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Coffee chains are the backbone of America. Visiting a coffee shop is part of the daily routine for millions of people all over the country as they seek out a cup of java as a morning wake up. From drive-thru windows to walkable locations along city blocks, there are more than 46,000 coffee shops in the United States.
Believe it or not, Starbucks makes up roughly one third of those. It is the leading coffee chain in the world, after all. That’s a heck of a lot of coffee being sold each day. Dunkin’, Dutch Bros., and Tim Hortons are the next top coffee leaders. But it’s not all about volume—many regional gems have cult followings, too.
Here’s a brief history lesson on how coffee houses have been embedded in our culture. The first major coffee chain in America, Peet’s Coffee, popped up in Berkeley, Calif., in 1996. More chains followed, and by the 1980s, coffeehouse culture exploded. Momentum hasn’t let up since. Now, coffee houses are so ubiquitous that you’re likely not far from a shop at any given time—some chains are even across the street from one another.
Not all are made equal, however. Each coffee house has its own distinct strengths, whether it’s the best food, the best cold brew, awesome customer service, or upstanding business practices, like commitments to sustainability. From yummy snack items to tasty coffee blends and specialty handcrafted orders, these 15 coffee chains have won the hearts of coffee drinkers all over.
Here are the best coffee chains in America right now.
Starbucks has earned a devoted global following thanks to its focus on handcrafted beverages and consistent customer service. The mega-chain’s popularity is simply unmatched: A 2018 Nielsen survey found that 37.8 million Americans visited a Starbucks in the past month, and it consistently ranks as the number one coffee chain in the world, generating 10 times more revenue than its closest competitor, Costa Coffee. The brand recognition is next-level: In 2018, Forbes named Starbucks the fifth most admired company in the world.
With a highly customizable drink menu, cozy ambiance, and cult-favorite iced beverages, like the Iced Caramel Macchiato, Starbucks grew into a powerhouse retailer. From the Frappuccino to the Pink Drink, the Egg Bites and the Cake Pops, there’s no denying Starbucks slings some iconic menu items. Many of its drinks have even become a cultural phenomenon. Just look at the uber-popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, which celebrated its 20th birthday this year.
Dunkin’ knows a thing or two about doughnuts and coffee. The Massachusetts-based coffee house has been slinging both since 1948, and it has since expanded to an impressive 13,000 locations in nearly 40 global markets. “America runs on Dunkin'” may just be the most accurate slogan in all of marketing: it serves a whopping five million customers each day. Dunkin’ fans know the coffee chain will consistently deliver on great taste, and the velvety smooth iced coffee remains a popular pick.
While tasty doughnuts were long the focus of the chain—from chocolate-glazed and sour cream, to powdered sugar and coconut—Dunkin’ made moves in 2018 to take on Starbucks. In addition to the tasty doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches, and unique snacks like the stuffed bagel minis, more espresso-based drinks were added to the menu. Dunkin’ invested $50 million to buy new espresso equipment and to train employees and cut into Starbucks’ coffee sales. While Dunkin’ has yet to fully match Starbuck’s dominance on the coffee front, it does have a massive leg up in one key category: doughnuts, of course.
Oakland, Calif.-based Blue Bottle was an early and key player in the “third-wave” coffee movement, which focuses on high quality, specialty coffee. As a premium coffee chain, Blue Bottle distinguished itself from competitors by selling top-tier beans and brewing custom roasts using state-of-the-art equipment. Now, there are more than 100 locations across the United States and Asia. Blue Bottle’s signature pour-over coffee made from freshly roasted artisanal beans remains a mainstay.
Since the founder first started roasting coffee beans in his garage in 2002, the chain’s dedication to specialty beans appealed to serious java drinkers. It quickly became a favorite among Silicon Valley tech nerds and hipsters alike. The majority of Blue Bottle’s coffee is certified organic and it sources only single-origin beans that can be traced back to the specific growers. If you don’t live near one of the stores, you can still try out the coffee. It has a growing e-commerce platform and subscription service.
There’s truly something for everyone here. Dutch Bros. Coffee is known for its drive-thru convenience, flavorful drink combinations, and excellent customer service. And with 800 locations across 17 states, it’s opening stores at a truly breath-taking pace. The Oregon-based chain boasts a robust menu filled with interesting drinks, like Dutch-inspired shakes, blended espressos, delicious cold brews, smoothies, lemonades, caramel breves, and everything in between. There’s a seemingly endless selection of flavors and ways to customize your drinks, along with a secret drink menu.
And of course, there’s coffee. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with your order! The classic cold brew can be mixed with syrups to create a personalized flavor blend. Or, for a creamier, sweeter coffee drink, try out a Dutch Freeze in the many flavors offered, like Coconut Mocha or Caramel and Chocolate. It’s blended up for a perfectly cold caffeine jolt. With heaps of menu items and customizations available, these drinks make this popular chain a win for those who like a little experimentation. Keep an eye on Dutch Bros.: the once-regional chain is seeing quick growth and has its eyes set on opening 4,000 cafes over the next 10 to 15 years.
The iconic Canadian coffee chain is steadily taking a piece of the American coffee market. Some unfussy coffee drinkers may feel that Starbucks is too complicated, but here, ordering a plain cup of coffee is just fine. Or, try the Canadian classic—the “double-double”—the most popular coffee order at the chain. Since 1964, Tim Hortons has focused on the basics. But that’s not to say the menu is basic. Tim’s offers a fan-favorite blended Iced Capp, Timbits, Boston cream doughnuts, maple doughnuts, and my personal favorite, the Turkey Bacon Club sandwich.
Tim’s is now the fourth-leading coffee chain in the states with 600-some shops (Dutch Bros. surpassed it last year) and it has a ways to go to catch up with Dunkin’s 9,000-some stores. While most of Tim’s current American locations are in states that share a border with Canada, like New York, Michigan, and Ohio, the chain has eyes on Florida and Texas. As it continues its planned expansion, you just might find a shop near you soon. Timbit, anyone?
This is a coffee-forward pick for all the aficionados. If you’re into dark, oily coffee and hand-roasted coffee beans, Peet’s Coffee may be a great option. In fact, the founder of this old-school roaster, Alfred Peet, actually taught the original Starbucks founders how to roast coffee way back in 1971. But the two coffee chains are definitely not carbon copies of one another. Peet’s tends to favor darker roasts and has a special focus on bulk coffee sales. Its top-selling Major Dickason’s dark roast can be found at grocery stores throughout the country.
The semi-national brand specializes in single origin beans and blends, and it prides itself on having the freshest beans. Stop by one of its 329 locations in 20 states to sample the menu. You’ll find all the cafe classics, like lattes, cold brews, iced americanos, flat whites, cappuccinos, plus some more unique offerings, like Frappés, Black Tie, Iced Matcha Lattes, or the Horchata Cold Brew Oat Latte. Though perhaps not the most innovative java-brewer, Peet’s is still the reason that Starbucks leans into dark roasts.
Here’s one for the pour-over lovers. This California-based coffeehouse chain is a serious regional gem, with stores aplenty in the Bay Area and a few locations in Chicago, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Great tasting coffee is Philz’s specialty—expect customized flavored coffee blends made from sustainably sourced green beans that are roasted in California. Baristas aim to match each coffee-drinker with a blend that suits their flavor preferences. That personalized experience goes a long way and sets it apart from competitors.
You won’t see any carafes, hot coffee holders, or espresso machines, for that matter. At Philz, all the coffee is pour-over and made to order. Philz also breaks the industry norm of long menus jam-packed with lattes and blended drinks. Instead, there’s a lineup of straightforward coffees—12 blends total—that can be served hot or on ice and sweetened to your liking. Order it “Philz Way” and get a bit of brown sugar and medium cream. What’s not to love? There’s also a nice selection of teas including traditional black, chai, herbal mint, and green for the non-coffee drinkers.
With its Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee—awarded to “farms, forests, and businesses that meet rigorous environmental and social standards”—Caribou Coffee cares about serving up feel-good brews. Founded in 1992, Caribou has since expanded to some 450 stores across the U.S., with more than half of those in Minnesota, where the chain was founded. (There are some locations abroad, across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, too.)
Caribou is best known for its handcrafted coffee drinks, blended coffee beverages, and smoothies. The menu offers coffee-based drinks that can be made with different flavors or “coffee-less” if you just want a sugar rush. One reviewer says the Hot Chocolate Press with Caramel is “like a cake in a cup.” Non-caffeinated beverages are on the menu, too, like the Mango Black Iced Tea, Silly Soda, or Cookies & Cream Coffeeless Cooler. And, thanks to its commitment to the environment, you can feel good grabbing your coffee here.
Fan of the unusual? Biggby Coffee is a chain with more than 240 shops mostly in the Midwest that specializes in super-sweet, unique espresso drinks. The menu offers an astonishingly long list of unique lattes—like Mint Mocha, Raspberry Cream, or Snickerdoodle – and there is truly no shortage of options.
However, if you’re a serious coffee drinker who wouldn’t dare marry coffee with sugar and cream, Biggby may not be the spot for you. Case in point: Carmel Marvel, a caramel espresso drink with whip cream, is one of the most popular beverages. Complete with a kids menu, this coffee chain is family oriented and unlike some competitors, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just look at its long list of concoctions called Creme Freeze Smoothies. These non-caffeinated smoothies are available in virtually every flavor imaginable, like Chocolate Chip Cookie and Confetti Cupcake. So while Biggby’s drinks lean more toward dessert than coffee, sometimes a sweet treat is just what you need.
One thing that sets Dunn Brothers apart from competitors is a commitment to freshness. Its coffee is roasted in-house, usually on a daily basis. That’s a freshness difficult to find at most coffee chains. But this Minnesota-based coffee roaster, with 52 locations across the Midwest, has been specializing in roasting coffee in small-batches to achieve the freshest, most flavorful coffee experience possible, since it first opened in 1987. The coffee is also sustainably grown; Dunn Bros has both the Fair Trade USA and Rainforest Alliance stamp of approval. All these traits make Dunn Bros a great pick for the pared-back coffee drinker.
The coffee house also makes fresh food, from hand-sliced meats and cheese to fresh baked pastries. But it’s not all straight-up coffee, Dunn Bros slings all the classic coffee beverages along with a small sample of specialty items, like the popular Vanilla Iced Nirvana, a cold-pressed coffee sweetened with vanilla and topped with half and half.
Compared to its competitors, Black Rock Coffee Bar is relatively new on the coffee scene. This fast-growing coffee chain first opened its doors in 2008, and since then, it has expanded from Portland, Ore., into Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
So, what makes this franchise one of the top 25 fastest-growing chains in America? A mix of classic drinks, coffee-less options, and blended Chillers make it a go-to for anyone looking for a pick-me-up. Fan favorites include the Jackhammer (a vanilla mocha with an extra double shot of espresso) and the Blackout, which is a hazelnut mocha. Some customers say the coffee shop is similar to Dutch Bros., which comes from the Pacific Southwest, as it sells blended drinks in flavors like Caramel Blondie and Mint Chip. Unlike with Dutch Bros., however, Black Rock customers can actually sit inside at some locations.
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has focused on sourcing the best ingredients since it first started roasting beans in 1963. Stateside, the coffee chain is mostly clustered in southern California, but it’s steadily grown to more than 1,200 locations worldwide, including Japan, India, South Korea, and Hong Kong, to name a few. The Coffee Bean is known for pioneering the blended coffee drink, and while the Frappuccino may be a household name, Coffee Bean actually came up with its Ice Blended drink first.
Like most popular chains on this list, Coffee Bean serves up a long list of iced coffee drinks, teas, lattes, and everything in between. There’s no shortage of options. Among the best tasting, according to Tasting Table, are the Vietnamese Cold Brew Coffee (made with strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk) and the Cardamom Cold Brew, a unique, slightly spicy iced coffee that’s steeped for 20 hours. Coffee Bean certainly has some interesting twists on offer, for those tired of the same ol’ bevvies at Starbucks.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the Pacific Northwest loves its coffee. The Human Bean is another coffee chain originating from the area. What was once a single stand-alone drive-thru coffee shop in southern Oregon is now a player in the national coffee market. Today, there are hundreds of Human Bean locations across the country, selling coffee and tea classics, like a Cafe Mocha, and frozen favorites like the Java Chip made with Ghirardelli dark chocolate or the Frozen Hot Chocolate.
What sets this coffee chain apart is its commitment to community-building. The founders aimed to make a difference and do right by their customers, and it quickly established a reputation for friendly service and high-quality coffee drinks. One fun treat? Baristas top each drink with a free chocolate-covered espresso bean for an added touch of sweetness—a small detail that goes a long way to win over customers.
Small but mighty, this regional fave out of North Carolina operates 25 cafes throughout the state and in South Carolina, as well. Port City Java is a specialty coffee roaster and franchise that keeps that indie coffee shop vibe while focusing on fresh coffee beans and premium beverage blends.
While larger chains may cut corners when it comes to sourcing ingredients, Java City prides itself on crafting specialty beverages without any bases or pre-made powder mixes. The smoothies, in flavors like Mango Banana and Green Wave, are made with real frozen fruit and pure fruit juice. The frappes and milkshakes are made with real ice cream, and the baked goods are prepared fresh daily. Must try items include the Iced Caramello Leche, the Mochaccino with dark chocolate, or the Espresso Freeze. Definitely don’t sleep on the breakfast sandwiches served on toasted English muffins with fluffy eggs.
You may have seen La Colombe’s canned coffee drinks at the grocery store, but did you know it’s also an established cafe chain with more than 30 locations mostly concentrated in major cities along the East Coast? With multiple cafes in New York, Chicago, Philly, and Washington D.C., La Colombe has serious staying power in these markets. While some coffee chains are notoriously go-go-go and hectic, this chain is known for its gorgeous cafe interiors and surprisingly calm vibes.
La Colombe has been making Italian-style old-school dark roasts since 1994, and the standout item is the iced draft latte, an impressive feat of engineering. Much like a nitro cold brew, it’s poured from a tap at the bar that creates a cold and creamy latte topped with a foamy head. And if you’re nowhere near a physical store, you can still get the effect at home. Reviewers say the canned grocery store draft lattes are pretty close to the in-store favorite, thanks to an inventive pressurized valve at the base of the can that releases creates a creamy foam when you crack it open.
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Our content is fact checked or reviewed by medical and diet professionals to reflect accuracy and ensure our readers get sound nutrition and diet advice.