Taste-Testing the McLatte

As trouble continues to brew at Starbucks, McDonald's is making its move into specialty coffee drinks and Twin Cities stores will be introducing the new iced and hot mochas, lattes, and cappuccinos later this week. I stopped by the Uptown McDonald's (does anyone still refer to it as "McPunks"?) and found that the machine was installed (it looked like the Franke super-automatics I've seen at Caribou), but the staff hadn't been trained on them, nor had the drinks been added to the cash register system. When my barista friend and I inquired about the new beverages, the manager nicely offered to make us a couple of samples.

The latte was better than ones at gas stations, but certainly a notch down from the typical coffee house version. On the plus side, the coffee wasn't bitter, but its flavor was weak--perhaps it was made with just one shot? Aesthetically (hey, it's a factor), there was no discernible crema and no latte art.

The mocha, topped with Reddi Whip and sprinkled with chocolate, reminded me of mixing low-grade office-kitchen coffee with powdered cocoa mix. It was cloyingly sweet, with an inferior chocolate flavor, and an almost chemical note: Basically undrinkable.

To be fair, those drinks were testers, and I'll be curious to see if the quality improves and how many specialty coffee drinkers make the switch. Price--the drinks run about $.50 to $1 cheaper than their Starbucks equivalent--and convenience (drive thrus) might convince less discerning coffee drinkers to try McDonald's, but I don't think they'll win over coffee geeks any time soon.

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