I live in a coffee town. What’s more, I live in a neighbourhood that is filled with trendy coffee spots, and I’m not just talking about the bigger chains like Starbucks. As such, I’m become pretty well versed in the whole world of lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and the like. While I enjoy an iced Americano every once in a while like everyone else, sometimes I just want a cheap cup of coffee to go with my crappy fast food breakfast and it’s times like those that I turn to the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Tim Horton’s.

Granted, you should probably take this comparison with a grain of salt (but please don’t take your coffee with any salt, because that’s, well, pretty gross), but I am a firm believer that even among the cheapest of the cheap coffee you can get, there is a discernible difference in taste, aroma, and all those other qualities that separate a good cuppa joe from a really bad bastardization of what java should be.

Let’s start with the obvious candidate: McDonald’s. Now, I’m not sure if things are the same in the United States, but here in Canada, McDonald’s has started making an attempt at serving “gourmet” coffee. No longer do they use the cheapest beans they can find — as far as I can tell — because they have now opted for Arabica beans, similar to those that you would find at a Starbucks (only cheaper and prepared by a bunch of pimple-faced teenagers). What results is a much more flavorful coffee than what they used to serve in the past. Also like Starbucks, McDonald’s coffee has a distinct “burnt” flavor to it, and that’s something that not everyone likes. I do though, and while they’re certainly not the best option, Mickey-D’s ain’t all that bad when it comes to getting a caffeine fix.

Over at Burger King, they use Maxwell House. What’s sad is that they proudly exclaim that they use Maxwell House, and from what I can gather, it’s the same grounds that you get from the tin when you buy MH at the grocery store. In this way, you could say that getting a cup of coffee from Burger King is like brewing your own cup of instant coffee at home. It might give you a bit of a caffeine fix, but it lacks in flavor, freshness, or the satisfaction of drinking something nice. (On a side note, the Whopper, with its flame-broiled-ness, is much better than the Big Mac.)

Wendy’s is even worse. They seem to use some sort of no name coffee beans and what comes out is something that tastes pretty much like boiled water. Sure, it’s a little black/brown, but Wendy’s offers some of the most watered-down coffee I have ever experienced at a fast food joint. There’s virtually no flavor and no aroma, but on the plus side, their new breakfast burrito is quite good. It was even better when I got one for free thanks to a coupon in the mail.

Last, but not least, is good old Tim Horton’s. Timmy’s is much more popular in Eastern Canada than it is over in my neck of the woods, but it’s certainly gaining a steady following here too. It’s unmistakable when someone asks for a double-double that they’re talking about Tim Horton’s. The coffee that they serve is the complete opposite of McDonald’s in many ways, because it does not have that burnt flavor to it. Instead, it’s creamy, smooth, and quite sweet, especially if do the double-double dance like everyone else. I don’t mind this kind of coffee, but I prefer the dark roast.

What has your experience been with fast food coffee? Or do you only drink the gourmet stuff and you would never touch drip coffee anyways, opting for a latte that requires 15 minutes of detailed instructions as to how you want it?