Caribou Coffee or Starbucks…whose team are you on? Or maybe you enjoy them both equally — after all, if you’ve been to each coffee house chain more than once, then certainly you like something about them, right? And if that’s the case, why do you even need to pick a side?
Okay, so maybe you don’t actually have to pick. But we think you should know exactly what these great chains offer so you can decide for yourself who’s better. You know…just in case it ever comes up.
Caribou Coffee Overview
Caribou Coffee isn’t as old as many people might think. It was founded in 1992 (so it’s roughly the same age as most of its coffee drinkers) in Edina, Minnesota. It now has almost 800 locations all around the world with only half of them in the United States and close to 300 of them in Minnesota alone.
And here’s a fun Caribou Coffee fact for you to impress your friends with: though the chain may not be number one in America, it sure is in the rich country of Kuwait.
Caribou trails behind Starbucks as the second-largest coffee chain in the U.S., and the two franchises are each other’s top competitor. A lot of people even think Caribou is owned by Starbucks, but this is far from true…though we’re sure Starbucks would love to get their hands on the company to knock out some competition!
People come to Caribou cafés for the coffee but stay for the atmosphere. Unlike the traditional coffee shop, you’ll find most of the company’s locations decorated with fireplaces and rugs. The warm, homey feel gives you the pleasant experience of being at home in Minnesota, even if you’ve never been to the state before.
Starbucks, on the other hand, is a bit larger with over 32,000 stores in 83 countries. The U.S., of course, takes up a huge portion of that total, with 14,000 stores.
Starbucks is no newbie to the coffee world. The well-loved franchise has been in the game since 1971, more than 20 years before Caribou opened. This gave the chain coffee shop time to expand and make its name well-known across the globe. Their efforts seem to have paid off, as when people think of coffee shops, large cups of coffee, and cold drinks now, Starbucks Coffee is likely what comes to mind next.
Caribou Coffee vs. Starbucks: A Full Showdown
To give you more details on this coffee debate, we’ve laid out some of each franchise’s best beans.
Starbucks Espresso Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee
People who buy from Starbucks often love the espresso dark roast. With hints of sweet molasses and caramel, you get a cup of joe that tastes like heaven in your mouth.
If you enjoy intense coffee flavors with a side of sweetness, these Starbucks beans will blow you away. This blend is dark but not bitter, and it goes so well with steamed milk. Its bold taste and sweet undertones also make the perfect cup with no extra additions.
This blend is one of the most popular Starbucks offerings. Why? Probably because it’s used in almost all the espresso drinks that are sold in stores.
Caribou Coffee French Roast Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee
Caribou Coffee’s French roast is a great everyday coffee because of its unique flavors that surprise and satisfy your taste buds. Bittersweet cocoa notes and tart apple acidity with a subtle smoky tone finish make this delicious blend worth brewing.
Caribou is known for masterful flavor mixing and with this blend alone, you’ll know why their coffee is so loved. Each sip of this French roast is rich, tart, and toasty, and you experience all of that in one sip.
What’s also amazing about this French roast is the way it’s made. Caribou follows the traditional French roast process but adds a slight twist that prevents the beans from becoming too dark or oily.
Starbucks Medium Roast Ground Coffee — Pike Place Roast
The Pike Place roast is another one of Starbucks’ most popular beans. This medium roast has the perfect balance of sweet chocolate and nutty flavors — you’ll instantly enjoy the brew’s smooth flavors.
Starbucks doesn’t play around with roasting techniques, as each individual bean is roasted to perfection to guarantee a unique taste. Coffee lovers are addicted to Pike Place roast because it’s rich and bold; it wakes you up and puts you in a great mood.
The Pike Place blend has been a popular pick since Starbucks first opened in the Seattle Pike Place Market. This original blend was served fresh to customers daily and has been a favorite ever since.
Caribou Coffee Lakeshore Blend Medium Roast Ground Coffee
Caribou loves adding “flavors that pop” into their coffee blends. The Lakeshore blend is another one that includes tartness with citrus notes and a profoundly silky body — the flavors in this blend take off in so many different directions, and we think you’ll enjoy all of them.
The citrus flavor comes from the specially sought-after coffee beans sourced from Guatemala and El Salvador and highlighted with washed Ethiopian coffee. The flavor from these beans gives you a fresh cup of coffee that’s super smooth and easy to drink.
Caribou Coffee sources the finest coffee beans from around the world, and they bring them right to your cup through this flavorful blend.
Alike But Different
When it comes down to it, both companies manage to make pretty decent coffee. People know and love Starbucks for its wide array of blends and flavors, but people also love Caribou for its ambiance and unique drinks.
Let’s put the differences aside for a second and highlight their similarities to see how much they match up with each other. Of course, there are more similarities than what we’ve listed below, but these are some of the most important ones.
- Both franchises use 100 percent arabica beans
- The coffee chains serve only organic beans in all their beverages and menu items
- Starbucks and Caribou use beans from all over the world to create a variety of flavors and blends
- There are many different menu items to choose from besides espresso-based drinks, and both carry a huge selection of coffees
- Both have a rewards program for loyal customers
All right, now let’s circle back to those differences we just put aside, shall we?
- Caribou likes to stay closer to home and settle mostly in Minnesotan communities while Starbucks is heavily scattered all around the globe
- Starbucks is a fast-paced café, and Caribou Coffee is more of a cozy lounge
- You can get a size Trenta (31 ounces) at Starbucks, whereas the largest size you can get at Caribou is only 20 ounces
Even with all their differences, they’re both great coffee shops with amazing tasting menu items. You can’t really say one’s better than the other. It’s all up to your palate.
Here are some other things to think about as you consider which one is better than the other…
What’s your scene?
This is a big deal for coffee lovers. Some people like to grab their cup and go, while some of their fellow coffee enthusiasts like to sit back and enjoy a relaxed experience as they slowly sip while sitting in a cozy shop.
Starbucks has so many locations, it seems like there’s one on almost every corner. With all these stores, you’d think you’d be able to find one that’s not crowded with people looking over your laptop, but that’s just how it is at Starbucks; everyone likes to settle in at one of their tables.
Caribou is more cozy and warm. You can go there, get your order and relax. The decor is much different than at Starbucks with soft tones and light hues. Caribou is for the fans of coffee who like to take life one sip at a time. (Did we just give them a new slogan? Caribou, if you’re reading this…let’s chat)
What’s your flavor?
Starbucks is full of different blends, but if you’ve tasted Caribou, you know it’s a whole new world of flavor. The great thing about Starbucks is the freedom to create your own type of coffee, but with Caribou, there’s no need. Their drinks are full of flavor from the creative way they blend different beans with unique flavors.
They both have seasonal drinks, but Starbucks always outdoes any competitor with their special limited-time drinks (pumpkin spice, anyone?). And, if you’re a tea drinker, you’ve got lots of flavors to choose from both specialty coffee chains.
Caribou also has its own line of caffeinated, fruit-infused water that is dee-licious.
What’s your price range?
Starbucks and Caribou don’t differ too much in terms of price. But, if you were to compare all the prices, you’d find out that Caribou Coffee costs just a tad more than Starbucks. But obviously, the price ultimately depends on which kinds of coffee you order, what size you get, how much of it you order, your favorite drink, and everything in between.
However, their coffee beans for your at-home brewing are priced differently, and when compared to Caribou, Starbucks’ beans are on the higher end.
What’s your stance on environmental awareness?
Caribou Coffee was the first major coffee house to be Rainforest Alliance Certified. This means they get all their coffee beans from farms that are Rainforest Alliance Certified. This certifies that all farmworkers are given good pay and quality education so they’re able to harvest their crops responsibly.
Caribou has also done plenty for people and the environment. They have partnered with Project 7 to help the homeless, heal the sick and save the earth. With the help of Project 7, Caribou has been able to plant over 100,000 trees and feed thousands of people. They are very dedicated to doing good for their customers and everyone else on this planet.
Starbucks has also hopped on the environmental awareness bandwagon. They are working hard to reduce waste output and make sure the water they use is replenished. They are also hoping to expand their plant-based and environmentally friendly food and beverage menus by 2030 and will start using reusable packaging for their food and drinks.
The Seattle-founded brand has partnered with many organizations over the years to combat the use of plastic, and Starbucks has even started to do much more in the wake of the environmental crisis.
Also worth mentioning is the outstanding employee treatment from both companies.
What’s your pick?
So, who’s your favorite coffee shop? Are you team Starbucks or are you into the cozier, more laid-back experience at Caribou? Is there a real difference between the two coffee companies, or is a cup of coffee the same everywhere? (If you said all coffee is the same…we beg to differ.)
In the end, you’ve got two pretty awesome cafes that have great tasting beverages, and some pretty delicious food, too. Whether you’re a customer of Caribou Coffee or Starbucks, you can be sure that you’re getting quality coffee either way.
Whichever chain you’ve sided with…happy caffeinating!