McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the world. With operations in 120 countries, they have about 40,000 outlets, and they serve roughly 70 million customers each day. They also have recently gotten into the coffee business in a big way. But what coffee does McDonald’s use?
The short answer is light to medium roast Arabica beans. McDonald’s sources their coffee from several nationwide suppliers, including Seattle’s Best and Newman’s Own. Their coffee is known for being smooth and high in caffeine – which makes light roast coffee beans their bread and butter.
McDonald’s has always been known for its burgers from the day they started. It all began when the founders Richard and Maurice McDonald opened a burger joint in San Bernardino, California. So how did they get into the coffee business?
Well, a good businessman never misses a lucrative opportunity. And I’ll tell you in a minute all the juicy details of how the McCafes were created. They do make a mean Americano, and their iced caramel latte is legendary. And since I truly appreciate a good cup of joe, it was natural then to wonder, what coffee does McDonald’s use and how did they start the business?
Read on to find out all about it!
When Did McDonald’s Get Into the Coffee Business?
McDonald’s has always served coffee since the early days of inception in the 1940s. However, it was the same variety every other diner had been serving. It was so unremarkable that it’s mentioned as a ‘breakfast item’, rather than as a menu entry worthy of its own name.
Author Note: The McCafe concept started in Melbourne, Australia, in 1993. Like the majority of McDonald’s decisions, it was driven by a business goal. And that was to create an inviting area for the customers, between the entrance and the counter.
The distance was too large in the Swanson street store, and it seemed to keep the customers at bay. It’s believed that the addition of the coffee menu increased the overall sales by 60%, and naturally, this figure invited many other stores to follow suit.
The first McCafe in the USA opened its doors eight years later, in 2001. This seems to be a much later date, especially, since there were already 300 of their stores worldwide offering specialty coffee. The ball started rolling and never stopped since then, and soon, the figure rose to 1300 McCafes worldwide.
The coffee business of McDonald’s isn’t hugely liked by the franchises, despite its clear profitability.
It needs extra time to prepare, which the McDonald’s customer doesn’t relish. Furthermore, the employees need a much higher level of training to prepare the coffee. Not to mention the extra maintenance of the coffee machines.
Still, the store owners wouldn’t move a finger to change the setup of the McCafe. The coffee they sell quite often rank head to head with the big players like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. This is a status not to be toyed with.
What Makes Coffee Taste Good?
While taste is a personal and highly subjective matter, still, we can agree on a few rudimentary qualities. Like the fact that office coffee tastes like ash, and McCafe’s Cappuccino is memorable.
Here are some universal factors that make a coffee beverage taste wholesome and delish.
The Type and Origin of Beans
Coffee is a rather demanding plant. It has extremely particular tastes when it comes to a suitable climate it prefers. For example, it needs moderate amounts of sunshine, a generously wet season followed by a long dry season, in addition to high altitudes.
It’s not surprising then that coffee plants grow in a few regions only. Specifically, in the ‘bean belt’, which is a narrow tropical zone roughly 25 degrees north and south of the Equator. The coffee varieties that grow in this region differ significantly in their flavors, based on the altitude they grew on.
There are four main types of coffee beans:
- Arabica Coffee
- Robusta Coffee
- Liberica Coffee
- Excelsa Coffee
The last two types are quite rare. Liberica and Excelsa coffee have superior tastes though, and coffee connoisseurs worldwide would seek these gems. Commercial coffee is often one of the first two, or a mix of both.
Arabica coffee is considered the best type, as it has a rich fruity flavor, and gives the coffee beverages remarkable form. It’s less bitter than the Robusta coffee and contains significantly less caffeine. It also comes at a much higher price tag.
Big stores often opt for Arabica coffee, and McDonald’s gets some of the best brands.
The Roasting Process
Author Note: Roasting is a multistage process that develops the coffee beans. It takes them from their raw green form to the golden brown shades we grind and brew.
Full roasting starts with drying the coffee beans, then the batch is subjected to various amounts of heat to go from one development stage to the next. The time taken to complete each stage depends on the temperature and the roasting apparatus used.
It’s clear from this simple presentation that there’s a wide assortment of roasting possibilities. Each would bring out a different taste, flavor, aroma, and caffeine content. The most common roasts are light, medium, and dark.
Light and medium roasts usually give the sharpest expression of flavor and aroma. And since Arabica coffee is characterized by fruity and floral notes, it’s always recommended to roast these precious beans lightly.
McCafe products use mostly light to medium roasted beans, except for Espresso-based beverages like Americano, where a darker roast is preferred.
The Freshness of the Coffee Grounds and Brew
Coffee grounds start oxidizing the moment they are processed. Actually, it’s the moment they’re picked from the plant. The oxidation reaction affects the taste to the point that some coffee experts consider the coffee ‘stale’ if it’s brewed a few days after grinding the beans.
It’s a good thing then McDonald’s commits to using every batch of coffee 30 within minutes of brewing it.
The Machine Used to Make the Coffee
Some machines apply extra pressure, applied for a bit more time, to extract the full range of flavors from the coffee grounds. While other coffee makers only pass steam through the grounds and filter the product.
The layers of tastes and undertones differ significantly between the two. Big coffee shops, like McDonald’s, often use Espresso machines that employ pressure to get more sophisticated flavors.
The Food that Accompanies the Coffee
Actually, this could easily make or break the final flavor of your coffee. A French friend of mine who studied culinary arts showed me a trick years ago that I still enjoy up to this day. There’s a world of difference that a bite of dark chocolate would make with black coffee.
I wouldn’t even start about having the right donut with the right coffee. Let’s just say that light blends go nicely with a simple glazed donut, while a dark complex blend and a double chocolate donut are a match made in heaven.
The Magic Touch of the Barista
Finally, we come to the X-factor of the coffee beverage world. There’s an undeniable effect that baristas have on the coffee you get. Even when they follow the recipes and procedures to the nines, there are still subtle differences. Nuances that you can taste but can hardly describe.
What Type of Coffee Does McDonald’s Use?
The superlative taste that you get from the McCafe beverages isn’t a coincidence. It comes from selecting some of the finest Arabica coffee beans and giving them a light to medium roast.
McCafe makes its own coffee roasts, which could be found at retailers as McCafe grounds or K-pods. In addition, some of the main suppliers of McDonald’s stores are Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, Seattle’s Best, and Newman’s Own Organics Blend.
Some of these suppliers, like Gavina Gourmet, have been partners with McDonald’s for the last 33 years. Both parties are keen on sourcing the coffee beans from certified organic farms that use best practices in coffee production.
The countries that the coffee beans come from are all from central and south America. This is often associated with chocolatey or nutty undertones in addition to the mellow fruity ones.
These coffee beans are often light or medium roasted. Which retains the multilayered flavors and strong aromas. This is in sharp contrast with Starbucks, who uses a dark roast for their coffee beans.
Author Note: The final coffee blend is often a mix of various beans with different roasting degrees. This certainly adds richness and form to the coffee beverages.
The Single Origin Roast Coffee
In 2019 McCafe announced that coffee drinkers could order their beverages in a pure form. The single origin roast coffee isn’t a blend like the rest of the coffee beverages on the menu. And hence, it’s taste is rather sharp, pristine, and well defined.
The origin of interest for this brand new beverage is a 100% Colombian Medium Roast, which is as premium as they get! It’s abundant with hints of dark chocolate and caramel, has a full form, and optimal acidity.
The new offering was limited to the shops in Chicago and Indiana, probably to test the waters before providing it en masse.
Fun fact: a significant amount of coffee drinkers think that McDonald’s iced coffee is just as good as the one sold at Starbucks. They say that Starbucks could be the better maker of caramel frappés, but when it comes to regular coffee, then you might want to head to the nearest McCafe.
This is a huge testament to the fine quality of McDonald’s coffee beverages. The guys who specialize in flipping burgers certainly excelled in the coffee-making business. In my opinion, it comes down to selecting the finest coffee, roasting it with absolute precision, and creating the perfect blends.
Stay caffeinated friends!