If I asked you what the biggest coffee chain in the US is, you'd probably come up with the correct answer of "Starbucks." So do you know what the second-largest coffee chain is?

Caribou Coffee. With over 600 locations in 28 states, Caribou Coffee is like visiting grandma's cottage vs. Starbucks's fast-paced, upscale cafe vibe.

Both coffee houses produce a delicious, high-quality cup of joe, so which one is better?

  • Both have extensive food and drink menus plus quality 100% Arabica coffee
  • Starbucks' menu items are more expensive overall but Caribou has tastier food items
  • Starbucks focuses on provided efficiency and convenience while Caribou has cozier ambiance
  • Caribou tends to have more healthier options but both have plenty to choose from
  • Caribou have a better Rewards system than Starbucks

Caribou Coffee Vs Starbucks (Coffee Shop Showdown)

It's undeniable that each of the coffee shops has their own set of pros and cons. Let's get into everything "Caribou vs Starbucks"!

Price Range

Starbucks is notorious for being quite expensive, with their black coffee clocking in at $3.25, compared to the same drink at Caribou coffee costing $2.39.

I'm not saying you can't find some cheap Starbucks drinks on the menu, but overall, it's more expensive.

Pretty much all Caribou drinks and food items are comparatively cheaper, which really adds up.

However, if you look at the median price of each, it’s a pretty small difference of just 5 cents.

In this regard, Caribou is the winner with all-around cheaper pricing.

Inside a Caribou Coffee shop location

Menu

Starbucks has an incredibly comprehensive menu, with tons of higher-end choices to satisfy any palate.

However, Caribou also has plenty of coffee drinks, non-caffeine beverages like hot chocolate, and juices like Lemon Ginger, Pomegranate Juice, Green Tea Lemonade, and Berry Black Tea.

Not only that, but both chains offer seasonal drinks. There's really no clear winner here, and I think that's a good thing.

Coffee Quality

As far as coffee quality goes for Caribou Coffee vs Starbucks, it's hard to say. 

Each chain has their weak spots and strong points. For example, the Starbucks iced black coffee and Starbucks chai ranked very high, while Caribou's unsweetened black coffee ranked lower.

However, Caribou coffee has a better-tasting, more natural and creamy hot chocolate and they do milk-and-coffee drinks really well.

Beverage Sizes

You may already be familiar with the more common sizes of Starbucks drinks: Tall (12 oz.), Grande (16 oz.), and Venti (24 oz.).

However, did you know they also have the Demi (3 oz.), Short (8 oz.), and the massive Trenta drink size (31 oz.)?

That's 6 different drink sizes compared to Caribou's 3: 12 oz., 16 oz., and 20 oz.

Starbucks is the winner here, with twice as many drink size options.

Customization Options

You can customize a Starbucks drink all day long - probably literally. Starbucks baristas deal with difficult customers sometimes who want some seriously intricate beverages.

The good news (for customers)? Pretty much anything is possible at this coffee house. Now, with viral Starbucks TikTok drink posts popularizing their "secret menu," that rings even more true lately.

Caribou offers customization options, sure, but they're nowhere near as generous as Starbucks.

Food Options

While Starbucks may have a more comprehensive menu, I can't deny that Caribou has better-tasting food options.

Most of Starbucks' food tastes pre-packaged and a bit stale, and it makes sense. After all, most of their food is pre-packaged and requires freezing, defrosting, and cooking in some way.

Caribou has unique, homemade-tasting offerings such as their Maple Waffle Sandwich, Roasted Tomato & Pesto Flatbread, and the Lumberjack.

However, both have some very similar food menu items, such as cake pops, scones, breads, and croissants.

Two breakfast sandwiches and a coffee from Caribou Coffee

Convenience

Starbucks seems to have a location on every street corner or office building, making it the most convenient option for many.

Convenience has a stronghold in a world where everything is go-go-go. Not only that, but many Starbucks locations have drive-thrus or "Order Ahead" options.

Let's be honest - many people aren't going to Starbucks because it's the "best coffee ."

Ambiance

Caribou Coffee stores have a small-town feel with a homey cabin theme perfect for sipping coffee while reading a book.

You'll experience fewer crowds, more space to relax with ample leg room, less people working on their laptops for hours, with an overall boutique coffee shop vibe.

It's apparently based on a "Minnesota" atmosphere. I had no idea Minnesota was so cozy!

Starbucks is undeniably "corporate" - both in terms of their uniform design and the type of crowd you'll see there.

Not that Starbucks aren't cozy in their own way - they have some big, comfortable leather chairs, warm lighting, wall art, and some awesome outside terraces.

The ambiance of a Starbucks is generally a bit more chaotic than the more relaxed experience of Caribou's coffee locations.

There’s no real “winner” here - it’s all about personal preference.

Locations

While both coffee houses operate internationally, Caribou coffee has approximately 800 locations around the globe, and 300 of those are in the coffee chain’s home of Minnesota.[1]

However, they have locations in 10 other countries, including Bosnia, Oman, and Egypt.

Starbucks is massive, with over 32,000 stores in over 83 countries and nearly 10,000 just in the US![2]

Customers Inside of a Starbucks coffee shop

Health

Both offer high-quality coffee drinks, but Caribou drinks tend to be the healthier of the two.

Starbucks overwhelmingly uses artificial flavoring and flavored powders, while Caribou has recently opted for more natural ingredients, like real vanilla, real chocolate, real caramel - you get the idea.

However, both have menu options with plain, “healthier” espresso drinks, as well as sugary, high-calorie drinks with whipped cream, sauces, and syrups.

Environmental Consciousness

Both coffee chains have taken action to become more environmentally friendly.

For example, Caribou Coffee has partnered with Project 7 to plant more trees and was the first major coffee house to be Rainforest Alliance-certified.

Starbucks commits to carbon-neutral green coffee and tries to conserve water usage, and says they would like to start using reusable packaging for food and drinks (though no action has been taken yet).

While I appreciate that both use ethically-sourced coffee beans, they also both use non-recyclable coffee cups that are lined with plastic.[3]

With thousands of these cups being used per minute, there are billions a year that end up in the trash - not exactly an environmentally-conscious level of waste output.

This one is a tie.

Rewards System

Back in the day, the Starbucks Rewards Program was actually a pretty good deal! Now, you have to spend close to 100 bucks just to get a free drink!

Caribou, on the other hand, offers consistently nice offers - even if it's just a couple dollars off a drink sometimes.

Caribou requires 120 points to earn a free drink, which totals around just $65, making them the winner.

Coffee Beans

Coffee lovers know that it all starts with the beans - if the brew isn't good, there's little you can do to fix it.

Both franchises use organic, 100% Arabica beans for their coffees. However, everyone has their favorites, so let's jump right in.

  • Dark Roast - Starbucks’ has their Espresso Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee, while Caribou has their French Roast Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee.
  • Starbucks' dark roast exudes notes of molasses and caramel to create a well-balanced, intense coffee with a touch of sweetness. It may be dark and bold, but it is definitely not a bitter flavor  - it matches perfectly with steamed milk! 
  • Caribou's has a unique taste of bittersweet cocoa with tart apple acidity and a smokey finish for a pleasant experience you're sure to come back for. This is largely thanks to their special roasting techniques similar to the traditional French Roast process, altered to ensure the beans don't become too dark or oily.
  • Medium Roast - Blending Starbucks sweet chocolate with smooth nutty flavors, it's great for a morning cup or simply for those who prefer lighter tastes while still staying strong. The Pike Place Blend honestly has pretty mixed reviews from many coffee lovers, as some consider it not to have a strong enough flavor.
  • Caribou's medium roast is their Lakeshore Blend, which makes the taste buds come alive with its "flavors that pop ." It's a bit tart with citrus flavors and a notably silky body, sourced from the highest-quality coffee beans from around the world.

Why You Should Go To Caribou

Caribou Coffee offers a "quintessential American" coffee shop experience, setting it apart from Starbucks.

Founded in 1992 in Minnesota by two Alaskan backpackers, it's since been owned by many different entities throughout the years.

Despite this, I appreciate that they've never strayed from their roots of a cozy, friendly place where you can get great a great cup of coffee.

Their company also focuses on offering the best coffee without artificial ingredients or other harmful chemicals.

That's why so many love Caribou -  healthy, delicious coffee with friendly employees, affordable prices, shorter lines, and a comforting environment.

Caribou Coffee Shop

Why You Should Go To Starbucks

Starbucks is about as "Seattle" as grunge music, though with likely very different ideals.

Starbucks opened in 1971 right at Pike's Place Market, and it was a great (and very small!) location conveniently located right in the market and close to the waterfront.

(Pro Tip: You can actually visit this location still today, but be forewarned: it's very limited in space, and there is always a huge line to get inside.)

Just a decade later, Howard Schultz made a visit and fell in love with their coffee and brand from the get-go.

During a visit to Milan, Italy, the next year, he was inspired to bring that Italian coffeehouse vibe (a whole experience in itself) to Starbucks.

With a focus on both warm customer service and artistry, it’s no surprise they’ve taken over the coffee world.

Logo of Starbucks in a coffee shop.

Related Caribou Coffee Vs Starbucks Questions

Who owns Caribou Coffee?

Caribou Coffee is owned by German private-equity firm JAB Holding, which also owns Peet's Coffee, Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme, and others.

Where is Caribou Coffee from?

Caribou Coffee was established in Edina, Minnesota in December 1992 by John and Kim Puckett.

Is Caribou Coffee high in caffeine?

Not really! Caribou Coffee isn't high in caffeine. A 16-ounce Caribou coffee has 305 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, Starbucks has around 350 mg.

What countries have Caribou Coffee?

There are Caribou Coffee locations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia, and of course, America!

What is a good iced coffee from Caribou?

You have to try the Toasted Marshmellow Cold Press Coffee or their Berry White Mocha. They’re both well-rounded, sweet treats with that nice bold coffee taste. However, all of the iced drinks from Caribou coffee are tasty![4]

Conclusion - And The Winner Is...?

As you can see, the competition is intense between these two top-notch coffee stores! So, which one are you going to purchase a delicious coffee, hot chocolate, or tea from next?

While Starbucks strives to create an ultra-convenient, upscale atmosphere that appeals to the masses, Caribou Coffee invokes warm fuzzies with its tasty, cozy ambiance. The choice is yours!

References:

1. https://locations.cariboucoffee.com/
2. https://www.starbucks.com/store-locator
3. https://cleanwater.org/starbucks-and-our-plastic-pollution-problem#:~:text=Starbucks%20uses%20more%20than%208%2C000,Starbucks%20paper%20cups%20for%20recycling.
4. https://www.cariboucoffee.com.tr/our-menu#iced-beverages

ShayAnne Weeks

Author

ShayAnne Weeks
Shay is a fun-loving content writer and DJ who enjoys traveling the world whenever, wherever possible. The lifeblood that makes it all attainable has always been a strong cup (or 3) of coffee.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... A Café Cubano con Leche

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