Monday, February 13, 2017

Coffee from 7-Eleven

Third Review, February 2017

One hot day, I decided to finally try 7-Eleven's iced coffee offering, called "Chillers".  I had seen the Chillers dispensers many times before, but, they only have caffeinated chilled coffee, and San Francisco is rarely warm enough early in the day when I drink caffeine to consider iced coffee.  But one morning it was warm, so when I came out of bootcamp, and saw 7-Eleven next door, I knew it was a great opportunity to finally try it.

I've reviewed 7-Eleven's other coffee offerings before, so, if you haven't read those posts, I suggest you start there.

The Chillers dispensers are usually located near the hot coffee.  They dispense the "coffee", which is really a mix of coffee, creamer, syrups, and who knows what else.  They make 3 varieties: Colombian, Mocha, and French Vanilla, but each dispenser only carries 2, and I've only ever seen the flavored ones.  I opted for French Vanilla ... sorta.  Making this drink was a bit of an adventure.
French Vanilla Chillers (modified).
First, I needed to get ice in my cup.  It took me a little while to realize that I needed to go find the soda machine in order to get ice, and it was on the other side of the store.  A bit awkward, but, I guess it does make sense to have the iced coffee near the hot coffee rather than the soda, and it makes sense to not add another ice machine.

Then I started filling my cup from the dispenser.  It was immediately clear that this stuff was loaded with far more sugar, cream, and chemicals than I really wanted (particularly given that I had grabbed a large cup!), so I took a tiny sip to verify my fears (yes, technically not allowed I suppose), chocked on the cloying sweetness, and decided to fill the rest of the cup with regular hot coffee (hazelnut).  The hot coffee of course melted the ice, so then I had to go back to the soda machine to get more ice, which was much harder in the nearly full cup, causing some slashing ...

But, in the end, it worked out fine.  I really enjoyed my beverage.  It tasted like the Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee I remembered from my college years.  Seriously, it transported me.  I loved the french vanilla and hazelnut combo, and, when cut with so much ice and regular coffee, the sweetness and cream level were just right (I think my final recipe was only about 1/3 Chiller mix?)

I'd gladly get this again, but actually, I realized I can kinda make iced coffee anytime, by just adding ice to the regular hot coffee, although it would be diluted I guess.

Second Review, January 2016

To celebrate National Coffee Day, many places give out free coffee.  I was down in Southern California on National Coffee Day this year, and gleefully went to claim my free coffee at Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, which were conveniently located half a block from each other.  The internet was full of grump at 7-Eleven though, as they did not participate.  But 7-Eleven promised they were going to do better that just for coffee for one day.

And, they did.  Just a few weeks later, for the full week from October 12-18, they gave out free coffee.  The only caveat was that you had to use the 7-Eleven app on your phone to check out.  This allowed them to ensure that every person only got one per day, and helped drive their app usage.  Besides that, it was a much better offer, even if you went a single day, as it was good for any size coffee or hot specialty beverage (iced coffee was excluded).  One per day, every day.  And, even more ridiculously, you still earned 7-Eleven points for the free cups, so, if you went 6 days, you also got another free drink to redeem anytime.

Now, you may be thinking, "Um, yes, but Julie, it is 7-Eleven.  Why would you want their coffee? You hated it before."   I guess, I just can't resist a freebie, it had been several years, and I do love the ridiculously extensive condiment stations most 7-Elevens have.  Also, I forgot just how bad the coffee was, as my other 7-Eleven memories have been overshadowed by their glorious cinnamon rolls.

During the week of free coffee, I visited a number of different 7-Elevens, as we have a slew of them in SF, and many are within a few blocks of each other, all an easy walk from my office.  I made it an adventure every morning to visit a different one, and compare the offerings.

Hot beverages at 7-Eleven are offered in 4 sizes: small (12 ounces), medium (16 ounces), large (20 ounces), and x-large (24 ounces).  For most of my freebies, I went for the largest, because, why not?

Pricing is not consistent across stores, even when they are literally 2 blocks apart.  It seemed that the bigger locations charged about $0.10 more per cup.

Hot Coffee

7-Eleven has a number of different coffee blends.  Depending on the store, they seemed to offer between 6-10 different coffees each.

The varieties I saw were basic blends like Brazilian Dark Roast, Regular "Exclusive Blend", and 100% Columbian, plus flavors like Hazelnut, French Vanilla, and Pumpkin Spice, and a single decaf, although they also make a Crumb Cake, Texas Pecan, Cinnamon, and Blueberry flavors.
Large Coffee Carafes.
Most of the locations I visited housed the coffee in large carafes like these.  They were great - easy to dispense, the coffee was hot.  Each one had a label with the variety of coffee, a description of the flavor, and the style of roast (light, medium, dark).  The little digital displays on top were always blank, but I think they were supposed to show how long ago they were brewed?
Standard Coffee Pots.
Smaller locations I visited had old school standard coffee pots instead.  The pots were all only quasi-full, had only the name of the coffee on the handle with no further description, and were just sitting there burning away.  This coffee tasted worse across the board.  Burnt.

These locations were $0.10 per cup cheaper.
Creamer.
Some locations had large creamer dispensers, with half and half and non-dairy french vanilla creamer.

If a location didn't have this, they had plenty of other options for creamer.
Sweeteners, Creamers.
Most places also had powdered non-dairy creamer, and a large selection of International Delight flavored creamers.  All locations had french vanilla and hazelnut flavors, many had irish cream and pumpkin pie spice as well.  I found one with caramel macchiato, and even one with a Cold Stone branded Sweet Cream flavor.

Interestingly, not a single one of the 9 or so locations I've visited has ever had milk of any form.  They always had half and half, and non-dairy creamer in a million varieties, but, never milk.  No low-fat options, if that matters to you, and obviously nothing fancy like soy milk, almond milk, etc.

Then, time for sweeteners.  All locations had large jars of 7-Eleven branded sugar.  But if you don't like regular white sugar, do not fear.  You can also pick from brown sugar, Splenda, Equal, or Sweet N Low.
Syrups.
But, that isn't all.  What if you want your sweetness and flavor in another form?  Go for the syrups.

Hazelnut, french vanilla, and seasonal pumpkin spice seemed to be offered at every store, in large, barista style dispensers, self-serve, like the coffee.  Some also had sugar free vanilla or hazelnut.  This one also had ... honey syrup?  (I guess for tea?)

At this point, you may have realized that if you wanted hazelnut flavor, you had 3 entirely different ways to get it: the hazelnut flavored coffee, hazelnut syrup, or hazelnut creamer.  So. Many. Options.
Toppings!
But, that is not all.

While some coffee shops only offer cinnamon, or maybe cocoa to sprinkle on, 7-Eleven goes bigger.  Most stores had cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla powder, and even mini marshmallows!

I quickly discovered that I loved dumping a ridiculous number of these mini marshmallows on top of my creations.
Whipped Cream.
But it gets better.  One location even had a whipped cream dispenser, but I wasn't able to figure it out.  I really wanted whipped cream, so I finally asked how it worked.  The guy looked at me like I was crazy.  "Whipped cream?  We don't have whipped cream."  I pointed to the machine.  Then he told me that had never worked, and has been broken for years.  Um, wow.  Thanks for keeping it there as a decoy?
Extra- Large Decaf.  $2.25.
"This medium-roasted, well-balanced decaf coffee is made for all you rebels out there who like to drink coffee well into the afternoon, evening and night. "

And, for the coffee itself, I went for decaf.

The decaf was absolutely fine.  No strange funk.  Sure it had no complexity to it, but at least it wasn't bad.  It was boring black, but totally sufficient when you load it up with their plentiful selection of flavors and creamers, which I obviously did.  I got a bit addicted to Irish Cream creamer and lots of sweetener and tons and tons of marshmallows.  Yes, I realize it is totally not "coffee" that this point.

Really, the coffee reminds me of Dunkin' Donuts.  You aren't really there to taste amazing coffee.  It is all about the flavors, the cream, and the sugar.  Dessert in a cup.  For breakfast.

I also learned that if a location doesn't have the variety of coffee you desire, aka, no decaf in the morning, you can ask to have it made, and they'll brew up a whole pot.  I guess I could have asked for the fun sounding blueberry or crumb cake flavors too?

Speciality Hot Drinks

Specialty Drink Dispenser.
In addition to regular hot coffee, 7-Eleven also has dispensers that make "specialty" drinks.  Again, what is on offer at any particular location is different, but they have everything ranging from hot chocolate to a standard cappuccino, to french vanilla cappuccinos, pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas, and even a cuban cafe con leche.  I don't think the names are really that accurate though, I'm pretty sure the cappuccinos, the lattes, the machiattos, etc are all made with the exact same ratios of milk and coffee, and the milk is just quasi-steamed hot milk, not foam.

Warning: these drinks are all crazy sweet.  The tagline of "Enjoy our Sweet Sensations" displayed on the dispensers is very real.  Even the basic cappuccino has 40 grams of sugar ... in a small.

Some of these dispensers also had an option to just make frothed milk, if you'd like to put that on top of your regular coffee, and avoid the sugary crazy that is these drinks.

The astute reader will now notice, that if it was fall and you wanted to indulge in Pumpkin Spice craziness, you now have a 4th option, in addition to the flavored coffee, the flavored syrups, and the flavored creamer.  This machine also makes pumpkin spice lattes.
Pumpkin Spice Latte. Large. $2.05.
"Our limited-edition premium blended coffee drink is mixed with rich cream, pumpkin flavor, and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg for a taste that totally delights and an experience that brings to you all the warmth and fun of the fall season"

I finally gave in and tried the machine.  I was curious.  And I decided to just go for it, and went for the pumpkin spice latte.

I took one sip.  Woah.  Sweet overload.  I sorta regretted my decision.  Way. Too. Sweet.  I did like the flavor though, nicely spiced, and it was creamy and frothy.  Not bad at all for something coming out of a random machine.  But, what was in it?  My guess: instant coffee, lots of sugar, and non-dairy creamer.

I looked it up after, and I was basically dead on.  Ingredient #1: Sugar.  No shocker there.  Ingredient #2: Nondairy creamer (with corn syrup in it too).  #4: Instant coffee.  #3 was "dairy product solids" ... whatever that is.  So, not lactose-free.

I did someone drink this entire thing, a large.  I felt fairly sick after, like I had way, way too much sugar, and clearly way too much caffeine.  I think a better move would be to use 1/2 pumpkin spice latte, and 1/2 regular decaf coffee.  This would cut both the sweet and the caffeine amounts in half.

By the way, if you didn't guess it, this thing is awful for you.  475 calories. 68 grams of sugar.  Even Starbucks is significantly less.
2/3 Decaf Coffee, 1/6 French Vanilla Cappuccino, 1/6 Pumpkin Spice Latte, 2 Pumps SF Hazelnut,  2 French Vanilla Creamers, Chocolate Powder, Vanilla Powder, Mini-Marshmallows. X-Large. $2.15.
So, uh, I got crazy.

It didn't start that way.

I started with 2/3 decaf coffee and then about 1/6 french vanilla cappuccino, taking my advice from above, but leaving room to tinker.  And ... I didn't like it.  It was really ... bitter.  It needed sweetness and creaminess.

I added sugar-free hazelnut syrup, not wanting to go crazy on sugar, but wanting some flavor.  It still wasn't good.  I dumped in 2 french vanilla creamers, hoping to amp up the flavor and creaminess.  It was getting there.

I was going to top it off with decaf coffee, but decided to just fill it up with Pumpkin Spice Latte.  This thing was already ridiculous, so why not just add on?  And then, just to have fun, I dumped in chocolate powder, vanilla powder, and loaded it up with mini marshmallows.

The result?  Well, it wasn't actually bad.  Not nearly as sweet as the unadulterated Pumpkin Spice Latte, but sweet, flavorful, and creamy.  I uh, liked it.

And I'm glad I went for mostly decaf, because this X-Large size would have killed me otherwise.

For $2.15 normally, or free during free coffee week, this was quite the deal, and kinda fun to make!
4/5 Decaf Coffee, 1/5 Pumpkin Spice Latte, 2 Pumps SF Vanilla Syrup, Chocolate Powder, Vanilla Powder, Mini Marshmallows.  $2.15.
I kept trying to improve my creation.

This time, I left out the french vanilla cappuccino and the french vanilla creamers, but still finished it off with pumpkin spice latte.  I left out the hazelnut syrup, but still added vanilla syrup.  I couldn't resist dumping all the things on top.

This was the best version yet.  I liked the flavoring and creaminess from the Pumpkin Spice Latte, but it wasn't overpowering.  I adore those silly little marshmallows (can you tell?)  It still had a slightly cloying property to it, not that it was too sweet exactly, just that it was wrongly sweet.

I tried a few days later with the same recipe, but added cinnamon on top too.  That was a bad move.  The flavor didn't go well with the others, which I didn't quite anticipate, since, "pumpkin spice" already has cinnamon, right?  Not sure why it clashed so badly, but, it did.

Just For Lols

Mislabelled Baked Goods.
I didn't actually have a donut, but I thought these signs were way too funny.  Look closely.

Original Review, September 2012

As I mentioned a few months ago when I tried my first ever Slurpee, I grew up without 7-Eleven.  I haven't ever really had a reason to visit since, but today I was walking by and saw signs for free coffee, to celebrate National Coffee Day.  It was freezing outside, and a warm coffee sounded particularly welcome, plus, who can resist freebies?
Large Coffee.
It was easy to locate the coffee section, as there was a huge swarm of people.  They had a number of types of coffee to choose from, several different blends, a decaf, and a bunch of flavored coffees, including french vanilla and hazelnut.  I grew up drinking tons of Green Mountain Coffee's flavored coffees, and these two flavors in particular were my favorites, and I always mixed them.  I choose to do the same at 7-Eleven.  I was very happy that they had so many choices for the coffee!

I was even more impressed when I saw the area to customize your coffee.  They had standard sugar, alternate sugars, and creamer of course, but then they also had a bunch of flavored creamers (irish cream! french vanilla! hazelnut!).  If you weren't happy adding your flavor that way, they also had a bunch of flavor syrups.  Or if that wasn't enough, they had flavor powders as well.  And then fun toppings like cinnamon and mini marshmallows.  And extra caffeine shots, scary little things that looked like creamers, but were labelled with a warning about only consuming 2 per day.  What fun!  I really appreciated that they had all of these things, and didn't charge you more for them.  Most places would charge for a flavor shot.

But ... then I took a sip of my coffee, and realized why they had all the additives.  It was, hands down, the worst coffee I've ever tasted in my life.  It tasted like lighter fluid.  So horrible.  No amount of mix-ins could save it.

I was daunted, but thought perhaps in the hooplah of the day, they screwed up brewing the coffee.  I knew there was another 7-Eleven two blocks away, and I wanted to give them a fair review.  So I tossed my horribletastic coffee, and sauntered into the next 7-Eleven.

This one had an even more impressive setup.  More flavors of coffee, in bigger serving vessels rather than pots, with timers indicating how old the brews were.  And even more syrups, powders, and whatnot.  I was again excited.

I stuck with just hazelnut this time, thinking that perhaps my mixing caused the badness.  I took a tiny dribble only, just to try it, not wanting to waste a whole cup if it was again horrible.  And ... yes, it was again, just as bad.  The only redeeming quality is that it was served nice and hot.  (Ok, too hot, I burnt my tongue pretty badly).  Seriously, I've never had such horrible coffee.

At this point, I was pretty sad, as my hopes had gotten up.  I overheard a woman standing next to the automatic coffee machine talking about the wonder that was her creation.  Intrigued, I went to see what she was up to.  The machine was a standard auto-magic thing that could make a variety of drinks: hot chocolate, cappuccino, latte, steamed milk, and a rotating special.  I have no idea when I last consumed anything out of one of these machines.  They can't possibly be good right?  But, this woman was going on and on about her drink, and it turned out, that anything from the machine also counted for free coffee day.  So I followed her lead.

Her recipe was to start with the seasonal special, the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  I already almost ran away at this point, as I just honestly don't get the rage with these things.  I've tried them from a bunch of actual coffee shops and just find them nasty.  And, she said, this would be too sweet and overwhelming, so you only go halfway with that.  Then, you use the regular steamed milk button for the rest.  This dilutes the crazy sweetness and flavor of the latte, basically making you a steamed milk with some nice flavor to it.  I was skeptical, but made my own.  And ... I liked it.  I know, I know, it was just powered milk, powered coffee, and some chemicals acting like pumpkin, but it was actually tasty.  Perfect for the freezing winter day.  It was even decently frothy.

I can't imagine actually going to purchase one of these, but I do give 7-Eleven some credit for having such a generous array of options for customizing your drink, at no extra charge.  And for having the cost of the magic latte machine and regular drip coffee the same.  Probably the cheapest pumpkin spice latte you can find!
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