“This is supposed to be a hot latte!” the cashier spat at the…whatever they call baristas at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“The iced is fine,” I said, reaching behind the counter to snatch away the iced gingerbread latte before the cashier could realize that the iced are worth at least a $1 more than the hot latte I paid for.
That’s the problem with Dunkin’ Donuts. While they have some of the best hot coffee amongst the national chains, the quality of everything else seems to be totally up to the competencies of the staff working at any particular location. And with the Dunkins in Philly, it’s pretty hit or miss. The iced coffee won’t be double-brewed, or the bagels will be stale, or they’ll make an iced latte instead of a hot latte.
I want to rely on Dunkin’ because their lattes are always a few dollars cheaper than their Starbucksian counterparts. During the fall, Starbucks may have the Pumpkin Spice Latte which everybody pines for after a year-long absence, but Dunkin’s regular ol’ Pumpkin (sans spice) Latte is nearly as good and is a little more affordable.
Similarly, the Starbucks holiday lattes, like the Gingerbread Latte, have a similar knock-off at Dunkin’, which is what I ordered this morning, only to get an iced version.
Since I’m a cheapskate, I try to enjoy the best of both worlds: quality and price. I’m okay with a little less quality and craftsmanship in my latte. My general rule is “one, like, $6 Starbucks latte a season, then the Dunkin’ version from there on out.” The risk, of course, is that the questionably-trained Dunkin’ staff may or may not know what they’re doing, and you could end up with a dud; you don’t usually need to worry about that at a Starbucks (unless it’s one of those franchised ones in hotels or airports. Eek, stay away!)
…But who am I kidding? There’s is an expensive holiday espresso drink that I would pay damn near anything for (and Caribou Coffee knows it, which is why they’re like $4.50 for a small): Caribou’s new Salted Caramel Budino latte. I don’t care if it’s 850 calories per serving (health be damned!), or that it doesn’t really taste like the best dessert of all time (Philadelphia restaurant Barbuzzo’s Salted Caramel Budino, also a million calories), it’s AWESOME. Maybe it’s because the caramel used in this drink is actually real caramel as opposed to caramel sauce, or maybe it’s because of the caramel mousse on top, but this is by far the best latte I’ve ever had at a large coffee chain. After taking my first sip, in a strip mall parking lot in Michigan, I felt like I was wrapped up in a warm blanket…though I guess that might be the feeling you get when you instantly acquire a new layer of fat.
The minuscule difference between Dunkin’ and Starbucks? I’m okay with either. But no caramel latte at Dunkin’ or Starbucks can compare to this artery-coating monster of MMM.
Now, before y’all send us lots of Caribou Coffee gift cards, we’re sadly without Caribous in Pennsylvania–in fact, they don’t seem to exist anywhere in the Northeast north of Maryland. We only get to treat ourselves when we make it out to the Midwest while visiting family.
Santa, now you know what we want for Christmas.