Which Coffee Chains Have the Best Espresso?

Arpi Gharadaghian, Staff Writer

Espresso is considered the most concentrated form of coffee, and a good espresso should be smooth and rich in flavor. The beverage is served in shots, which are around one ounce each and is used as a base to make most coffee beverages. Lattes usually contain one to two shots of espresso depending on the size of the drink and cafe. It is essential to have a solid espresso that can create the perfect balance between coffee and milk. As a coffee enthusiast, I reviewed three of the most popular coffee chains in Irvine to see which one had the best espresso. 


Price: $3.05

Time: seven minutes through mobile order

History: Starbucks began in 1971 in a small shop (still open) in Pike Place Market, Seattle. About a decade in, a trip to Milan inspired Howard Schultz, who started working for the company in 1982, to incorporate those Italian notes from their coffeehouses. Since then, they’ve expanded all over the U.S. and the world. Starbucks is undoubtedly the most successful coffee company to date and is at the very top of the competition. 

Quality: The espresso was bitter and strong, but the whipped cream works as a great balance. It was a bit watery, but overall it gave a good kick of energy to get you through the day. The espresso was acidic and bitter and was not pleasant to drink. If this is your first time dabbling with coffee and expanding your profile with it, getting this will deter you away from wanting to try more espressos in the future. Overall I would not recommend it; it’s better to spend a couple more dollars for a latte.


Price: $0.99

Time: nine minutes

History: Dunkin’ opened in 1948, when founder William Rosenberg started with just a small donut and coffee shop in Quincy, Massachusetts. Dunkin’ started with just coffee and donuts but has since grown in quantity and variety. Their name comes from the idea of dunking donuts in coffee, so coffee was essential since the beginning of the company. 

Quality: Overall it was a pretty good espresso being less acidic and sweeter than Starbucks. The cup was very small and looked cute, but the taste doesn’t exactly add up to its sweet-looking exterior. Based on the price, I was not expecting anything great; thus, my expectations were met with the espresso being bitter and watery. When added to a latte, the bitterness mixes well with any flavor added to the drink. In addition to the drink itself, the inside didn’t provide seating, but outside they had a larger area for seating. The overall feel of the place is nice and somewhat cozy, providing a great atmosphere to get work done. 

Peet’s Coffee

Price: $ 3.45

Time: less than five minutes

History: Peet’s Coffee started in Berkeley, CA in 1966 with a huge impact on how people would look at coffee. Founder Alfred Peet grew up around teas and coffee and learned to love them while working for his father’s small coffee company. After finding a good blend using high-quality beans and a sensory roasting technique, many people started to appreciate this fresh new taste and richness in their coffee. 

Quality: The espresso was smooth and creamy. Since most would stick to a latte over straight espresso, Peet’s Coffee offers a happy medium between the two with their Cafe Cortado. The cortado is a mix between a straight espresso and a milk-based drink. This drink is special to Peet’s Coffee and other competing brands don’t have it on their menu. It’s a great little pick-me-up for any time of day, as it is much sweeter than normal espressos. The coffee was rich and had a major difference in taste due to its richness in flavor. The overall feel was very welcoming, thanks to the staff who were informative and open to answering any questions. 


Each store brought a special twist to what makes coffee great, whether it was a unique cortado at Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks’ highly acidic drink. While most customers wouldn’t think to try a straight shot of espresso, having a good base can make or break a drink.