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Rating SA’s most popular takeout coffees — and the winner is clear

Business Insider is the largest business news site in the US and one of the fastest-growing news brands in the world, with 14 international editions. A South African edition, in conjunction with Media24, was launched in February. Among its first reports is that of a tasting competition to find the best of SA’s favourite takeaway cappuccinos.

ARGUABLY the most important liquid fueling the economy, apart from petroleum, is coffee. And while everyone has their preferred brand of takeaway coffee, we were desperate to determine which one is the best.

We turned to an expert panel of Business Insider South Africa taste-testers to find our favourite. Our testers included Freeman Nofemele, a professional barista in Cape Town; Emily Cohn, head of audience development at Business Insider in New York, on visit in SA; and James de Villiers, journalist with Business Insider SA and self-proclaimed coffee addict.

The tasting team pitted Vida, Seattle, Wimpy, McDonalds, Woolworths and Mugg & Bean cappuccinos against each other. The testers were each served the coffee in unmarked cups and asked to score each cappuccino on a scale 1-10 (10 being the best).

Here’s how the cappuccinos stacked up:

Mugg & Bean. R23.90 for a small cappuccino. Average score: 0 out of 10

Instant derision from all three of the judges. They thought it was watery and lukewarm. “It doesn’t even taste like coffee,” says Emily. Freeman and James were in complete agreement. All three of them refused to give the cappuccino even a single point out of 10.

Wimpy R24.90 for a small cappuccino. Average score: 3 out of 10

Emily gave it marks for being stronger than some of the other contenders, but did not like the taste of it. “If you are only looking for some caffeine, this will probably do.” James and Freeman hated this cappuccino. “Burnt and too bitter,” said Freeman. “Wood in a cup,” according to James.

Vida e Caffè R25 for a small cappuccino. Average score: 4.2 out of 10

James thought it was very good, with a lovely aftertaste. But he was in the minority. Freeman and Emily gave it very low marks. Emily said the coffee had a stale taste and was bland, without any complexity.  Freeman believed the coffee beans were burnt, and that the bits of the coffee grinds in the cup were testimony to that.

McDonald’s. R18 for a small cappuccino. Average score: 4.7 out of 10

James, who favours milky coffee, liked this one, but the others didn’t think much of the quality of the coffee. “It has no reach and a very weak taste, it lacks that boost that coffee should provide,” said Freeman. Emily thought it tasted like “warm milk with a shot of coffee in it”.

Seattle R23 for a small cappuccino. Average score: 6.5 out of 10

This was the only cappuccino that scored mutual admiration from all three of our judges. All of them thought the coffee tasted great. “A great combination of sweet and bitter,” says Freeman. They agreed that it was well balanced and creamy, and that the milk was of a high quality.

Woolworths R23 for a small cappuccino. Score: 6.7 out of 10

This cappuccino received nine out of ten from Freeman, who raved about the taste of the coffee, which he thought was complex, and the result of a “near perfect” extraction process. Emily also loved this cappuccino. “This is what coffee should taste like, strong, with good-tasting milk.” James disagreed on the taste of the milk, but liked the smell of the coffee.