We pit two of the most popular coffee chains in Japan against each other in our most caffeinated taste test yet!

When it comes to coffee chains in Japan, Starbucks and Tully’s are two of the the biggest and most popular in the country. Whether you’re a Starbucks lover or a Tully’s enthusiast, most people have their preferred store between the two. Most people, it seems, except our Japanese reporter Yuichiro Wasai. Sure, he’ll treat himself to a cup or two from both coffee shops from time to time, but he’s always wondered something — is there really such a big difference between how Starbucks and Tully’s coffees taste? Surely coffee tastes like coffee no matter where you get it from, no?

So Yuichiro decided to find out once and for all —  how different are the two coffee powerhouses when it came to taste?  

Before the experiment could begin, Yuichiro had to decide what kind of coffee would be bringing into the ring to face off against each other. Starbucks has Frappuccinos, but Tully’s has Swirkles. Should those two be pitted against each other? Or maybe a coffee blend would be the better choice here?

In the end, Yuichiro decided to go with a basic espresso, which costs the same at both stores for a single — 341 yen (US$2.82).

▼ Starbucks espresso is on the left, Tully’s on the right.

While the price for the two espressos is identical, the appearance is very different, but Yuichiro suspected that might have been influenced by the difference in time it took for both coffees to arrive back at SoraNews24 HQ. Besides, this wasn’t an ‘appearance’ test, it was a taste test and nothing would get accomplished just by looking at the two cups.

So Yuichiro took a sip of the Starbucks espresso.

Once he’d become familiar with the notes of the Starbucks espresso, it was time to test the Tully’s version…

Hmmm… better go back and have a sip of Starbucks one more time, just to make sure…

Yuichiro’s verdict? He had no idea. 

To him, there was no striking difference between the two beverages, so he continued to have sips of each to try and identify specific notes and flavours.

Eventually, he managed to land on a small difference between the Starbucks and Tully’s espressos —

Yuichiro: “The Tully’s espresso had a flavour that would go well with something sweet, like a cake. It seems like it’ll become even more delicious when it’s teamed up with something else, whereas Starbucks espresso might be perfectly content to go solo. If I could compare them to people, Tully’s would be like someone from Kansai, whereas Starbucks is more like someone from Tokyo.”


But while Yuichiro is something of an expert at comparing things, he felt more research was necessary to make a solid conclusion in the Starbucks vs. Tully’s debate, so he enlisted the help of his fellow SoraNews24 writers. Would they be able to find a clear difference between the two espressos?

In order to conduct a fair blind test, Yuichiro went and got a fresh batch of coffee and labelled the drinks as ‘Drink A’ and ‘Drink B’. None of the participants knew which coffee they were drinking, or even where the coffees were originally purchased from, and gave their feedback as follows. See if you can guess which drink is which from their comments!

Mr. Sato: “Ahh… this is pretty tough. A has a bitter taste that hits you at the beginning, but B’s bitter taste stays with you at the end. I think having a bitter taste initially is better, and the bitter taste comes later in B, so I prefer A.”


Takashi Harada: “Hmm… if you cleanse your palette with water between each sip, these drinks are probably indistinguishable. A is probably more of a run-of-the-mill taste, whereas B has a uniqueness to it. I expect B is more expensive than A.”


Go Hatori: “At first I thought B had a touch more acidity than A, but now I’m really not sure. I’m not even sure which one I like better!”



P.K. Sanjun: “I can taste the difference quite clearly! A is better than B. They both have a bitter aftertaste because they’re espressos, but A’s aftertaste is a lot more mellow than B’s. I feel they taste quite different.”



Masanuki Sunakoma: “Ahh, I see. B is much less bitter, so it’s a great choice for people who aren’t fans of bitter coffee. But whereas B has a milder taste, it means A has much more impact. Their tastes are really quite similar, but the more I drink, the more I like A better.”


Ahiruneko: “It’s really hard to say with certainty; B appears to be more acidic and sharp, and A more mellow. I like A better.”



… what?! Even within the blind taste test, there was contradicting feedback!

Even six other men with a long established history of taste tests struggled to give a clear answer as to the difference in taste. One thing was clear, though, and that was A was more popular than B. So which coffee chain was responsible for drink A?

It was Starbucks!

But while Starbucks won the popularity vote here, the test was not to find “which is the most delicious”. It was to find definitive differences between the two chains, and after this extensive test, Yuichiro finally arrived at the experiment’s conclusion.

Yuichiro: “Some people believe there is a difference in Starbucks and Tully’s espressos based on their compatibility to other food, whether or not the bitter taste comes sooner or later, how mellow or acidic the drink is, or how unique the drink tastes. Other people have no clue whatsoever.”


Yes, after all that research, Yuichiro was pretty much right back where he started. So while the data from his scientific research was pretty much inconclusive, he decided to draw this experiment to a close by summing up his findings in an easy-to-follow manner. When it comes to Starbucks vs. Tully’s…

just go to whichever one is closest to you.

Images © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]