ou might have noticed that, after a test run in a handful of cities, Dunkin’ Donuts just started selling cold brew everywhere. That’s the kind of iced coffee that people who want to be coffee snobs love, the only kind of iced coffee sold by some coffee shops in Brooklyn (or that wish they were in Brooklyn). It costs twice as much as regular iced coffee because it takes a whole entire day to brew and it tastes like… slightly stronger but also blander iced coffee, I guess?
If, like me, you grew up with Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee, you know that there’s only one way to drink Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee: Walk up to the counter, order your iced coffee in whatever size — milk and sugar? — yes, please. That’s it. Let the fine people of Dunkin’ do the rest. (If you want a donut, get a donut! In fact, get a box of munchkins while you’re there! I’d suggest you ask for extra chocolate glazed and blueberry, but that’s just my preference.)
Dunkin’s take on iced coffee — brewed hot onto ice — is of the same genus as iced coffee you get for a buck-fifty from the bodega on the corner (brewed hot, then left in the fridge or non-chalantly poured over ice), the same stuff you’ll order at a diner and might even come with free refills if you’re lucky, or just extra friendly. No matter how nice you are, cold brew will never come with free refills. Like craft beer is to Bud Light, cold brew is a whole different breed of coffee; it is to Dunkin’ what skinny jeans were to Old Navy fifteen years ago.
Cold brew "takes its sweet time" and is a "special blend of coffee" "gently slow steeped" for 24 or 20 or 12 or 10 hours without heat so it’s a "smooth and full-bodied brew with low acid," "made of three simple ingredients: coffee, water, and time." Cold brew is fancy, or at least aspires to be — especially if it’s coming out of a keg, like Stumptown’s and Starbucks’ new nitro cold brew, which, if I’m understanding correctly, is where they inject nitrogen gas into the cold brew to make it Guinness-esque. Sounds complicated. And that’s fine! If cold brew is part of your personal coffee journey, treasure it. But no one should be ordering cold brew at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Dunkin’ iced coffee, the milk-and-sugar kind, is iced coffee for the people. With enough milk to muffle the bitterness, enough sugar to satisfy everyone’s innate sweet tooth (and that gritty sugar-at-the-bottom texture is something I have come to crave in iced coffee), it’s as close as you can come to a milkshake without being an actual milkshake. It’s comfort coffee — coffee that tastes the same whenever, wherever you drink it, with no pretension.
Dunkin’ iced coffee is something you can drink all day — you don’t have to regulate your intake to precisely time your coffee runs to hurried mornings or 4 PM pick-me-ups. When I was in high school, my friends and I would order a large iced coffee (that’s 32 ounces, in a cup designed to just barely fit in your 1996 Volvo’s cupholder) in the morning and gracefully sip it all day, its condensation getting all over our math tests until we figured out to ask for an extra styrofoam cup to put over the plastic to catch the excess moisture. If you’re wondering, yes, I learned a lot of important things in high school.
A little more than a decade before it introduced cold brew, Dunkin’ decided to grow from a New England way of life with a few thousands stores to a brand that would blanket the entire country. The advertising campaign that resulted from that ambition, "America Runs on Dunkin’," made explicit its desire to be the coffee of the people: The press release that announced the campaign described it as "pay[ing] homage to those who embody the authentic spirit on which America was founded." Hill Holiday ad exec Jeff Bonasia, whose agency came up with the campaign, added that it was "designed to connect emotionally with the hard-working cross-section of Americans who keep this country running every day; from the construction worker, to the office worker to the lawyer and so forth."
Dunkin’ visibly catered to regular people — or people who wanted to convince themselves that they were regular people — who wanted coffee served simple, with milk and sugar. Dunkin’ was for middle school teachers getting ready for back-to-back classes or truck drivers getting ready for a long haul or single mothers working two jobs or the entry-level office worker with sensible shoes. Even while it offered things like Dunkaccinos and Coolattas (and eventually espresso and lattes) for people who wanted to feel a little fancy — but not so fancy that they had to order it in "Fritalian" — it didn’t actually want you to order those. Dunkin' Donuts coffee is best served without frill, and if you go there enough, you can get a sense they know that, too.
@ChaseBoni *lahgest— Sean (@seanpaddyb) June 22, 2016
To quote the iconic 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, in whichTom Hanks decries the too-many-choices of a Starbucks: "The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!"
Financially though, selling trendier, more expensive coffee makes sense, especially if everybody else is doing it. It’s as simple as a regular, small iced coffee (milk, sugar) costing $2.49 in Brooklyn, while the same size of cold brew will run you $2.99. So it's no wonder that anytime I visit my closest Dunkin’ lately, they’ve added some new crap to their forever-expanding menu; I mean, ask any Bostonian where they were when Dunkin first added bagels, they’ll remember. Now it’s chicken salad sandwiches, a frozen Dunkaccino, "Heath and Almond Joy-flavored" ice coffee, whatever the hell this is.
And I generally support the people who choose to drink trendier, more expensive coffee. But even Dunkin doesn’t seem positive that it should actually be selling cold brew. Its celebratory press release reads:
The rich, ultra-smooth, full-bodied Cold Brew coffee, crafted by hand in Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in small batches and served each day while supplies last, will be available at participating Dunkin’ Donuts locations throughout the country later this summer.
"While supplies last" A.K.A. "we’re not quite sure who’s planning on ordering this." Maybe Dunkin’ thinks America wants to run on cold brew — wrong — or it’s trying to re-capture regulars who upgraded to a fancier coffee shop with more tattoos. Or maybe since landing in California two years ago, it just wants to impress tech entrepreneurs — the other week, it delivered cold brew straight to the co-working space WeWork as part of a "TGIM (Thank God It’s Monday)" event. Who the hell else would ever thank God it’s Monday?
Correction: This post initially mischaracterized precisely how Dunkin' Donuts brewed its iced coffee. We regret the error, although not the stance against Dunkin' cold brew.
Lindsey Weber is the co-host of Who? Weekly and the deputy editor of MEL Magazine.
Header photo: Meghan McCarron
Editor: Matt Buchanan