There are some folks who swear by putting salt in coffee, claiming it cuts the coffee's bitterness without adding a salty flavor. The idea makes my stomach churn. Really, the only thing I can think of that might be grosser than plain, old salty coffee is sweet and salty coffee—but that's a reality I've been forced to reckon with in the last 24 hours. That's because Dunkin' Donuts started offering a Sweet and Salted Cold Brew yesterday. According to a press release, written by research and development technologist Janet Rock (whose name is worthy of a superhero movie franchise), the sweet and salted iced coffee was inspired by one Dunkin' employee's trip to China. "A colleague of ours encountered a sweet and salty coffee beverage while visiting, and my team here in the Dunkin’ Test Kitchen was very intrigued by the flavor combination," writes Rock. "It works great in a candy bar after all, so why not a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee beverage?"
I know why not. Salty coffee sounds like a nightmare, a mistake that you made when, half-asleep and hungover at a diner, you unwittingly picked up the salt shaker and dumped it into your mug instead of sugar. But the salt in your Sweet and Salted Cold Brew isn't regular old table salt. "In our Sweet and Salted Cold Brew," the folks at Dunkin' explain, "we add liquid sugar cane for a little extra sweetness and top it off with a special, proprietary, salted whipped topping."
Now, there are two things that stand out to me in that sentence. The first is the liquid cane sugar. I love a good cold brew, and believe me when I say that I'm thankful that iced coffee season has hit New York City in February. But I drink my cold brew black, with maybe a little bit of almond milk—not with sugar. So yeah, I'm wary of a sugary coffee, but at least I can imagine how cold brew with cane sugar tastes. Can we talk about this, "special, proprietary, salted whipped topping?" Because what is that? Maybe I would prefer just regular table salt in my coffee, after all.
In my seemingly unending quest to taste every weird iced coffee beverage the internet demands, I headed out past the workmen jackhammering my sidewalk at 7:20 a.m. to my local Dunkin' Donuts, in desperate need of coffee because, you know, jackhammers. If I had any doubts that my neighborhood spot wouldn't have this new drink, they were instantly quelled by the giant ad in the foyer.
When I ordered a medium Sweet and Salted Cold Brew, I asked the woman working the counter if anyone else had ordered this yet. She shook her head, adding that I was maybe the second person. I asked her if she had tasted it, and she said no. But she very happily showed me how it was made, starting with a layer of cane sugar syrup at the bottom. She then poured cold brew on top, and grabbed a can of whipped cream that looked like any other can of whipped cream but actually contained the "special, proprietary, salted whipped topping" and put a heaping dollop on my cup.
According to the press release from Dunkin', there are two ways to go about drinking the new Sweet and Salted Cold Brew. "Drink it through the straw without mixing in the salted topping for a stronger coffee taste," suggests Janet Rock. "Or, stir in the topping for a bit of sweet and salty in every sip!" I started with the first method, hoping to minimize my contact with the "special, proprietary, salted whipped topping" (which, let's be honest, sounds a little dirty, right?). All I tasted was cane sugar, straight to the face, and a little bit of cold brew. It was totally normal, which is why I knew I needed to go for the second method and stir in that topping. The result was infinitely less visually appealing.
But it was also surprisingly delicious. When I heard the name "Sweet and Salted," I kind of assumed the sweet and the salty would be present in equal parts. But, as it turns out, in this drink, the sweet overwhelms the salty. That's not a bad thing at all. Instead, the result is a drink that's closer to a salted caramel iced coffee than the sweet and salty monstrosity the name suggests. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's balanced. The drink is sweet. But the salt keeps it from being so sweet as to be undrinkable. And yes, I drank the whole thing—special, proprietary, salted whipped topping and all.