Welcome to the 4th annual Urban Daddy coffee rankings.
Before we get into the 2012 list, I would like to recap the 2011 rankings. Those rankings were based on the following criteria;
4. Other intangibles, such as snacks and food available, payment options, if the lids leak and other additional perks.
Urban Daddy’s 2011 rankings:
1. Java Joe’s
2. Tim Horton’s
4. Coffee Time
6. Second Cup
7. Tim Horton’s US
8. Country Style
9. Dunkin Donuts
10. Seattle’s Best Coffee
The 2012 Urban Daddy Official Coffee Rankings:
1. Java Joe’s
3. Tim Horton’s
8. Country Style
9. Second cup
10. Coffee Time
11. Seattle’s Best Coffee
How were these rankings calculated?
Drinking a lot of coffee during many different times of the day and in various locations gives me a feel for how the coffee tastes when it’s at its freshest, and when it’s served during a low-traffic period. I love coffee and I know my coffee. I even checked online to see if there was a registered coffee expert designation, and there was not (if there is, please let me know, not a barista one though) so I am designating myself a CCDE. A Canadian Coffee Drinking Expert.
I base my rankings on many different criteria, such as; value, taste, freshness, quality, the curb appeal of the locations, the cup and lid, the variety of coffees available and variety of other foods in the locations.
1. Java Joe’s – Based on all these criteria, Java Joe’s is the hands down winner again this year. Last year I commented on some of their outstanding flavours such as; Cinnamon Hazelnut, Jamaica Me Crazy, Raspberry Chocolate, Banana Cream, Caramel, and even their Irish Cream – and I detest Irish Cream – little did I know there were more flavours, better flavours still to come such as Blueberry Pie and Maple Cream. All these flavours are stong in scent and strong in flavour. There is no mistaking the flavour and quality of beans when you pick up a cup of their coffee and this is not a case of a great smelling coffee with little or no flavour or strong-smelling coffee with a strong bitter taste.
I can’t say that I have ever had a poor cup of coffee here, unlike all the others.
Even the regular coffees they sell have some great flavour to them. I go to a Java Joe’s, or brew on at home, when I want a fantastic cup of coffee full of flavour and body. When I just want a coffee that I can savor I put no price on that. In addition, their containers that they use to hold their brewed coffee keeps the coffee hot and does not water it down (from condensation) nor does it cause the coffee to continue brewing and therefore get bitter.
They also have a wide variety of food (sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads) which are fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. They have a wonderful selection of organic teas, cold iced drinks plus the full range of hot drinks like the latte, Americano, mochaccino and cappuccino.
The staff are great and their locations have, WiFi and a flat screen TV which you can watch while sitting next to the built-in fireplace. Eat-in or eat-out. Don’t forget the catering. All of this makes Java Joe’s #1 on my 2012 rankings.
They do need a better social presence, however. Especially to let their clientele know which yummy soups or flavoured coffees they have that day.
2. McDonald’s – @McD_Canada. McDonald’s came a long way this year and from what I hear, true or not, it is because they changed their beans to the beans formerly used by Tim Horton’s. Where else can you get a large coffee and a muffin for $1.88? And while we all know the variety of products available in a McDonald’s they get top marks for adding items which are health-conscious and tasty.
The only hiccup here is that I have found quite a few of their cups have an uneven seam meaning the coffee dribbles down the side of the cup and onto my hand or in my car when it splashes side to side. As well, to get that last drop, you must remove the lid. I have had some very questionable large double doubles, more than with most coffee shops but I have also noticed the locations I have gone to for my morning coffee have been VERY busy and it’s bound to happen. But the flavour of the coffee stands out and it has a mellow aftertaste with a solid coffee taste. A very pleasurable cup of coffee.
The public relations team at McDonald’s are fantastic and if you comment on Twitter you get a prompt response.
3. Tim Horton’s – Timmy’s comes in at #3 this year for a couple of reasons. First of all I have found they are became quite inconsistent – a cup of coffee at one location will not taste the same as one in another location and it also varies during the time of day usually based on who is making it once the new sizing came in.
Yes, their addition of oatmeal gives them top marks – but you have to order it with just berries – no brown sugar powder – otherwise it’s not healthy at all, and I found they put in the sugar powder whether you ask for it or not. I do like the 3 new bagel flavours at Tim Hortons, however a blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese still gets top marks for me with my large double double. I have been a little gun-shy about eating the chili there ever since a colleague of mine and myself got sick eating it one lunch. The rest of the food is great. I know they are ramping up their food menu to compete with McDonalds and so they should! They can compete. It’s Timmy’s.
A visit there won’t break the bank, and in some areas they seem to be on every block. Yes, there are some concerns around whether or not they actually stir the coffee when they serve it and this was magnified with the addition of the new sizes. Try a longer spoon!
4. Neighbours – It was one of my blogging community, The Green Eyed Girl, who sent me a message after last year’s rankings asking me to try Neighbours which I had never heard of. Boy, am I glad that I did. Their coffee is fantastic! I tried their mild, medium and bold and in each case I found a wonderful smelling coffee, rich in flavour and full of coffee taste. Also in containers which prevents bitterness or over-brewing, I found the best part about Neighbours coffee is that you can choose to add a liquid coffee sweetener instead of cream and sugar which means I can add a vanilla hazelnut shot and not need sugar. It’s just as good as getting a flavoured coffee.
I drive out of my way on the weekends to get a Neighbours coffee as there is no Java Joes anywhere near me, and the Tim’s and McD’s closest have no parking. That’s how good their coffee is.
5. Starbucks – Starbucks while pricey, and known for serving very strong coffee come in this year at number 5, down from number 3 because the drinks they have added all have a lot of fat and calories and their selection of snacks also are on the smallish side and not the kind of treats you bring back to the office. Their blonde coffee – as mild as a coffee can get – barely taste’s of coffee and their oatmeal – which I believe they call the “Perfect Cup” was less than half full and lumpy. It was disappointing.
On the bright side, their Cafe Americano’s are fantastic, but have gone way up in price over the past 5 years. I read that if you have a Starbucks card, and wish to have a flavour pump in your coffee that it is free, but I often get charged it and for the $0.35 cents, I am not going to argue. At Starbucks, customer service is king. If there is something wrong with your drink, or an unusually long delay, they bring out the free drink coupon. In the land of S’Bux, you get what you pay for. I feel good going into my local Starbucks, even walking through the streets with a cup. It’s a status symbol.
I posted their secret menu a couple of months ago on my blog, and have yet to try any of the interesting flavour combinations suggested on it. The secret menu is cool and is part of their mystique.
6. Aroma - The Aroma Espresso Bar, fairly new to the Canadian scene (first store opened in Toronto in 2007, second one in Thornhill in 2009), has been turning heads and making progress in the Canadian market, considering the relative youth of the brand. Founded in Israel in 1994, they focus on premium coffee, fresh delicious salads, a large variety of healthy sandwiches, competitive prices, contemporary decor, and devoted service. The Aroma chain serves more than 25 million customers a year and boasts over 150 Aroma Espresso Bar branches worldwide.
My first experience of Aroma coffee was at the Thornhill location it was not a good one. Not realizing that their bread and butter is their gourmet coffee which meant I needed 4 creams and 6 sugars to even out the strength of the coffee. All subsequent visits have been much better and I’ve come to appreciate the surprisingly strong, rich coffee smell and flavour without any bitterness. Next up, is to try an Americano.
7. Timothy’s – Still hit and miss, Timothy’s is the closest coffee shop to my house but unless I am craving a flavour I tend to go elsewhere. I still find their regular coffee’s have a funny, bitter aftertaste to them and that could be because every time I go in the pot has been sitting for a long time which means either watered down or very strong and bitter from being old. As I mentioned in previous rankings, the good thing about Timothy’s flavours is that they tend to mask old, stale coffee. I have a bag of ground Raspberry Chocolate beans in my house and if I knew they had any of, Toasted Coconut, Raspberry Chocolate or Cinnamon Hazelnut I would go for them. Totally worth the trip.
Like Java Joe’s, my local Timothy’s should set up a Twitter feed so I can check their coffee flavours in the morning. They also need to revamp their food selections as they look average and where they are positioned in the store they look like an after thought.
I have always felt that since Timothy’s promotes itself as “Coffee’s of the World” that they seek out and bring in some really different, distinct coffees to add to their regular host of culprit’s in order to bring in a different crowd too. Maybe make them a premium blend… I know its hard to control how long a pot has been on – it’s always fresh when I ask, but once I taste it and find otherwise, I keep away for a while wondering if it would have been better for them had the staffer just said it was old and offered me a different drink or another option.
Also in need of a Twitter account!
8. Country Style – I have a love / hate relationship with Country Style and it’s that I want to love their coffee and I hate that it’s so unpredictable from store to store, and not just the flavour of the coffee but also what constitutes a double double in one location is not the same as another. It’s frustrating because their food is incredible. I took an entire week to try their menu at breakfast and lunch time and was very surprised with the variety, flavour and healthiness of their food. If only they could pull a McDonald’s and get different beans or make their sugar / cream dispensers the same as Tim Horton’s or just leave it for us to add like Starbucks. Something has to give!
Country Style is the place to go for breakfast and lunch if you are looking for fresh, flavour and healthy. They are very underrated in this area. They also have a wonderful social media presence and as a Canadian company I hope they can make their coffee work better to compliment their food. They deserve more traffic.
9. The Second Cup – Second Cup comes in at number 9 because I think they have an identity crisis. Their not so great coffee with limited flavours does not warrant the Starbucks treatment – high prices, high-end food. At least at Starbucks, the customer is always right. At the Second Cup locations I have visited during the year, some locations are fantastic, but some give you the glare when you start to ask questions about the freshness of the coffee or ask them to make a “perfect cup” as advertised.
In addition, their best flavours are rarely out, instead they insist on serving Irish Cream as a flavour citing the fact that it’s “popular”. Yes, it’s popular because the regular coffee is usually bitter and people want a flavoured coffee. They take it in spite. I have a bag of ground Butter Pecan and Caramelo beans in my house and without fail when I serve it to guests someone will comment that they do not understand why The Second Cup does not have these in regular rotation. Tell me about it.
The Second cup, or Les cafés Second Cup in Quebec – claim to be Canada’s largest coffee chain, yet nothing in their stores scream Canadian to me. This would be a great area to focus in instead of international expansion – to strengthen the local brand, bring in more Canadian flavours and figure out why I need 4-6 sugars to make my large coffee drinkable. Right now, sadly, my worst fear is walking into a Second Cup location and having to drink one of their regular coffee flavours, like the mild, Paradiso medium or bold. It’s disappointing considering their cold drink menu is often expanding and fantastic on taste and price. Even their food has come a long way, but the coffee… Not so good.
The Second Cup also does not take advantage of is the space they have in most of their shops which they could totally utilize to capitalize on families by offering a safe environment for kids and snacks under 5000 calories – something healthy. Anything healthy? Right now if I take my kids into a Second Cup location to buy a Frozen Hot Chocolate for my wife I can choose from a cookie, muffin or a rice crispy treat which I hate feeding to my children on the best of days.
Seriously, a place for parents to take their kids after dinner to hang out and buy healthy treats might save a few locations… Better than being empty, or having bodies in their nursing a drink while using their wi-fi, eh?
10. Coffee Time – Coffee Time actually has pretty good coffee with surprisingly nice flavor however the coffee must be consumed when freshly made because Coffee Time still uses the pot directly on the burner brewing so the coffee stays hot but it gets stale really quickly. They also have some very interesting treats which are not outstanding – they look like they have been brought into the location, not made there, and they really do not look healthy in the least, but if you are hungry and looking for a snack that won’t break the bank, you can eat there.
I have to admit that I have walked in to a Coffee Time because I feel sorry their locations are so empty. I have a couple 24 hour locations in my neighbourhood and there are some pretty scary people hanging around these locations. Clearly targeting the lower-income market, this Canadian chain has to realize that cheaper coffee prices doesn’t mean they can scrimp on variety, selection, taste, freshness or cleanliness.
There has to be a happy medium between promoting their brand to their clients and competing with the big boys. I have often wondered if they pulled a no frills approach by offering plain cups, less fancy but large tasty treats and a more bread and butter environment they might fill that void and do quite well. Did any of you know that Coffee Time supports over 175 charities including;
This could be Canada’s community donut restaurant much in the same way Tim Horton’s started out.
11. Seattle’s Best Coffee – Seattle’s Best comes in at number 11 this year because now that they are popping up in Canada in Mac’s Convenience locations, I have had the opportunity to try them more often and was able to provide my thoughts. I was disappointed because I think the name – Seattle’s Best – makes me think that they are as good, or better than that other Seattle brand of coffee, Starbucks, but I can now confirm they are not Seattle’s best at all. I thought maybe they needed to have their own locations but unlike Neighbours which are in Petro Canada gas stations and is delicious, I confirmed that the machines in the Mac’s stores are the same ones used to brew Seattle’s Best elsewhere.
The coffee itself remained an anomaly to me even after having 5 cups of it. It required a LOT of sugar and a LOT of cream. In addition, I usually get through half a cup before trashing it, and I even made the last pot myself at the local Mac’s when there was a huge line-up. The coffee packet smelled okay, but came out of the machine very bland and very disappointing. Something must be missing here…
So what are your thoughts on this years’ rankings?
Where do you get your perfect cup from and which shop won’t be getting your business?