The Best Fast-Food Iced Coffees, Ranked
According to the many, many greeting card-style memes my grandma keeps tagging me in on Facebook, spring has officially sprung. Which means (at least) two things: the time is nigh for my pink pastel man romper to come out of seasonal retirement, and the iced coffee equinox is upon us.
The iced coffee equinox is that one day when winter collides with spring, the slush melts, arms and legs are displayed in their full bare glory, and hot coffee is officially replaced by iced coffee in our hearts, minds, and local fast-food chain locations. And surprisingly, you can indeed get a solid joe option through a drive-thru window from a burger joint.
But as in life, professional sports, and online dating apps, some options are simply better than others (here's looking at you Farmer's Only.) I put my own health at risk to test 11 of the most prominent fast-food iced coffees (no cold brews, and no "flavored" coffees when possible) to see which options rise to the top like cream, and which javas sink to the bottom like a wayward french fry that you have to fish out of your drink with a bendy straw.
Here are my findings. And just so you know, I haven't slept in three weeks.
Vanilla iced coffee
Wendy's loses some points here because they don't have a "regular" iced coffee flavor currently. and only stock flavored varieties like vanilla, mocha, and caramel. And -- as you can probably assert -- the flavoring here makes the coffee a little too saccharine to be part of a balanced breakfast... or lunch... or coffee break. This is basically a caffeinated dessert, and it can get a little overpowering at times. The vanilla option here is probably the smoothest and most subdued. But still: it's super-sweet. You might as well dip your fries in it.
Best dish to pair it with: Actually, get a Vanilla Frosty, double fist it, and ride that sugar/caffeine high till your burgers are square, so to speak.
10. Krispy Kreme
You might not even know that Krispy Kreme serves coffee in the first place... and probably for good reason. The purveyors of those ridiculously addictive, glazed little donuts do feature iced (and hot, for that matter) coffee in many of their locations. But unlike their donuts, the final result is a little bland, forgettable, and watery -- it tastes a little like bodega (or even gas station) brew. It's serviceable, it will definitely do the job, but it will you leave you feeling a little... meh. But who cares, you are here for the donuts, right?
Best dish to pair it with: One original glazed donut. Obviously.
9. Burger King
BK Joe iced coffee
The joe served inside the home of the Whopper does not have flame-broiled grill marks, but the one I sampled tasted a little burnt. Just to be safe -- and to make sure I wasn't projecting based on years of commercial-viewing and Whopper consuming -- I tried the coffee again, on a separate day. I still tasted a little bit of burntness in the aftertaste. But that was actually OK, as the overall flavor of the coffee itself was ridiculously creamy and sweet... probably because they put a boatload of sugar and milk inside the brew before they served it. It was definitely enjoyable to drink, but at times -- especially during the first visit -- it just felt a little off. Kind of like this guy. I'm sensing a theme here.
Best dish to pair with it: Chicken fries. It may not be a traditional morning meal, but why the hell not double down on decadence here?
8. Taco Bell
Regular iced coffee
As someone who is a big fan of Taco Bell's (relatively) new breakfast menu -- and their entire, sexy smorgasbord of fast Mexican bliss in general -- I thought TB's joe might rank a little bit higher. But when tried in reference to all these other fast food brands, I simply could not justify putting this Live Mas brew any higher. The taste is a little too high on the acidity. It didn't burn my tongue (or deliver some righteous Apocalypse Now-style flashbacks), but it did make the entire experience a little less than smooth, which Santana would not approve of. Overall, the experience is a little forgettable, but serviceable. Which is totally not on brand for Taco Bell. Please call me when Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Cold Brew becomes a cool American reality.
Best dish to pair it with: The breakfast Crunchwrap. The heavy bacon, egg, and jalapeño kick kind of offsets the acidic aftertaste… and it's also delicious in its own right.
7. Jack in the Box
Original iced coffee
Like so many of these fast-food chains, Jack in the Box's morning joe is juiced up with copious amounts of cream and sugar -- making it taste more like a milkshake than something fit for your morning commute. Jack's most differentiating feature here is the creamy taste of the coffee. Simply put: it's creamier than an albino, cave-dwelling, Irishman's lower back in mid-February. As someone who loves dairy (and may admittedly put a little too much milk in his morning coffee), it didn't fully turn me off… but I can definitely see some people avoiding Jack in the Box's coffee because of the supercharged cream situation. You can ask them to put less in, obviously, but this is how it comes standard. And we have to hold that against them.
Best dish to pair it with: The loaded breakfast sandwich. This dagwood-esque breakfast behemoth of meat comes loaded with bacon, sausage, ham, egg, and cheese between two sourdough breakfast buns... at the very least, it will keep your attention away from how creamy this coffee tastes. Though it might clog a few arteries in the process.
Original Iced Coffee
7-Eleven -- despite being on the bleeding edge of convenience store cuisine -- is not technically a "fast food" joint, in some people's opinions. But, their inclusion is warranted here by their merit: this iced coffee is cheap, smooth, super-convenient (you pour it yourself!) and is overall one of the original items you can pick up at the 24/7 chain that won't fill you with devastating pangs of unholy shame. It packs a lot of flavor, but is never too overpowering. The only drawback here is that it does taste a little... artificial? Especially on the aftertaste. That's really the best way to describe it. And if you've ever drank as much fast-food iced coffee as I have, you should know exactly what I mean.
Best dish to pair it with: What the hell, get a Slurpee, too. This is America, after all.
Inevitably sticking with the trend here, Chick-Fil-A's coffee is sweet. Like, "vanilla ice cream and malted milk balls in a blender mixed with birthday cake and cookie dough" sweet. But somehow, the chicken chain makes it work. The overall taste is (aside from sweet and creamy, duh) a little nutty, and overall had a super-smooth aftertaste that agreed with my palate quite well, like a seasoned Southern gentleman sitting on a rocking chair on his porch, bidding me a good morning. One drawback: don't expect to snag a cup on Sunday. Which is a shame, as that's prime, laid-back coffee sippin' time.
Best dish to pair it with: The classic chicken biscuit. In fact, it's the only thing to pair it with.
4. Tim Hortons
Iced premium blend
The Canadians among us might consider it fast-food coffee blasphemy (just kidding, Canadians would never be that aggressive!) to have Timmy Horton's not crack the top three -- and admittedly, what the north-of-the-border coffee and donut chain is serving is quite good. For their iced coffee, Tim Horton's takes its legendary premium blend, chills it, and serves it over ice. It packs a more intense, refreshing punch than a Connor McDavid slapshot, and is quite honestly an extremely solid, quick iced coffee option. But ultimately, it just lacks the overall appeal of the three coffees ahead of it. Blame Canada. Not me.
Best dish to pair it with: Canadian maple donut. It's the Canadian breakfast double whammy of your dreams, eh?
Iced premium blend with French vanilla
Sonic is universally known for a couple things. 1.) They frustratingly show commercials all over the nation... even in locations where there are no Sonics for hundreds of miles. 2.) They have delicious liquids for days, making No. 1 even more frustrating. Keeping in line with my second point, Sonic's coffee -- supplied by Green Mountain -- joins the pantheon of their slushies and milkshakes as one of the better fast-food beverages in the business. But there is a catch: their iced coffee only comes in flavored options (chocolate, praline pecan, and French vanilla). The French vanilla is the clear stand-out here, and even though I faulted other brands on this list for only offering flavored blends, Sonic's French vanilla is too smooth, refreshing, and delicious to ignore. They manage to create a French vanilla iced coffee in a fast-food setting that doesn't taste fake or artificial. This alone warrants them a bronze medal in our ranking.
Best dish to pair it with: The breakfast toaster. When combined with the French vanilla iced coffee, this breakfast sandwich on thick-cut Texas toast is a little... much. But hey, if you are eating breakfast at a fast-food joint, isn't that kind of what you want?
McCafé iced coffee
Here's an experiment. Grab a snob-tastic friend of yours that swears they will never, ever try coffee from a fast-food chain. Get a large iced coffee from McDonald's, switch the cup, and tell your friend you got it from a local, artisanal coffee shop where the barista's mustache has a mustache and the Sufjan Stevens rocks so hard said mustache's mustache can't help but shed a few tears. Watch your friend's face when they discover the surprisingly flavorful, honestly not-too-sweet brew they just drank was from McDonald's, of all places. This is why McDonald's is No. 2 on our list. Then go tell your friend your sorry you deceived them, and give them a hash brown.
Best dish to pair it with: Bacon, egg & cheese McGriddle. Dip it in the coffee. We call that a caffeinated lumberjack.
1. Dunkin Donuts
It's almost unfair to include Dunkin on this list as they are -- for all intents and purposes -- basically a coffee shop, and at the very least, they are more coffee-centric than any chain on this list. Coffee isn't just an add-on for them; it's their livelihood. And while the classic complaints remain true about their iced offerings (it is VERY sweet, highly caffeinated, and doesn't really have a full, bold flavor you'd get at "real" coffee shops), it's still the de facto iced coffee option for fast food restaurants. As we all know -- and if you don't know, some Masshole in a Sox hat driving a Subaru will certainly tell you -- America runs on this stuff. As well it should.
Best dish to pair it with: Snag two dozen munchkins, and call it a day.
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