pair with a donut, right?

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