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20090506-mccafe5.jpgFor McDonald's, this is the biggest roll-out since they birthed Egg McMuffins and the rest of the breakfast line. McCafe, the new beverage-based initiative that's supposed to quiet the drip coffee haters, will eventually be located in 85 percent of McDonald's stores (the other 15 includes the tiny branches in airports and the like).

"Medium is the new grande" is one of their taglines. As if to say, take that, Starbucks. We're not espousing your silly coffeespeak shenanigans. It's a medium, period.

In New York City, McCafe officially launched this week. The city was busy rolling out the Angus burger first, while the rest of the nation probably saw the McCafes popping up sooner.

Since I don't have fancy coffee chops, I asked Allison Hemler, a former Serious Eats intern and current barista at Joe the Art of Coffee, arguably one of the most beloved artisan coffeeshop mini-chains in Manhattan, to give the iced mocha and cappuccino a try. We realize that McDonald's is not trying to compete with the handcrafted coffee world, but their prices are pretty comparable, so we put them to the test.

Iced Mocha

So far this has been the most popular drink, and the one they're really pushing in ads. Available only in a medium (16 ounces), as with the Iced Latte.

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Allison's response:

The chocolate is intense...the espresso flavor is very light. Hard to taste much else beyond the chocolate. These drinks aren't made for espresso experts (not like I am or anything). Here, it's four pumps of chocolate syrup and one shot of espresso for a 16-ounce, while at Joe the Art of Coffee, we do four shots espresso and light chocolate pumping.

You can tell they don't know too much about coffee because they weren't totally sure how much espresso was in the drink when we asked. It begins to taste like chocolate milk.

Cappuccino

Available in small, medium, and large.

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Allison's response:

This isn't bad. Though the beans taste pretty burnt and there's WAY TOO MUCH foam (and bad foam at that). But that's pretty typical of a chain. Starbucks is like that too. Also, TOO HOT.

New Lids

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Snazzy! (We agreed.)

Other Notes

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A screen lists the orders, instead of taking names and calling them out as per the Starbucks model.

A New Dunkin' Donutsian Policy: They now ask you how much sugar and milk you want, and mix it all up behind the counter. Something about this always made me pretty happy.

Syrups Available: Hazelnut, caramel, vanilla, and sugar-free vanilla.

Speediness Factor: The machines are extremely automated. They kinda look like ATMs. Eventually, McDonald's will have printing mechanisms so they can stick the typed-out orders right onto the cups. None of that dinosaur age black pen business!

Sizes

Small (12 ounces)
Medium (16 ounces)
Large (20 ounces)

Final Thoughts

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While prices vary depending on the McDonald's, the drinks hover in the $2 to high-$4 range. It's a step up from the drip stuff, but I'm curious if the dude who gets the Big Mac and fries everyday will be into it.

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