I compared a Luckin Coffee Americano vs one from Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s: Review, Photos

by Nigel Ong

I recently visited one of Luckin Coffee’s first shops outside of China, in Singapore. As I sipped its Americano, I was surprised by its taste. I also wonder how Luckin’s Americano will taste side-by-side with popular Western coffee.

In this post, I decided to compare Luckin Coffee’s Americano side by side with Americano from Starbucks, McCafe, and Subway.

About Luckin Coffee

Luckin Coffee, a Chinese coffee chain, was founded in October 2017 by Jenny Qian. It aimed to compete in China’s coffee market, mainly controlled by Western chains like Starbucks. 

Luckin Coffee attempted to stand out from the competition by using technology heavily. It uses apps and machines instead to take orders and make coffee.  

By January 2019, just two years after its founding, it opened its 2,380th store, while Starbucks had over 3,000 in China.

However, Luckin Coffee faced big challenges. In April 2020, the company was involved in a scandal for overstating its 2019 sales by around $310 million. 

After overcoming these issues, Luckin Coffee continued to grow and eventually outdid Starbucks in China by opening its 10,000th store in June 2023.

Luckin Coffee’s first move outside China was to Singapore, with plans to expand to Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. However, there’s little information about its expansion to North America.

Readying The Coffees

As I sip my cup of Luckin Coffee’s Americano, I thought it would be interesting to compare it against popular coffee from big Western coffee shops. 

I have never done this, too, and comparing these big-name coffees would be fun to try.

I was lucky the mall where I picked up my Luckin Coffee had all the shops I needed. I proceeded to pick up Americano coffee from the following coffee shops:

  • Starbucks
  • McCafe
  • Subway

I may be getting these coffees from Singapore, but a quick chat with the baristas assured me that the coffee beans are roasted to the same standard as the ones in the US.

I could not find a Dunkin near me, which is a bit of a shame. But I think these three coffees should be good enough to help me describe the taste of Luckin Coffee Americano to you.

After picking up this coffee, I brought it back for the taste test. I noticed the coffee had gotten a little colder, so I popped all four coffees into the microwave to warm them back up a little.


Appearance-wise, all coffee looks identical. All four coffees are housed within its uniquely branded cups and lids.

Color-wise, all sported a dark brown color in different hues. I would say the ones in Starbucks are the darkest, while the color in Luckin is the lightest. The Subway and McCafe coffee are about the same in darkness.

All four coffees also show slight transparency, with Luckin’s coffee slightly more transparent than the others. 

From the looks, I may deduce that the coffee from Starbucks would be the darkest and most intense of the bunch. Luckin’s would be the lightest and the least intense. But let’s hold the judgment until we taste them.


I laid my nose close to each coffee and breathed in the aroma. All coffees gave me a good coffee aroma, with different notes. 

The McCafe smells the most normal. Coffee forward and rather intense, with a dash of cocoa-like aroma. Not strong, and if you do not pay attention, you may not pick up anything. 

The Starbucks Americano is quite intense. I can pick up earthy aromas with a little bit of herbal, fresh leaves type of aroma. The aroma also reminds me of Sumatran Gayo coffee.

For Luckin, the aroma is the lightest and, shall I say, least coffee-like. The intensity of the coffee is not obvious, with a little coffee aroma punching my nose. Instead, I get notes of fruits and some herbs.

The Subway coffee also has a rather earthy aroma with a bit of cocoa notes. The aroma is not too far apart from McCafe coffee.


Time to get sipping. I decided to sip the coffee like a regular drinker without using my cupping spoon. I figure I’ll drink the coffee just like how most people do, to get the taste most people will get. 

The Subway coffee has a medium body and a decent flavor. I picked up cocoa notes and a bit of sugarcane-like sweetness with the coffee. The coffee also does not punch my palate hard, making this a nice coffee.

The McCafe is surprising here. My cup somehow seems to taste a bit watery here. I actually tasted the most water taste here, compared to the other coffee.  

The flavor is about the same as Subway, just that it is less intense. It, however, does trigger a desire to bite into something savory. A chicken sandwich, perhaps?

Starbucks Americano is the strongest and most bold in the list. The herbal and smoky notes continued in the taste of the coffee. 

The flavor is strong, but I have tasted coffee with a stronger, even fuller body. This coffee may be too strong for some, and a bit of milk and sugar may help well here.

Finally, the contrast is so stark when I sipped my Luckin after the Starbucks Americano. The Luckin Americano is mild in contrast. 

It is soft, fruity, and even floral. The coffee tastes. I sometimes wonder if the coffee is coffee or if tea is mixed inside.

Finish And Aftertaste

After washing my palate with water, I returned to sipping the coffee again. 

This time, I focus on the finish and aftertaste of the coffee, how long the flavor stays on my tongue after I swallow the coffee, and what I taste.

The Subway coffee has a medium aftertaste here compared with the other coffees. It leaves a soft, sweet note on my tongue before disappearing. 

The McCafe coffee has a shorter aftertaste. The lingering sweetness has a hit of caramel instead of sugarcane in the subway. I enjoyed the aftertaste of the McCafe coffee better, to be honest.

Starbucks’ Americano has the longest aftertaste of all the coffee here. This should be the case since it tastes like the darkest roast on the list. The finish is long, with a combination of earthy, herbal flavors on my palate. 

The Luckin Americano? Light and easy. The coffee has a short finish, with hints of floral notes on my palate for the aftertaste. The finish reminds me more of tea than coffee, to be honest, but I enjoy it as a unique twist of flavors.

With Milk

Since people like adding milk to their coffee, I decided to sample this coffee with some milk. I initially wanted to try this coffee with sugar and also creamer. Still, I do not have enough coffee with me, unfortunately.

I poured out about half a cup of the coffee into a clear glass and then added about half a shot (15ml or .5 ounce) of UHT, fresh cow’s milk into the coffee.

Milk opens up the dimension of flavors with these coffees. It mellowed down the flavors, and fat and lactose in the milk also opened up new tastes in the coffee. 

For me, milk made the coffee in the Subway, McCafe, and Starbucks coffee nicer to sip. This is especially the case with Starbucks’s Americano. 

This is probably because it has a stronger body and flavor, meaning it can take in the flavors and fat from milk, become mellower, and retain many of its original flavors. 

The same effect and taste can be said about Subway and McCafe’s coffees, to a lesser degree. I also enjoyed how the milk’s sweetness helped open up the caramel and sugarcane notes of these two coffees.

Milk, however, does not seem to work too well with the Luckin Coffee Americano. To me, the coffee is quite soft and light, meaning milk will simply drown the flavors away. 

The overly milky flavor of the coffee actually reminds me of coffee-flavored milk and some of Luckin’s popular Lattes.

Is Luckin Coffee Americano Better?

After comparing the flavors of Luckin Coffee Americano with the Americano from popular American coffee chains, I would say that the coffee is made differently. 

Not as in the basic process. Luckin coffee is still made from Arabica beans, roasted perfectly by world-winning baristas. No secret ingredients here. 

What I mean is the roasting and blending approach. 

I speculate that Luckin’s blend is made of floral, fruity coffee with light flavors. These beans are then roasted lightly to reduce smoke and woody taste. 

This helps produce light, floral, fruity coffee closer to tea than the regular coffee you and I imagine. 

This makes sense for Luckin – Luckin primarily serves the Chinese market, and we know how much Chinese people drink their tea. They are probably more used to the gentler flavors of tea than the smoke and intensity of coffee. 

Mellowing down the coffee makes it more acceptable to general Chinese palates. Softer coffee also makes it more mixable since it would not drown out other ingredients. 

This may be why Luckin made so many special Lattes, which I also tried during my visit there.

If you are expecting your regular cup of Luckin to taste like Starbucks, you’ll probably be in for a surprise. However, if you enjoy a floral and fruity cup of super light coffee, try Luckin Coffee.

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