There’s something pious about maintaining an obsession with a corporation that, first and foremost, doesn’t care about you at all, and secondly, isn’t even all that good. I’ve never been all that impressed with a Dunkin’ (née Dunkin’ Donuts) product. I have, however, been nourished and comforted. That is something worth much more than the $3.19 I pay for my large iced coffee with oat milk and a shot of unsweetened hazelnut flavoring. And as I’ve left the safety of Western Massachusetts, where there might be five Dunkin’s within a two-mile radius, it’s something I’ve learned to value more and more.
Needless to say, when I discovered that Dunkin’ had released a duo of cereals in Mocha Latte and Caramel Macchiato flavors, it seemed absolutely urgent that I acquire them. I was several months late to the release — the products hit shelves sometime in late July, but weren’t in any of the grocery stores in L.A. that I frequented. It wasn’t until I moved back to the East Coast late this fall that I stumbled upon them. I then waited weeks to try it, wanting to do so in my childhood home, accompanied by my eight-year-old niece.
I live about 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store, and along the drive, I stopped for gas at the one chain convenience store in the area, praying I didn’t see anyone I knew. When I realized I’d pulled up to the wrong side of the gas tank, I decided to just drive off before anyone could witness me bumbling around the Cumberland Farms parking lot in my mom’s Nissan. I listened to Lazer 99.3, a station whose tagline is “Born to Rock, Forced to Work.” I decided Chevelle is going to be my new favorite absolute garbage band. I felt exactly like I did when I was 18.
At the grocery store, I skulked my way to the cereal aisle, where I was alone except for one elderly man. I pretended to be interested in the Chocolate Frosted Flakes, waiting for him to grab his Wheaties and go. Instead, he dawdled. He stared long at the two bright rows of Dunkin’ cereal, holding them in his gaze before looking off into the distance with a scowl and shaking his head. As he eventually moved beyond them, I quickly grabbed my boxes and sidled past him, avoiding any potential commentary from him or the store employees by utilizing self-checkout. In the safety of my car, I placed an order for drive-thru pickup at the nearby Dunkin’ for my go-to iced coffee and a side of hash browns. Maybe this would stifle my appetite, but I needed a starchy foundation for the fructose beating I was about to inflict upon my organs.
Despite my complete willingness to try just about anything Dunkin’ puts out, I felt somewhat nervous. I’m not much of a sugar gal. I order my coffees unsweetened, and my preferred cereal is Cheerios. Like, plain Cheerios, with unsweetened almond milk. Upon arriving home, I went for the one I felt most comfortable with, Mocha Latte. It smelled precisely like an overly sweet cup of coffee, but tasted more like Cocoa Puffs and coffee-flavored marshmallows. In fact, I think this is precisely what the cereal blend is. While eating, the coffee flavor becomes much more mild, existing primarily as a top note that quickly dissipates. The sweet chocolate-y-ness persisted, just as any other chocolate cereal would, yet held some complexity and nuance in flavor from the early coffee top note. I wouldn’t eat this cereal for breakfast, but I’d happily eat it for dessert.
Even after the early punch of sweetness from the Mocha Latte, the Caramel Macchiato was almost frightening in its sugary scent. It was as though someone had condensed sugar into an essential oil. At first bite, the taste mirrored this, but fortunately did become milder. Rather than cocoa puffs, Caramel Macchiato contains caramel-flavored puffs, combined with the same coffee-flavored marshmallows. While it was initially overwhelming, it did become somewhat tolerable. My niece, a complete sugar demon, gave it two thumbs up, her current favorite sign of approval. She was far less enthusiastic about the Mocha Latte, instead simply agreeing that it was “pretty good.” My hope and prayer is that she can finish off the Caramel Macchiato, because I know I won’t.
Anyway, the cereal itself is barely even the point. Dunkin’ put out some sweet coffee-flavored cereals, and they’re decent enough. If it were literally any other brand, I wouldn’t give a single fuck. But I’m a Dunkin’ stan, so I give way too many fucks. I drove all the way out to the grocery store to spend my own money on a cereal I didn’t even really want to eat, because I knew I’d feel good doing so.
It’s the stupid price of nostalgia, and it was worth it. I may not have actually liked the cereal, but it felt like a practice in being at home.