Review: Dunkin’ Donuts

Lindsey Askin 18 May 2014

Dunkin’ Donuts has a very special place in my New England heart: from childhood memories of fresh bagels to the desperate plea “Can we stop at Dunkin’ Donuts?” at the outset of just about every long-distance family car journey. In America, Dunkin’ is akin to England’s road milestones: you pass one every ten minutes.

There has not been a Dunkin’ Donuts in the UK since before most of today’s undergraduates were born. They stepped out in the 1990s, but have returned in full force after seeing the success of Starbucks here. The one in Cambridge is the third to open in the UK and I found it in the most American place ever: a mall. Okay, a shopping centre, the Grafton.

At lunchtime there are queues out the door, but when I went in the evening, there seemed to be slightly fewer people. There were only a few tables, but Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t a place to set up your laptop, it’s a place to grab breakfast on the way to work. A couple of Brits were doing it wrong when I went there by sitting at the tables instead of sprinting out the door.

The shop looked clean and brand-new, brightly-lit and pink, with an almost healthy glow. I picked up half a dozen doughnuts of various unusual and delightful kinds (no, I didn’t eat them all myself!), and an iced coffee at the last second. I was even told to have a nice day.

The iced coffee was exactly how I remembered it in America, the best thing you can have on a hot summer day. You can keep your sugary high-cal frappy-thingies, because the humble iced coffee is just where it’s always been at, frankly. The doughnuts were slightly different, but in a good way: there were appetizing new flavours that didn’t involve filled-cream bursting out of everything, lots of lemon, strawberry, and less of the powdery mess; there’s even a rumour that they don’t contain high-fructose corn syrup. This gives the doughnuts a slightly grainier taste and means that, happily, there is far less guilty stickiness while eating, with absolutely no feeling of ‘I swear I just bit into this but it’s turned into nothing in my mouth’.

It only opened a few weeks ago and word has spread fast around Cambridge, especially among my American compatriots, who missed the coffee. Yes, the coffee. What boggles me about the chain’s re-entry into the land of Cadbury’s and Creme Eggs is that most publicity so far has been about the doughnuts, which are lovely, but:

No, Americans are not addicted to doughnuts. Only Homer Simpson.

2) Despite the name, we don’t go there for the doughnuts. We go there for the coffee.

3) Yes, like the stereotype, police do get a discount. People have even been arrested for impersonating police officers to pay less for their Dunkin’ fix.

4) No, America isn’t two-thirds obese because of this delightful coffee chain (it’s because we drive everywhere, have lost all sense of portion sizes, and everything is processed) and the UK won’t get worse unless you don’t treat the doughnut with the respect it deserves.

Dunkin’ Donuts, to me, is coffee and bagel sandwiches; breakfast and caffeine on the run – and on the road. Dunkin’ Donuts’ primary competitor in the US is not Krispy Kreme, it is Starbucks as their coffee is well-known, affordable and loved. In fact people buy it by the packet in supermarkets right alongside Folger’s, Starbuck’s, and Green Mountain. They are renowned for their flavours, their perfect intensity built around the ‘regular coffee’ brew (European ‘Americanos’ are just too strong to be American), and the fact that they are not as expensive or as café-culture hipster-chic as Starbucks.

They are the everyman’s coffee.       

Come for the spectacle of the bizarre American doughnuts, stay for the promenading queue, and please try the coffee and the sandwiches because ‘That’s why America runs on D&D’ (that’s an old slogan).