Tim Hortons Dark Roast Real Cups
As anyone North of the border knows, Tim Hortons is to Canada what Dunkin Donuts is to America. It’s the largest coffee chain in Canada started by a hockey player bearing the same name (how à-propos) and throughout the decades, they’ve forced out many competitors from Canada including, much to our Canadian Correspondent’s dismay, Dunkins themselves. While they’re not as popular in America, they’ve rebranded themselves Tim Hortons Bake Shop in USA and have a small presence mostly throughout a few States in New England. Tims (as most Canucks refer to it) is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary in Canada and they’ve decided to do something rather unique.
The store did a massive marketing campaign where it selected an actual shop in a small town and completely blacked-out everything in matte black paint. And when we say everything, we mean EVERYTHING. The exterior of the building including signage, the drive through lights/menus, the windows of the shop, even vehicles in the parking lot were covered in matte black paint from roof to wheels. The only way the locals could figure out what the heck was going on? They had to go into the shop which was… surprise, surprise, in pitch black darkness with all the lights turned off. Once inside, they were greeted by staff which were wearing night vision gear and were told to, quite literally, blindly taste test their cup of coffee and describe what they experienced. Once the locals figured out they were drinking a dark roast, the lights were turned on and it was revealed that everything was a huge marketing stunt/tv commercial for Tim Hortons new Dark Roast coffee. You can watch the actual event unfold via the official YouTube video here: http://youtu.be/svfFvkHgeWY
So you’re thinking to yourself, what’s the big deal? It’s a dark roast… so what? EVERY coffee shop these days has dark roast coffee! Well, maybe everyone else does, but not Tims. What most people never realized is that while they’ve added flavor shots, introduced mochas and other styles of coffee-based drinks, for the entirety of its 50 years in existence, Tim Hortons has NEVER had a different roast of coffee other than its regular roast. That’s 50 years… with the SAME coffee. Hence the fanfare and massive marketing… this was the FIRST time in over 50 YEARS that the chain introduced an entirely new roast. So is it any good? Was it worth waiting 50 years (well, ok… some of us weren’t even born back then) in order to try this out? We grabbed a box of Real Cups during a stop at a Canadian Tims (oddly, no T-Disc version is available yet) and decided to give this new roast a go (we haven’t seen these Real Cups in American shops yet).
Brewing these Real Cups resulted in the signature Tim Hortons arabica aroma which is heavy on the hickory smoke scent but this was accentuated by some faint grain & chocolate notes in the background which we don’t typically see in their regular roast. Flavor was a similar story with some cereal notes up front followed by a smoky taste tinged with notes of bittersweet dark chocolate in the finish.
Acidity was surprisingly light considering this was a dark roast until we remembered that Tims coffees are known for being considerably lighter than a Starbucks. The signature Tims levels were present here but what seemed a bit odd is they weren’t much stronger from what we’d get in their regular roast. A dark roast with the acidity of a light or medium? Strange, but it worked in letting us focus on the main flavors in the coffee. Body yielded dark reds throughout rather than the usual sunburst shades of bright yellow & orange which led towards the feeling that this was a darker roast coffee. Mouth feel was smooth given the lack of acidity but this worked as a double-edged sword… it made for a light sour note but also tended to make things lean towards the watery side instead of giving us something a bit more substantial. Finish, as we noted above, had a dark chocolate taste but also yielded lingering smoky notes in the aftertaste.
- Aroma – 9 – Typical signature Tim Hortons aroma heavy on hickory smoke but we also got some faint grain and chocolate notes which aren’t usually present in the regular roast.
- Acidity – 6 – On the lighter side but given the fact that this is supposed to be a dark roast, that isn’t necessarily a good thing as it also made for a watery mouth feel. It did however considerably cut back on the sour notes normally found in a dark roast… which seemed rather odd.
- Body – 9 – Shades of dark red when held to a light source vs. the usual bright yellow & orange shades in the regular roast version help reinforce the idea that this is indeed a darker roast.
- Flavor – 8 – Typical Tim Hortons flavor except this time it started with cereal notes up front followed by a smoky taste tinged with notes of bittersweet dark chocolate in the finish.
- Mouth Feel – 5 – Things start off well as this was exceptionally smooth for a dark roast, but they take a turn for the worse thanks to the non-existent acidity which just made for an overly watery feel. Given that this is a dark roast, we were hoping for something much more substantial. Finish was, as noted above, mostly dark chocolate with lingering smoky notes in the aftertaste.
- Coffee Drinker – This one is best suited for Tim Hortons regular roast fans which are looking for something slighter darker without being overly strong like a French Roast or most coffees found at Starbucks. Those who go into this expecting a conventional dark roast will likely find this way too light & watery than what they’re used to, so as Chief Wiggum would say “Move along folks, nothing to see here”.
Overall Rating: 87 – Good
It just goes to show that a brewed coffee’s quality is entirely dependent on how it’s prepared & served. We had a cup of the dark roast prepared in-shop and to be honest, we weren’t all that impressed. It simply tasted like a dark roast coffee which had been left sitting in the coffee pot for way too long and had an unpleasantly burnt/bitter taste profile floating around in the background (and this was despite the chain’s policy of never letting a pot sit on the burner for longer than 20 minutes). If we would have had to score it on the spot, it would have been lucky to receive a score of 10. When we brewed the same coffee at home via the Real Cups, the change was like night & day… gone were the overly strong bitter notes, burnt flavor and we could finally taste what should have been served to us in-shop in the first place. Seeing as how no 2 shops are alike, it’s very possible your experience may vary… but if Tims policy is not to serve burnt or stale coffee, then there’s no excuse in our opinion (by the way, we DID ask for a new cup but received the same results & gave up at that point).
In-shop experience aside, if you’re a Canadian you’ve probably got Tims coffee running in your veins and can’t start your morning without your daily Double-Double fix. If you’re an American on the North-East Coast, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. So… is this new dark roast, the first new roast in 50 years, worth the hype? Well, compared to Tims regular roast, it does have a slightly stronger flavor which is only marginally richer and smokier than what most folks have grown accustomed to drinking over the years which in all rights is still considered good, although we have a feeling it could have been a bit better if certain things had been done differently.
It works as a lighter-strength dark roast but due to its slightly watery mouth feel, we’d recommend taking it black vs. adding the habitual cream & sugar (yes, we realize taking a Tims black could label us as either insane or sacrilegious in the eyes of our Canadian readers), but we’re fairly certain adding anything would just further wash-out the flavors and result in a rather tepid cup (although, you might end up accidentally creating the world’s first coffee-infused bottled water). While we have no idea what the future holds in another 50 years, we can also say that we don’t know what Tims (or coffee for that matter) will be like by then… we’re envisioning a shop full of people vaping on e-tubes of coffee vapors (ugh… lets hope it doesn’t get to that), but for Tim Hortons first attempt at a new coffee roast, it’s not that bad of a try. Plus at least they didn’t decide to create something considerably worse (think Timbit Smoothie… yech).
Tim Hortons Dark Roast Real Cups work in all Keurig K-Cup Brewers BUT NOT Keurig 2.0 and are available in 12-packs at most Tim Hortons locations in Canada while the in-shop version should be available at most USA locations (no Real Cups yet this side of the border). Canadians may also be able to find these Real Cups at various grocery stores across Canada. Please also note that Real Cups will NOT work without using adapters in Keurig Vue brewers.
A special thanks to SH for providing this Single Serve Coffee staff review. We would also like to note that we purchased a box of these Real Cups on our own for the purpose of this review.
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Posted by Jay Brewer at December 8, 2014 7:56 AM