Where to go to grab joe? That’s what I wanted to know. With the help of my fellow students/friends Avery and Emily, I set out to discover the kinds of coffee that the MTSU populace is ordering.
MTSU’s campus boasts three primary locations for ordering caffeinated beverages – Brewed Awakenings in the KUC, Starbucks in the Walker Library, and Dunkin’ Donuts in the Student Union Building. Each of the locations has its own appeal, but as a very infrequent coffee drinker, I wanted to compare the experiences of each. I needed the assistance of friends who more regularly consume caffeine than I, and luckily found two volunteers.
Emily drinks coffee a few days out of the week, while Avery is prone to multiple cups in a day. I figured we covered a nice representative spread of opinions.
To begin, I was curious about several things. I wanted to get a sense of what the average customer of each location is looking for. What was the most popular order at each coffee stop? I wondered about the baristas who serve the students and staff of the university. What was the strangest drink order they could recall making for their customers? And I wanted to know how the stores identified value in their products. What drinks would be the most expensive?
So, on a recent Wednesday afternoon, we three embarked on our caffeinated quest, and the results of our investigations are shared below. We’d like to give a huge, heartfelt thanks to the wonderful staff of MT Dining for their assistance in accumulating the information and products we needed for this to come to fruition.
Up first, Starbucks!
Our sampling experience at Starbucks was divine! A tray of sample-sized tasting cups was prepared by the wonderful staff, and each drink we tried was described to us in detail.
So, what were the drinks, and what did we think?
Most Popular – the Pink Drink
What is it? A strawberry açaí refresher with coconut milk
Darby: “Ooh. See, I like it. That’s delicious. I like that it comes with a little strawberry in it, too.”
Avery: “That’s actually really good. But there’s no coffee in this, right?” (There isn’t. There’s a slight amount of caffeine.)
Emily: “It’s good. I ate my strawberry.”
The verdict: This drink is popular for a reason. For drinkers who don’t like the coffee but want the jolt of caffeine. It’s definitely sweet and it tastes like strawberries.
Most Expensive – the Honey Oatmilk Latte
What is it? This is a brand-new drink rolling out from Starbucks nationwide as of March 2, 2021. According to my sources, it’s rapidly becoming one of the most popular drinks available. A combination of oat milk and espresso meets a hint of honey and a toasted honey topping to make this one.
Emily: “That’s really good. I’m a fan. I really, really like this.”
Avery: “I like that too. That’s not as sweet as I was anticipating. I’m just glad this has espresso in it.”
Darby: “Oh wow! So, as somebody who doesn’t drink coffee a lot, I can definitely taste the coffee in it, but it’s not scaring me away. I think the oat milk maybe leads into it.”
The verdict: This option offers a delicious espresso flavor balanced smoothly with oat milk. This is a drink to be appreciated as much by regular coffee consumers as by coffee lightweights. Its sweetness is not overpowering, and its components complement one another.
Most Unusual Orders – Tiktok drinks
What is it?There are actually two, and we tried both. The first was a white mocha with vanilla sweet cream foam and caramel drizzle. The second was a strawberry açaí refresher lemonade with vanilla sweet cream foam.
After trying drink 1 (the mocha):
Emily: “It’s a little bit too sweet for me. It’s yummy. It reminds me of – kind of like butterbeer.” (Starbucks does, by the way, make butterbeer drinks seasonally, come autumn.)
Darby: “Lots of sugar! Lots of sugar in that.”
Avery: (referencing what had already settled in the bottom of our sample cups) “That just shows you how much caramel syrup is in this.”
After trying drink 2 (strawberry refresher):
Avery: “It’s a good summer drink. Yeah, I do like this a lot.”
Darby: “Oooh, see, I think I really like this one. Because I like how it’s got the consistency of lemonade with the heaviness of the cream on top and it balances the sweetness. This is a sugar bomb, though. It’s got a little bit of a sourness underneath it.”
Emily: “I don’t think I would’ve ever thought to add cold foam on top of a non-coffee drink. This one’s good.”
The verdict: Tiktok drink 1 reminded us all of butterbeer. It’s a pretty drink with much more sugar than we knew how to process. The components are more of a layered than a blended experience. Tiktok drink 2 was also very sugary, but it was the more popular of the two amongst our mini panel. It’s a good pick for fans of the Pink Drink who want a little variety in the texture of their beverage and a bit more of a sour twinge to taste.
Next stop, Dunkin’ Donuts!
Sadly, because of the hour at which we panelists met to embark on this journey, the on-campus Dunkin’ Donuts had already closed. However, employees of the Student Union location were interviewed before the convening of the coffee-tasting. Armed with a list of the on-campus picks, Avery, Emily and I drove to the nearest off-campus location of Dunkin’ Donuts to sample our suggestions.
Most Unusual – Blueberry Matcha with Oatmilk
What is it? Dunkin’s sweetened Matcha green tea powder blended with blueberry flavor and oat milk. Regularly, guests can choose any of the milk or nondairy options, but oat milk was the recommendation for “most unusual,” therefore it’s the one we tried.
Emily: “Okay, it’s actually not that bad. It’s better than I expected.”
Darby: “I don’t know if I care for that. It was so milky; I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Avery: “It’s so sweet. This tasted like milk with a little bit of matcha in it.”
The verdict: It tastes different from traditional matcha because it is made from a powder, so the milk and sweet flavors were stronger than one might expect. The blueberry was more subtle than overpowering. Not every taster preferred this option, but it was generally thought to be better than anticipated. It certainly qualified as an “unusual” choice, for any interested parties.
Most Expensive – Caramel Macchiato
What is it? Cold milk poured over ice, topped with two shots of espresso, and flavored with caramel syrup
Emily: “That’s actually pretty good. The caramel is all at the bottom. I was a fan of that. This is definitely my favorite.”
Avery: “Okay, yeah. It’s really bitter.”
Darby: “Nope. Nope.” (then, after receiving advice to stir the caramel at the bottom into the drink and try it again): “That is way better!”
Avery: (laughing, with Emily) “She just needed the syrup.”
The verdict: For something with the title of “most expensive menu item at Dunkin’ Donuts,” this is a surprisingly affordable choice. The coffee drinkers of our group were bigger fans of this than was the sugar-inclined taster. The major difference between a macchiato and a latte is that the macchiato is intentionally layered. If you prefer a layered flavor experience, this may be the drink for you, but if not, check out the latte (reviewed below).
Most Popular – Iced Caramel Latte
What is it? Espresso combined with cold milk then poured over ice and flavored with caramel syrup.
Avery: “I mean that’s not bad.”
Emily: “I think I preferred the caramel macchiato, even with the caramel. It’s [the latte’s] a little bit too milky.”
Darby: “I don’t like it. It just tastes like coffee.”
The verdict: A decent option for mild coffee drinkers. It’s milkier than a basic iced coffee and has a stronger coffee taste than, say, a frappe. The caramel makes it a more sugary option than a regular iced latte, but the sugar does not necessarily hide the bitterness of the drink. If that’s what you’re craving, this is the perfect pick for you.
Finally, Brewed Awakenings!
We weren’t able to check out Brewed Awakenings during its regular hours of operation either. For that reason, we went directly to Just Love on Memorial Boulevard, which is the source of Brewed Awakenings’ coffee beans. Just as with our Dunkin’ Donuts picks, our Just Love orders were chosen based on an interview with the Brewed Awakenings employees held earlier in the day, (with one caveat that will be mentioned below).
Most Popular – Caramel Frappe
What is it? Coffee and milk, shaken with ice cubes and flavored with caramel syrup. Typically, frappes are similar to lattes, but frappes are slightly thicker. Frappes are also assumed to be cold, whereas lattes are assumed to be hot unless otherwise specified.
Darby: “Ooh, she’s tasty. Yeah, I get both caramel and coffee from this.
Avery: “Ooh, that is good. I think I like the way they do their frappes more than Starbucks. Seal of approval.”
Emily: “It’s good. Good job, Brewed Awakenings.”
The verdict: This drink evokes the experience of enjoying a milkshake. It’s cold, sweet, and well-balanced. The coffee taste is present, but not overwhelmingly strong/bitter. This is a sweet treat for fans of coffee ice cream.
Most Expensive – Latte, with an extra shot of espresso and almond milk
What is it? Espresso combined with steamed almond milk in approximately a 1-to-2 ratio, then topped with a layer of foam.
The drinks at Brewed Awakenings are mostly equivalently priced, so the most expensive was a tie between many options. An extra shot added to any order will increase its price, so we did that for this tasting. The almond milk was a recommendation by the Brewed Awakenings team members on campus.
Darby: “It tastes weird. I mean, I’m pretty sensitive to the flavor of coffee, but –”
Avery: “Why is that so creamy? It doesn’t taste like coffee. There’s a little bit of bitterness at the end.”
Emily: “It’s very creamy. It tastes like warm almond milk. As far as coffee goes, it’s very smooth.”
The verdict:The proportion of the ingredients was unexpected. For a drink with a lot of coffee in it, the flavor of the almond milk was surprisingly dominant. An excellent pick for a beginning coffee drinker who wants to hide a caffeine punch behind an unassuming flavor.
Most Unusual – Hazelnut Banana Mocha Nutella Mocha Latte
What is it? This is the caveat. Brewed Awakenings’ most unusual coffee order was, quite unfortunately, not possible to try at Just Love because the banana-flavored syrup was unique to campus. We substituted the Nutella Mocha Latte in our tasting because we felt it was also food-related and had an unusual quality to it as an offering. It is a mocha latte with hazelnut flavor added.
Avery: “Ooh; it’s like hot chocolate. Banana with this would be good.”
Darby: “I was going to say! It tastes like hot chocolate to me.”
Emily: “It’s really good. I think it would be good with banana too.”
The verdict: This drink is delicious and chocolatey. We weren’t able to try it with the banana syrup available on campus, but we’re curious to know how it is! Give it a try and leave us some feedback, if you’re as curious as we are.
So, in conclusion, which drink was our favorite? Ultimately, the Starbucks Honey Oatmilk Latte came out on top. Keep in mind, it’s impossible to properly compare Brewed Awakenings’ oddest order against our winner since we tried a substitute.
What did we learn? There’s something for everyone at all three of the stops we got to visit. Dunkin’ Donuts had an excellent affordability factor. Brewed Awakenings had quirky flavors that are unavailable in the other places. Starbucks has got your sugar fix covered.
Whatever way you want to consume your coffee, MTSU has options for you. Hopefully, our field research has helped to lead you to a more informed decision. I know it’s helped to guide my future choices.
Now go out into the world. Drink up, and study well. Cheers!
*Note: Dwight’s Mini Mart and the P.O.D.s also serve caffeinated options, but these stops were not included in our coffee-seeking endeavor.
Author Darby McCarthy is currently an undergraduate student at MTSU, majoring in Journalism in the College of Media and Entertainment.