Listen, we know. Getting up and going in the morning or making it through the day isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Luckily there’s a quick and delicious remedy: Coffee. Whether you favor a fresh pot of black coffee, a pumpkin spice latte, or a refreshing cold brew, there’s one place you can guarantee you’ll always be able to get that much-needed caffeine fix: at a chain coffee house. So, we sought out the best coffee chains in America and ranked them.
To determine the best coffee chains in America, first we designated what, exactly, makes a series of coffee houses, cafes, or breakfast spots a chain. We determined the barrier for chain status was at least 25 locations and a presence in multiple states. Next, we analyzed four other factors and compared them. First, how do these chains source, produce, and serve their coffee? How does that coffee taste and how big of a café menu do they have? Secondly, we looked at other items offered on the menu. Can you get a breakfast sandwich or doughnut with your morning coffee? Can you get a salad along with that midday pick-me-up? Thirdly, we looked at rewards programs. How beneficial is it to be a returning customer and how does the chain treat its most loyal fans? Finally, we looked at the number of locations and how accessible these coffee chains are to the average American.
Best known for their status as the place to get your coffee at the mall, Gloria Jean’s actual coffees should not be discounted — they’re delicious. Sourced in accordance to the Rainforest Alliance’s certifications, their Arabica beans are gathered with the best possible business practices for sustainability. They taste pretty good too. Their Chillers, which include fun flavors such as ULTIMATE COOKIE and Coco Loco, are the perfect midday snack.
Based in Oregon and spread across 300 locations on the West Coast, Dutch Bros. Coffee serves an irresistible three-bean blend of 100 percent Arabica coffee beans. What do those magical beans turn into? Specially brewed mochas, lattes, breves, drip coffee, and cold brew, of course! Dutch Bros.’ innovative drinks (like the Kicker, a cold brew mixed with breve) don’t end with coffee. They also offer artisanal sodas and smoothies. While there’s quite a bit to love about Dutch Bros., they do lack a rewards program and a food menu.
Originating in New Orleans’ French Quarter, PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans has numerous locations around Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas. This coffee chain gets its beans directly from carefully selected sources, leading to incredible, high-quality bean blends in their 13 types of coffee and plentiful espresso drinks.
Founded in 1963 in Los Angeles, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is one of the oldest coffee chains in the country. With their signature Ice Blended Drinks made from coffee extracts and a wide variety of seasonal coffees, teas, and espresso drinks, when you order a drink at The Coffee Bean, you know you’re getting something of quality. Though the drinks are delicious, The Coffee Bean has no rewards program to speak of and no food offerings. So get your java fix here and go.
Though best known for their wide variety of baked goods, sandwiches, and soups, Au Bon Pain’s coffee is not to be forgotten. They offer five serve-yourself varieties of hot coffee, including some of the creamiest hazelnut coffee you’d ever hope to taste. They also have a variety of hot teas, iced coffees, and espresso drinks for a quick (and cheap) morning fix. If you find yourself loving their 200-plus locations across 29 states, their “eclub” rewards program is beyond worthwhile. When you join, you get a free travel mug, and Au Bon Pain offers daily discounts.
Pret A Manger/Yelp
Unless you live in New York, Chicago, Boston, or D.C., it’s not likely that you’ve heard of Pret a Manger, but for customers in those major cities, this England-based chain is lovingly referred to simply as “Pret.” Here, you’ll find only three types of drip coffee — light, dark, and decaf — but Pret also preps lattes, flat whites, cappuccinos, and other espresso drinks to order. So what endears customers to this spot? It’s likely the food, which Pret always either makes in-store or makes very close to the store and ships out fresh. They offer a wide variety of sandwiches, wraps, power bowls, soups, and salads. It could also be the allure of free food. In addition to having an app that gives customers free coffee for every eight drinks purchased, Pret has been known to give loyal customers an on-the-house item at random, as an old school nod to rewards programs.
Tully’s Coffee is one of the smallest chains on our list, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with knowledgeable baristas and some of the finest single-origin Arabica coffee you’ll ever taste. Once a challenger to Starbucks in Seattle, Tully’s focuses on classic drinks like lattes, mochas, and fresh-brewed coffee. They have a solid rewards program, too. For every $20 Tully’s members add on to their card, they’ll get 10 percent back.
While best known for their large selection of doughnuts (which often includes seasonal and festive specialties, like an Olympics-themed doughnut), don’t forget the second half of any Krispy Kreme breakfast: coffee. While it’s nothing flashy or artisanal, Krispy Kreme offers lattes, mochas, and coffee for the doughnut lover on the go at their 1000-plus locations across the United States. Something you may not know about Krispy Kreme? Their rewards app members have a number of benefits available to them, including accumulating points toward free doughnuts and drinks, free gifts on their birthday, and other coupons and offers.
Although they have no rewards program and just 30 locations in major cities around the U.S., La Colombe’s cafes serve some of the best cold brew you’ll ever taste. Their signature item is their draft latte, which blends bold cold brew coffee and creamy milk in just the right proportion. The café menu items vary by location, as La Colombe pairs with local purveyors for their assorted dining options. This is something La Colombe carries to their coffee beans, as well. They were among the first third-wave coffee shops to deal with direct trade coffee sourcing.
The Human Bean/Yelp
With 70-plus locations across the West Coast (and randomly in Canton, Ohio), The Human Bean’s drive-thru coffee stands offer quick but high-quality coffee. Their single-origin coffees are purchased directly from coffee farmers, enhancing both those local communities and The Human Bean consumer. They offer a nice offering of espresso drinks, smoothies, teas and even Little Beans drinks (like a flavored steamed milk) for kids. If you find yourself a human being who frequents The Human Bean, consider their rewards programs, which gives you $5 back for every $55 spent, free birthday drinks, and new levels of rewards to unlock.
If you don’t live in the Midwest (or Texas or South Carolina), you may not know Biggby Coffee, but those in the region are familiar with their roughly 200 locations and friendly baristas. Best known for their breakfast sandwiches (called bragels) and colorful smoothies, Biggby also offers a wide variety of lattes, teas, and basic coffee drinks for a quick caffeine fix. If you find yourself in love with Biggby, getting a Biggby Card gets you access to a reloadable card that accumulates points toward free menu items. They also send regular emails with coupons, and you get a free drink on your birthday.
In just 25 years, they’ve grown to nearly 300 locations in 18 states and Washington, D.C. While growing, Caribou Coffee has committed to being 100 percent sustainable, with social and environmental concerns at the front of their bean sourcing. Those sustainable beans turn into signature menu items such as the Turtle Mocha and Mint Condition Mocha, which pair perfectly with a chicken apple sausage breakfast sandwich. Caribou Coffee’s perk system, fittingly called Caribou Perks, gives you two points for every dollar spent and a free drink of any size after you accumulate 120 points. But you can get a basic brewed coffee faster than spending $60. Caribou Perks also offers members a free treat on their birthday and exclusive first looks at new menu items and merchandise, which is great for fans of the brand.
Though best known for their wide variety of pastries, soups, salads, and sandwiches for a quick breakfast or lunch, Panera Bread’s 2000 locations across the United States and Canada also serve fresh brewed coffee and espresso drinks. How fresh is that coffee? Panera labels all their carafes with times, and they brew fresh pots every 60 minutes for optimal flavor. Panera has one of the better rewards programs with MyPanera. They give personalized rewards based on what you’ve ordered in the past, and you can earn free drinks and meals.
Technically and famously based in Canada, Tim Horton’s has been around in the U.S. since the 1980s and has expanded to nearly 900 stores in this country. When you walk into a Tim Horton’s, not only will you find iconic doughnuts (like the TimBits) and a wide array of breakfast sandwiches, soups, and salads, but you’ll also find 100 percent Arabica coffee in your cup. A favorite fast coffee option, Tim Horton’s fans can easily pay with their Tim Card or Tim Horton’s Double Double Visa or via the chain’s mobile app, which has offered a rewards program since 2014.
Long before artisanal coffee became the favorite drink of hipsters, Coffee Beanery was roasting up only the highest quality hand-picked Arabica beans and brewing them for customers. That care has continued ever since. Heck, even the decaf coffee at this Michigan-based chain gets love; they use the Swiss Water Process to decaffeinate their coffee to preserve the beans’ flavor. Though you’ll come for the richly-flavored brews, you can stay for an assortment of salads, paninis, wraps, and breakfast sandwiches on the menu at many of the 100-plus locations. If you fall in love with Coffee Beanery — which you probably will — they have the CB Perks email newsletter, which gives you information about promotions, discounts, and special members-only events.
Founded in Berkeley in 1966, Peet’s offers over 70 different tea and coffee beverages, which is an astonishingly large menu. With 200 locations on the West Coast and throughout the country, patrons at Peet’s Tea and Coffee will find fresh, hand-roasted Arabica beans in their cups, so the quality is hard to beat. Peet’s mobile app, the cleverly-titled Peetnik Rewards, allows you to get a free beverage after 15 check-ins, a free drink on your birthday, and the ability to pay online.
Dunn Brothers Coffee/Yelp
Based in Minnesota, Dunn Brothers Coffee has 80 locations around the Midwest. If you call the Twin Cities (and beyond) home and walk into one of their cafes, you will find espresso drinks, cold brew coffee, frappes, and more made with small batch roasted coffee beans that are no more than five days old, guaranteeing fresh flavor. The food isn’t half bad, either. Highlights of their dining options include a build-your-own breakfast sandwich, served all day long. If you download the Dunn Brothers rewards app on your mobile phone, you can not only pay and order via cell, you also accumulate $3 toward food and drinks for every $50 spent and get $5 toward a purchase on your birthday.
A major player in the highly artisanal third-wave coffee movement, Blue Bottle Coffee Company caters their coffee and food menus to each individual location. If you’re in a suburban location, there will be extra space for stroller parking and kid-friendly menu items. If you’re in the middle of a bustling city, the coffee will be catered to the grab-and-go crowd. The single origin beans are of only the highest quality at Blue Bottle. They taste their coffee repeatedly to seek out the optimal flavor, ensuring customers get the best-possible brew in their cups. Sounds like a dream, right? While expanding at a solid pace, Blue Bottle is currently only open in six major American markets (the Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Boston), so not everyone can enjoy this shop… yet.
With over 11,000 locations worldwide, everyone knows Dunkin’ Donuts. In fact, their slogan is that “America runs on Dunkin’.” And with their amazing DD Perks on their mobile app, it’s easy to. You get a free coffee every 200 points, and Dunkin’ often offers double points, specials, and deals so you can get a free java every week or two (depending on your caffeine addiction). While some complain the coffee at Dunkin’ is a little thin, it offers the best bang-for-your buck and innovative flavors based on Girl Scout cookies, the holidays, and pumpkin spice.
Starbucks is the most admired food and drink company in the world, and you can’t deny the impact that Starbucks has had on the world of coffee. Since being founded in 1971, this Seattle-based mega chain has grown to over 27,000 locations worldwide and helped to popularize dark roast coffee. Though some may decry Starbucks’ bold roasts, new additions to the menu like the blonde espresso gave classic drinks like the vanilla latte a new life. Starbucks is always rolling out seasonal lattes and Frappuccinos in addition to iconic espresso drinks like the pumpkin spice latte. Beyond their coffee, Starbucks offers a wide variety of eating options, from healthy protein-packed egg bits to classic café fare like bagels, croissants, and breakfast sandwiches. If you’re a fan of Starbucks, you’re familiar with their mobile ordering app and rewards program, which offers the ability to pay and order by phone, get free coffee on your birthday, and accumulate points for free drinks and food. They also have their own Visa card and an entire secret menu.
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