For me, summer road trips mean fast food coffee. Because while I usually like supporting local coffee shops and cafés, it’s not worth the extra miles off the highway with Siri (and my toddler) yelling at me just to track down some off-the-beaten-path purveyor of fresh-roasted, whole bean cold brew.

So whether you need it to stay alert on the road, or whether your kids are doing a pretty good job of that already and you just need a boost while you play tourist over the summer, I hope this guide to the best fast food coffees I’ve tried will be a life saver.

In no particular order….

Related: 5 easy, not-too-messy travel snack recipes. 

Starbucks Iced Coffee

Okay, so while Starbucks isn’t technically fast food, it’s become a staple at so many rest stops and is now included on so many “next exit” highway signs, so I’m counting it for this list of the best fast food iced coffee. And y’all, I love a Starbucks iced coffee. Plus it’s a solid, consistent, and delicious option, especially if you prefer dark roasts.

Type of beans: 100% Arabica

Price: $2.95 for a Vente

Pros: Tons of options for personalizing your iced coffee. Plus you can find healthy snack choices, from string cheese singles to protein boxes, fresh fruit, and greek yogurt, though reststop S’bux are not generally as well stocked as your neighborhood branch.

Cons: You may need to specify “unsweetened” (though they generally ask) to be sure they don’t add simple syrup to an iced coffee. If you’re a fan of sweet iced coffees though, those calories add up — a Vente Iced Caramel Frappuccino can be as much as 510 calories, with 17g fat and 84g sugar. Whoa.

 

Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee

Our guide to the best fast food iced coffee for road trips

Dunkin’ hasn’t established the cultural dominance in the South that it enjoys in the Northeast — let alone New England, where there’s one on every corner it seems! —  so I hadn’t made the trip to grab their iced coffee. Until recently. What a nice surprise! Their iced coffee is smooth and dark, and definitely does not taste like fast food iced coffee. Plus, they now sell cold brew coffee in most locations if that’s more your jam.

Type of beans: 100% Arabica

Price: $2.79 for large

Pros: Rigorously tested so every cup tastes the same. Several roasts and flavor add-ins available.

Cons: The servers are often not great with customization (like if you try to order “just one pump of caramel” or less ice). The sweet coffees are also SUPER SUPER SWEET; if you’re used to a Starbucks Iced Vanilla Latte, the Dunkin’ version will shock you, so you might consider sweetening yourself. Plus there’s that temptation to order their new Donut Fries on the side.

 

Sonic Iced Coffee

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect the fast food chain that sells 50¢ corn dogs to also sell great coffee, but life is full of surprises. Their Green Mountain coffee is unexpectedly tasty, although I have to note that even the “original” flavor tastes slightly sweet to me — but if you prefer flavors, they offer Chocolate, French Vanilla, and Praline Pecan syrups.

Type of beans: 100% Arabica

Price: Varies by state, but comparable to other fast food iced coffee choices.

Pros: The flavors are quite good. Lots of non-caffeinated options for the kids while you’re there, from Slushies to lemonades and regular juice/

Cons: The iced coffee at Sonic comes automatically sweetened. Not a fan of the large, non-recyclable styrofoam cup that my iced coffee came in at my location.

 

McDonald’s Iced Coffee

I starting drinking the iced McCafé after I had a baby and was too sleep-deprived to operate my French press, and let me tell you, McDonald’s makes a surprisingly great cup of iced coffee, especially compared with similar burger chains. The coffee is strong. It’s fresh. It’s cheap. And so yeah, I’m including it in my list of the best fast food iced coffee, especially if you’re indulging in an afternoon pick-me-up.

Type of beans: 100% Arabica

Price: $1.99 for a large

Pros: Brewed frequently so it’s always fresh. Medium roast is less bitter than other coffees. Easy to find, and super fast to get in and out, whether you’re using the drive-thru or counter.

Cons: Not everyone wants to support McDonald’s. Their food choices to go with the coffee — well, you know. Not the best. And if you like your coffee light, the cream they use disappointingly includes additives like sodium and thickening agents. Consider buying a small milk for the kids and stealing a bit to lighten your coffee.

Panera Iced Coffee

If you spy a Panera close to your route, it’s worth pulling over for their coffee-shop level brew. Panera is a step up from fast food, and so is their coffee. It’s more potent, plus I like that you get to add the cream yourself, which may be a plus for persnickety coffee drinkers (like me). I also just like Panera;  I know I can always find a healthy-ish breakfast or snack while I’m there and put the kibosh on bad road trip snacking choices while I still get my caffeine fix.

Type of beans: 100% Arabica

Price: $2.19 for large

Pros: Brewed extra strong, which will compensate for any melting ice watering down the flavor. Great iced lattes also available. Nice menu.

Cons: No drive-thru. Expect to add a little driving time when you pull over — but totally worth it.

Top image: Pete Bellis via Unsplash 

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